Brewing History

Brewing history objects and museum logo

An initiative to collect, document, and preserve the history of brewing in America

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The American Brewing History Initiative is a three year project to collect, document, and preserve the history of brewing, craft brewers, and the beer industry – with the goal to explore how beer and beer history connect to larger themes in American history.

Beer and brewing have been an important part of the American experience since before the nation’s founding and into the present day. To look specifically over the past 30 years, beer production has become closely connected to significant social, cultural, economic, and environmental movements across the country. 

In January 2017, historian Theresa McCulla joined the team as the project historian/scholar. Theresa is a social and cultural historian of food in the U.S. from the early 1800s to today. She has focused her research on the role of food and drink in generating ideas about history, culture, and identity and has extensive expertise in research, writing and collecting oral histories.

As American brewing expands in scope, and our understanding of the role of beer in American history deepens, the museum is uniquely positioned to document the stories of American brewers and to collect the material culture of the industry for the benefit of scholars, researchers, and the public. Cheers to history!



The museum currently houses several collections of objects and documents related to brewing and beer consumption in America. The bulk of these collections date from the 1870s to 1960s, including the material donated by former Brewmaster Walter Voigt of Ruxton, Maryland.

>> Check out the museum’s current digitized collections relating to beer history.

The American Brewing History Initiative will help us expand our collections. Stay tuned for upcoming highlights as we conduct research and collect new objects that reflect the history of brewing and other aspects of beer in America.

>> Learn more about our current work.





As part of this three-year initiative, the museum will be holding programs to bring beer history-interested audiences together with historians and brewers to discuss the impact the beer and brewing have had on American history. See below for upcoming and past related programs.

Upcoming programs

Cheers to History! Beer Objects Out of Storage
Tuesday, April 12 from 1–3 p.m.
Free to attend






Past programs and video


American History (After Hours) at the Smithsonian Food History Weekend:
The Great History of American Brewing

October 29, 2016

Beer history is American history, and to celebrate and explore this, we served up a flight of brewing history with the help of historians, experts, and breweries. The evening started with four tasty tales of brewing, beer, and policy from the Colonial era, 19th century, Prohibition, and the 1970s featuring: Frank Clark, Colonial Williamsburg; Jon Grinspan, National Museum of American History; Dr. Kate Haulman, American University; Charlie Papazian, Brewers Association. The night opened to an interactive reception with deeper tastes, stories, politics, and history of each era with experts, museum collections and archival materials, and some historically inspired brews at themed stations. This event was a joint project with the museum’s new American Brewing History Initiative and American History (After Hours)Participating breweries included:

  • Alewerks Brewing Company, Historic Williamsburg, VA
  • Heavy Seas Beer, Baltimore, MD
  • New Columbia Distillers, Washington, DC
  • Bluejacket, Washington, DC

Missed the fun? Want to hear those stories again? Watch the presentations from the evening's experts in the video above or right here.


American History (After Hours) at the Smithsonian Food History Weekend:
Brewing Up Innovation
October 24, 2015

Brewers and historians joined us to reflect on the history of brewing and the resurgence of the modern craft beer movement. Guests conducted some innovative beer research of their own as they sampled brews from breweries and checked out some history brewing objects from the museum's collections. Participants included: Kim Jordan, co-founder, executive chair, Board of Directors, New Belgium Brewing Co., Dick Cantwell, brewer, author, and quality ambassador, Brewers Association, and Maureen Ogle, historian and author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer. Participating breweries included:

  • New Belgium Brewing Company
  • Bluejacket Brewery
  • Right Proper Brewing Company
  • Flying Dog Brewery



American History (After Hours): Brewing Up History
January 23, 2015

How are today’s brewers inspired by history? On January 23rd we held a beer talk and tasting featuring Bluejacket brewery’s Greg Engert and beer historian Mike Stein as they discuss the art and science of brewing. Engert and Stein shared their story of creating new beers inspired by beer styles of the early 19th century and we explored the connections between Washington, DC’s craft beer scene today and the DC beer world of the past. Browse through pictures from the evening or watch the video of the discussion above or here



The American Brewing History Initiative is made possible through generous support from:

The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers.