History of Beer in the 17th Century: Timeline

The history of beer in the 17th century was one of modest change. Improved transportation meant that beer could be shipped to as far as the New World. There were also both legal changes and technical innovations.

17th Century

  • Beer brewing was one of the earliest industries in colonial North America.
  • Cultivation of hops began in the colony of Massachusetts.
  • Brewing was encouraged by legislation in the colony of Maryland.

Cir. 1600
The Finnish Saga of Kalewala was written down from oral tradition. It describes using hops in brewing beer.

Dr. Alexander Nowell, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, discovered that ale could be stored longer in glass bottles sealed with corks.

The first shipment of beer from England arrived in the colony of Virginia.

The Virginia colonists advertised in London for a brewer.

history of beer in the 17th century

Dr. Alexander Nowell

The first known brewery in the New World was on the southern tip of New Amsterdam. That’s what is now Manhattan in New York City.

• For the first time, England imposed a levy on malt.
• The first non-native was born in North America. It was in a brewhouse. The child, Jean Vigne, grew up to become the first brewer born in the New World.

Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in the colony of Massachusetts aboard the Mayflower. Beer was extremely short supply on board and the seamen forced the passengers ashore. This was to ensure that they would have enough beer for their return trip to England.

• Ireland began licensing the retailers of alcoholic beverages.
• The first brewery was built in the colony of Massachusetts.

Boston licensed a tavern.history of beer in the 17th century


The English Parliament first introduced levies on beer. It was to finance its fight against the Crown.

The island of St. Martin in the Caribbean was divided between France and the Netherlands. The northern part went to France as Saint Martin. The southern part went to the the Netherlands as Saint Maarten. There is a legend that a Frenchman and a Dutchman stood back to back at the center of the island. They then paced off their shares. The Dutchman stopped often to drink beer. As a result, the Netherlands received a smaller part of the island.

history of beer in the 17th century

King Charles II

King Charles II of England approved an act for exporting ‘Beer, Ale, and Mum.”

In Dublin, with about 4,000 families, there were 1,180 ale-houses and 91 public houses.

Harvard College opened its own brewhouse. This was to ensure that students would have an adequate supply of good beer.

Beer was the major drink in England. Consumption rose throughout the decade to 104 gallons per capita for the entire population.

William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania, opened a commercial brewery in the colony.

The British measure of a pint was introduced. It consists of 568 milliliters. This pour  became the standard size for beer and cider. Pubs were allowed to serve beer only as a pint, or a third or half of that measure.



We’ve had a look at beer in the 17th century. Now we have a chance to discover the History of Beer in the 18th Century.

Books on the History of Beer in the 17th Century.

Bamforth, C. Brewmaster’s Art: the History and Science of Beermaking. Prince Frederick, MD : Recorded Books, 2009.

Burnett, J. Liquid Pleasures: a Social History of Drinks in Modern Britain. London: Routledge, 1999. (Including beer in the 17th century.)

King, A. Beer Has a History. London: Hutchinson’s, 1947.