There’s a lot of argument these days over who did or didn’t build this or that, but “Dirty Jobs” star Mike Rowe is sure of one thing — regardless of who built America, there’s a lot of alcohol mixed into the mortar of its foundation.
Tonight (Sept. 19) Discovery Channel premieres the first of three episodes (the next two air on consecutive Wednesdays) of “How Booze Built America,” in which Rowe traces how beer, wine and spirits figured into the creation of the United States.
“The first episode is the American Revolution,” Rowe tells Zap2it. “It’s 1620 to 1812, and it’s a measured look, from the molasses tax to the sugar tax …”
Speaking of molasses and sugar, there was the infamous “triangle trade,” one aspect of which saw sugar (often in the form of molasses) shipped from the Caribbean to New England to be distilled into rum. The rum was sent to West Africa to be bartered for gold and slaves. Those slaves then came to the Caribbean to work on the sugar plantations. Then the sugar was shipped to … well, you get the idea.
“Right,” says Rowe. “That’s something that you and I grew up with, that 90 percent of the country has never heard of. It’s amazing how frickin’ stupid we are when it comes to eighth-grade social studies.
“Look, in terms of a mission, I love this show. This is what I want to do for the next three or four years or whatever useful part of my career is left. I’d like it to be with Discovery, but I think it’s a big, big idea.
“There’s no doubt in my mind what the real opportunity is, and that is to try to do for history what ‘Dirty Jobs’ did for work.”
Rowe drew inspiration from the 1970s British show “Connections,” in which host James Burke traced the sometimes surprising routes ideas and inventions take through history and culture on their way to becoming our modern conveniences.
“You can watch ‘Connections’ on YouTube,” says Rowe, “and you should, because they’re such a blast from the past. People have tried that formula, and it fails. The reason it fails is because there’s only one James Burke. You can’t imitate Jim, but you can, in a really stylized way, tell the story differently.”
“I’m literally walking through time,” Rowe says. “They have really nice re-enactments, but I’ll just walk in the middle of them, T-shirt, hat, start talking to the re-enactors. It’s completely fun and random and boozy. It’s a romp, but at the same time, it’s packed with really good history and a lot of stuff most people wouldn’t know.
“To me, it’s the most accessible history show I’ve seen.”
And, in Rowe’s imagination, it starts with booze, but it doesn’t end there.
“‘How Toothpicks Built America,'” he muses. “‘How TV Built America’…”