Art of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson

It can be easy for us to lose track of November.

We get swept up in the rush of “The Holidays” and pick up momentum as we launch ourselves through Labor Day Weekend and the Halloween season. November tends to disappear while we are carried along from Halloween into the Christmas retail season.

Some of us take time for Thanksgiving, but it has become a day dedicated to food and football. We might spend a few moments thinking about gratitude and thankfulness, even this year.

For many of us Thanksgiving is a day to eat too much and rest until it is time to shop.

It is a challenge for to remember what Thanksgiving is all about. Like many of our most significant days, our culture urges us to experience it as a day for consuming and spending money.

We forget the purpose of Thanksgiving Day, and forget why the first Thanksgiving happened 400 years ago. This year, more than most, we need to remember.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving Day this month, it is important to reflect on everything which has changed since that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, and all which is the same.

Much is different, and many features have been added to what we consider typical of Thanksgiving today.  There were no televised parades or football, for example, and no need to rush out to Black Thursday sales after dinner.

One thing which remains the same is that, in many ways, beer is central to Thanksgiving, and to the story of the Plymouth colony.

Beer has payed a central role in many significant events in our history, and it is easy for us to let beer get pushed out of the spotlight.

The people sailing aboard the Mayflower sighted Cape Cod in November, 1620, after 64 days at sea.  On the ship, they ate bread, biscuits, pudding, cheese, crackers, and dried meats and fruits. Instead of water, they brought barrels of beer -- a standard practice in the days before refrigeration, because beer remained potable longer than water.

Cape Cod was not the destination they had when they set out from England. They attempted to sail south toward their destination in Virginia, but contrary winds and shoals kept them where they were.

In December, a scouting party went ashore, fearing a possible confrontation with unfriendly Native Americans.  They soon discovered that the local population had been decimated by smallpox.

One of the first buildings they built in Plymouth was a brewery.

That first winter they suffered from cold, starvation and disease; half of them were dead by spring. Those still surviving were in danger of suffering the same fate.

Everything changed one day in the spring, when a lone Native American walked into the settlement and said, in English, which he had learned from the sailors who had brought the smallpox:

"Welcome, English. I am Samoset. Do you have beer?"

The Pilgrims were astonished. Of all the places they could have come ashore, they had been found by someone who was friendly and somehow spoke their language, and knew about beer.

We have been on a journey of our own for almost two years. In some ways, we have faced many of the same challenges as those first Pilgrims experienced. We have dealt with disease and death, scarce resources, and difficult conditions.

Thanksgiving is a day when can take time to reflect on those challenges, and the ones we will face in the future, and remember to be grateful. We can share what we have and continue to help each other through difficult times.

Today, many years later and many miles from the Plymouth colony, thirsty pilgrims in Southern California prepare to set out for the next stop on their own personal craft brewery pilgrimages.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor in Pasadena, California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monks and monastic life. Greg has served as an assistant district attorney and an associate university professor. Greg’s website is and he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk. You can email Greg at, and he writes a blog for the Contemplative channel on

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