From the diary of William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, 1621: Happy Thanksgiving! 'Twas a splendid time we enjoyed in Plymouth this day -- and none too soon. The freedom we pilgrims have found in this new world, I fear, has come at great cost. Poor living conditions, a harsh winter, disease and that damn Chupacabra -- all have taken their toll. Only half of the Mayflower's 102 passengers remain alive. But the survivors, god save them, managed to put together a successful harvest, and so I declared after the work completed that today would be a day of thanksgiving, as was the custom in England. Old habits die hard, etc.
During this celebration, we feasted upon the bounty of our harvest and were joined by some ninety of the Wampanoag Indians, among them their great king Massasoit. The meal and camaraderie were both enjoyable, but something was missing. William Brewster summed it up thusly: "'Tis a fine Thanksgiving we've celebrated this day -- would we but had some ale with which to wash it all down!"
Massasoit's eyes gleamed. "I have just the thing," he said slyly, pulling a small object from his bag. The other pilgrims regarded him with curiosity as he carefully unwrapped a large, decorative bottle.
"My cousin sent this to me," he said. "It's from a brewery in California. They make it with Belgian yeast, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, molasses, maple syrup and 17 pounds of yams per barrel."
We paid little heed to Massasoit's strange words (California?), for here was a bottle of ale -- the first any of us had seen since leaving England! Many could hardly hide their joy as the Indian king filled our glasses with the brew, a cloudy liquid with the look of orange-tinged cranberries. A moderately sized layer of froth rose from the depths long after he finished the pour is over and was on display for just a moment before receding.
"Prunes!" one of the colonist called out as she took in the beer's aroma. "And sweet potato pie!" "I smell apple juice!" another exclaimed. Indeed, the bouquet found inside the glass presented both of these, along with notes of maple and cinnamon. The flavor, too, captured food flavors in a sugary concoction -- apple cider, raisins, maple syrup, yams and a subtle cinnamon spiciness. Prickly carbonation caused the thing to fizz up just a bit as it moved around. Alcohol was noticeable within the flavor, but not in the feel of the thing, which was smooth and substantial.
"Good stuff, right?" Massasoit asked. I nodded gratefully, though I felt the brew's drinkability was hurt by its hefty, nearly cloying sweetness. To be honest, I could not drink more than a small glass of it. But, shared between many thirsty mouths, the drink was ambrosia.
As I write this, I am still fueled by a sense of community (or, perhaps, by the beer's substantial alcohol content). Nevertheless, I've determined that Thanksgiving will become a yearly celebration, and that it will culminate in the imbibing of tasty ale. Beer was the reason we chose to land at Plymouth, after all.
See also: 5 Beer/Food Pairings for Thanksgiving
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.