Brewing History

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

About | Collecting | Field Notes


ABOUT

The American Brewing History Initiative at the National Museum of American History is a project to document, collect, and preserve the history of beer and brewing in America, with a special focus on home brewing and craft beer. Over the next two years, the initiative will continue to build an archive of American brewing history for the benefit of scholars and the public.

Beer and brewing have been crucial to American society since before the nation’s founding. For this reason, the history of brewing is an effective lens through which to explore many of our nation’s most important stories. Beer sheds light on histories of immigration, urbanization, business innovation, evolving consumer tastes, and much more.
 
The museum holds rich collections related to American brewing technology and advertising from the turn of the 20th century. Newer histories of home brewing and craft beer, however, have yet to be collected. The initiative’s historian, Theresa McCulla, is building on the Museum’s current holdings and creating new collections with research and collecting trips throughout the country.
 
As American brewing culture expands in scope – the nation now counts more breweries than at any point in its history – our understanding of its role in American history deepens. This initiative, made possible through generous support by the Brewers Association, will ensure a permanent, prominent role for the story of American beer and brewing in the Museum’s archival collections, public programming, and exhibitions.

 


COLLECTING

The Brewing History Initiative collects objects, archival materials, and oral histories to better tell the role brewing has played in American history. These things are coming to a special place. The museum preserves and protects an unparalleled collection of more than 3 million American treasures. It holds iconic objects such as the Star-Spangled Banner and President Abraham Lincoln's top hat. Now, materials related to America's brewing history have a home here, too.
 

Objects and Archival Collections

Because beer and brewing connect to all facets of American life, materials related to brewing history exist in collections throughout the Museum.
 

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Examples include:
  • Beer tankards brought by European immigrants to America in the 19th century
  • Late 19th-century trade cards, calendars, and other advertisements for American breweries
  • Selected records of brewers’ hops and malt imports, brewing logs, and other records, pre- and post-Prohibition
  • Photographs and brewing equipment originating in 19th- and 20th-century breweries
  • Early 20th-century sheet music celebrating beer’s consumer culture
  • Political ephemera related to Temperance movements, Prohibition, and repeal
  • Trade literature and brewing industry publications
  • Beer bottles and cans, can openers, and objects from taverns and bars

The initiative is adding to these holdings by acquiring a wide variety of items that document recent and contemporary histories of home brewing and craft beer in America.


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Such items include:
  • Brewing equipment, brewing logs, recipes, and tasting notes
  • Business plans, advertising material, labels, personal papers, and photographs of brewers, teachers, and writers
  • Newsletters and communications of home brewing clubs and other brewing communities
  • Material culture from brew pubs and taprooms
  • Prototypes, business licenses, and other items demonstrating the professionalization of early craft brewing
 
Researchers interested in viewing archival materials related can schedule an appointment with the Museum’s Archives Center.
 

Oral Histories

Oral histories preserve the voices of those who have shaped the course of American brewing in recent decades.
 
Oral histories with the following individuals have been recorded. Check this site for transcriptions, selected audio clips, and additional oral histories as research and collecting progress.
 
  • Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing Co. (View PDF)
  • David Burkhart, Anchor Brewing Co. (View PDF)
  • Steve Dresler, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
  • Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
  • Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River Brewing Co.
  • Michael Lewis, University of California, Davis
  • Charlie Papazian, Brewers Association
  • David Zuckerman, Boulder Beer
  • Adam Avery, Travis Rupp, Andy Parker, Fred Rizzo, Avery Brewing Co.
  • Eric Wallace, Dick Doore, Left Hand Brewing Co.
  • Twila Soles, Grouse Malt House
  • Wynne Odell, Doug Odell, Corkie Odell, Odell Brewing Co.
  • Peter Bouckaert, Brian Callahan, New Belgium Brewing Co.
  • Lara Zahaba, Brad Benson, Stoup Brewing
  • Rose Ann Finkel, Charles Finkel, Pike Brewing
  • Annie Johnson, PicoBrew
  • Brian Cadwell, Kevin Forhan, David Wiegand, Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery
  • Adam Robbings, Reuben’s Brews
  • Joanne Francis, Smuttynose Brewing Co. and Portsmouth Brewery
  • Peter Egleston, Smuttynose Brewing Co. and Portsmouth Brewery


 


Field Notes

Live Twitter feed


Historian Theresa McCulla has a desk in the Museum, but she doesn’t always sit there. Much of the initiative’s work takes place in the field, where McCulla conducts research and connects with brewers and the public.
 
Highlights of the Initiative’s work – past, present, and future – include:
 
November 2018: Washington, DC
In a growing tradition, the Initiative will host Last Call, the concluding event of the annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend. This fall we will discuss – and taste – the rich history of American brewing from the perspectives of our nation’s distinctive regions.
 
June 2018: Madison, WI, and Milwaukee, WI
The Upper Midwest calls! In summer 2018, McCulla will travel to Wisconsin to present her research at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and conduct research and collecting work in Madison and Milwaukee.
 
June 2018: Pittsburgh, PA, and Cleveland, OH
To mark the close of the exhibition “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” McCulla will visit the Heinz History Center to speak about the unique impact of Prohibition on the American brewing industry, a century ago and today. Research, collecting, and oral histories will follow, in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, OH.
 
April 2018: Washington, DC
In celebration of National Beer Day, April 7, McCulla connected the dots between Prohibition, homebrewing, and craft beer in a post for the Museum’s blog. Read it here.
 
April 2018: Durham, NH
The future of American brewing – and brewing history – look bright. Why? Because the next generation of brewers and historians are studying brewing and beer in labs and classrooms across the country. McCulla toured the University of New Hampshire Brewery, met with students, and delivered a lecture to the university community and public on the work of the American Brewing History Initiative.
 
December 2017: Seattle, WA
Seattle brewers and their customers have created one of the nation's singular brewing cultures. A rich blend of resources shaped this story: the fragrant hops that grow in the surrounding region; a sense of identity rooted in geography and cuisine; and a brewing community that flourished via dedication to ideals of creativity and professional mentorship. Seattle changed the course of American brewing history while simultaneously writing its own story.
 
McCulla traveled to historic Pike Place Market to lead an evening discussion and tasting titled, “Seattle Brewing: Craft, Culture, and History.” A panel of craft brewers, home brewers, and a maltster spoke to themes of regional identity and stories of collaboration and competition. Watch the conversation here. Several recorded oral histories and brewery tours rounded out this trip.
 
October 2017: Washington, DC
In conjunction with Smithsonian Food History Weekend, whose 2017 theme was “Many Flavors, One Nation,” the Initiative hosted a panel discussion and tasting that welcomed brewers, their beer, and history enthusiasts to the Museum.
 
Brewing techniques and ingredients, the flavors Americans prefer, and our habits related to consuming beer draw from the traditions of many groups. For an evening titled “Brewing in Motion: Histories of Beer and Migration in America,” McCulla led a conversation with four brewers who bring unique stories of movement and migration – through personal experience or inspiration – to their beer. Watch the event here.
 
July 2017: Washington, DC
Theresa sat down with the Smithsonian’s podcast, Sidedoor, for a patriotic homebrewing conversation. Listen to the episode here.
 
July 2017: Washington, DC
Theresa welcomed NPR’s All Things Considered to the Museum’s Archives Center. Listen to their conversation here.
 
May 2017: Washington, DC
Beer is a man’s drink. Theresa wrote about this and four other beer myths in the Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section. Read the piece here.
 
April-May 2017: Boulder, CO, and Fort Collins, CO
Next up: the Mountain Time Zone. Under sunny skies, McCulla recorded oral histories and visited brewers, an artisan maltstress, and the “godfather” of American homebrewing. This journey resulted in the donation of Charlie Papazian’s famed homebrewing spoon (read details here) plus other objects rich in brewing history.
 
March-April 2017: San Francisco, CA; Hayward, CA; Chico, CA; Santa Rosa, CA; and Davis, CA
For a historian, where better to begin than at the beginning? McCulla started the Initiative’s research and collecting with an initial trip to northern California, where American craft beer was born. Read her post for the Museum’s blog, O Say Can You See, 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.