What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“As soon as the Season will permit, they will brew Spruce again.”
Brewers George Harison and James Leadbetter were savvy marketers. They informed the public “that their ALE is now fit to deliver,” but they also stoked anticipation for another product, spruce beer, that was not yet available but would be brewed again “As soon as the Season will permit.” In a single advertisement they attempted to move their current inventory and create demand for another product that would be in stock in the near future. By drawing attention to their spruce beer even before it had been brewed, they prompted potential customers to associate that product with their brewery rather than settle for similar beverages that competitors might deliver before theirs was ready for market.
Spruce beer, which came in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties, was quite common in colonial America. Harison and Leadbetter did not address any particular sort of customer in their advertisement, but merchants and captains who provisioned ships that passed through New York’s busy harbor may have counted among their clients. As part of the Columbian Exchange of resources and knowledge, French and British explorers had learned from indigenous Americans that beverages made with spruce could be used to ward off scurvy. Spruce beer became an important component of the rations doled out to European sailors. One correspondent in the September 1764 issue of the London Magazine indicated that when he owned a ship that traded between New England and the West Indies he always instructed the captain to take along spruce beer as a means of safeguarding the health of the crew. Not only did spruce beer ward off scurvy, it was also safer to drink than some of the water.
So common was this drink in eighteenth-century America that in 1796 a recipe “For brewing Spruce Beer” appeared on the final page of Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, the first cookbook written by an American.