Unlike rum, a popular nineteenth century beverage in New England and in Europe, which required ingredients alien to northeastern Ohio, whiskey may be produced with relative ease from excess grains, of which Ohio contained an abundance. Transforming grains into whiskey, especially before internal improvements brought rail and faster trade into the area, proved much more cost effective than transporting the entire excess to market or converting grains into more perishable products.
Not all of the whiskey produced on the Western Reserve was transported from the area. In fact local tavern patrons readily consumed much of it. According to William Cooper Howells, a middle class Quaker, men consumed whiskey more than any other beverage, including water. Although his religious society forbade its consumption and production, he astutely noted that, “the custom was for every man to drink it [whiskey], on all occasions that offered.”12 The McIlrath account book substantiates Howells’ claims. Settlers and travelers alike consumed quantities from pints to quarts to gallons of the inebriating spirits. Howells’ observations are further backed by the account book of John Brough.13 The overwhelming majority of the entries in Brough’s account book list “wiskee” or “wiskey” as the beverage of choice. Summing up her disgust with alcohol, one Western Reserve woman bemoaned that it was, “easier to get a gallon of whisky than an equal amount of rain water.”14
Greater insight is provided into the culture fomented by antebellum taverns through observing their beverage choices. Rather than import pricey foreign beverages, as did the English with Caribbean rum, Western Reserve tavern patrons primarily consumed whiskey and cider, both readily produced from locally available goods. Although an important part of English life throughout the 1800s, American taverns were decidedly less-socially rigid and, as with the whole of America, much more blended than its counterparts across the Atlantic.15 Observant European travelers noted this difference as Frederick Marryat once again relates:
To one accustomed to the exortion of the inns and hotels in England, and the old continent, nothing at first is more remarkable than to find that there are more remains of the former American purity of manners and primitive simplicity to be observed in their establishments for the entertainments of man and gorse than in any portion of public or private life.16
The tavern, like much of the Western Reserve, was “stamped...with a Yankee character, but the meld of more recent arrivals left it with an all-American look and feel.”17 The Americanizing aspect of the tavern cannot be overlooked, but it relies heavily upon the blending together of social classes in what Paton Yoder aptly describes as a “stewing kettle” of various backgrounds and interests.18