Field Notes

Curator 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:

December 2019: Washington, DC

Second annual Hoppy Holidays Hoppy Hour at the American History Museum. Who will brew a special beer with the 2019 harvest of Cascade, Willamette, and Nugget hops grown in the Museum’s Victory Garden? Stay tuned!

November 2019: Washington, DC

As 2019 comes to a close, look forward to a truly unique Last Call, the brewing history event of the annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend. This year we celebrate the opening of the refreshed FOOD exhibition at the Museum and the debut of objects collected to preserve homebrewing and early microbrewing culture. McCulla will moderate a conversation with several special guests, followed by a beer tasting.

October 2019: Chicago, IL

The American Brewing History Initiative goes on the road, for a multi-day festival uniting the public, brewers, and scholars in conversations about the past, present, and future of beer, in collaboration with the Chicago Brewseum and the Chicago Humanities Festival.

October 2019: Twin Cities, MN

McCulla will give a plenary lecture at the Premodern Food Cultures Conference at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, speaking with scholars and brewers, in a brewery, about…brewing.

September 2019: Charlottesville, VA

McCulla feels distinguished to participate in the Fall 2019 Distinguished Speaker Series of the Jefferson Literary & Debating Society at the University of Virginia. Though the Society’s signature drink is a whiskey sour, McCulla may convince them to switch their allegiance to one of the commonwealth’s more than 230 craft breweries.

August 2019: Bend, OR

McCulla heads west for a research and collecting trip in beautiful central Oregon.

July 2019: Anchorage, AK

Let no beer history go unexplored! July will find McCulla flying to Alaska with a Smithsonian group to speak about her research and collecting work and to record oral histories with local brewers.

June 2019: Providence, RI

The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) estimates that more than 1 million Americans brew beer at home. McCulla will meet some, but not all, of them at the AHA’s annual conference and speak about the central role homebrewers have played in American brewing history.



May 2019: Washington, DC
McCulla spoke to Simon Majumdar about hundreds of years of brewing history for his podcast Eat My Globe: Things You Didn’t Know About Your Food. Listen here.

May 2019: New Orleans, LA
In May, McCulla headed to the Crescent City to participate in the annual American Alliance of Museums conference, speaking about how brewing history fits into the programming and research of the larger American Food History Project at the American History Museum.

April 2019: Washington, DC
The Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association annual conference came to town. McCulla welcomed attendees for a behind-the-scenes tour at the Museum’s Archives Center, spoke at the conference, and co-hosted a brewing history happy hour at DC’s Right Proper Brewing Co.

March 2019: Hartford, CT
Brewing history is public history! McCulla participated in the annual conference of the National Council on Public History. Members of her panel brought the conversation outside the bounds of the conference, to a brewing history happy hour at Hanging Hills Brewing Co.

March 2019: Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati is a city built on beer. That statement greets visitors to the city’s new Brewing Heritage Trail, in historic Over-the-Rhine. McCulla was thrilled to tour subterranean lagering caves and record oral histories with several members of the city’s brewing industry.

March 2019: Lincoln, AR
McCulla took the trip of a lifetime to Lincoln, AR, to record an oral history with Jack McAuliffe, founder of the legendary New Albion Brewing Co. in Sonoma, CA, in 1976. The oral history took place in McAuliffe’s cabin; afterward, he took the Smithsonian team to his favorite taproom in Siloam Springs, AR, which pours only Arkansas-made beer.

January 2019: Milton, DE
The federal government shut down but beer history pushed onward. McCulla visited the quirky and wonderful Dogfish Head Brewery and recorded an oral history with Sam and Mariah Calagione.

January 2019: Chicago, IL
McCulla flew to frosty Chicago to participate in the annual conference of the American Historical Association and record oral histories with a brewer and a public historian.

December 2018: Washington, DC
Hoppy Holidays! In December, McCulla collaborated with Smithsonian Gardens horticulturalists to host the Museum’s first annual Hoppy Holidays Hoppy Hour. Attendees enjoyed a beer—“Smithsonian HopPorter”—brewed by homebrewing guru Charlie Papazian, using Cascade hops grown in the Museum’s Victory Garden.

November 2018: Washington, DC
Back in DC, in a growing tradition, the Brewing History Initiative hosted Last Call, the concluding event of the annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend. We discussed – and tasted – the rich history of American brewing from the perspectives of our nation’s distinctive regions.

Order a California Common beer in D.C. or a New England IPA in Florida; the hops in either may hail from the Pacific Northwest. In today's America, beer styles, ingredients, and consumers travel coast to coast. In such a connected world, how much does the notion of "region" matter to American beer? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Guests enjoyed conversations—over beer—with representatives from New Glarus Brewing Co., Scratch Brewing Co., Bow & Arrow Brewing Co., and Cajun Fire Brewing Co.

September 2018: Washington, DC
McCulla was interviewed on the history of beer in Wisconsin and beyond for Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time. Listen here.

August 2018: New York, NY
Women are the world’s original brewers. McCulla joined the program of Hop Culture magazine’s “Beers With(out) Beards” festival, which focused on the long relationship of women to beer. McCulla moderated a conversation on the roles of women in brewing throughout world history. Read about the festival here.

August 2018: Washington, DC
Bill Chappell of NPR’s All Things Considered spoke to McCulla on the occasion of the opening of the Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House in Baltimore, Maryland. Listen here.

June 2018: Madison, WI, and Milwaukee, WI
The Upper Midwest called! McCulla traveled 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 visited the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh to speak about the unique impact of Prohibition on the American brewing industry, a century ago and today. Research, collecting, and oral histories followed, 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. They hailed from Highland Brewing Co., Harlem Brewing Co., The Answer Brewpub, and Weeping Radish Farm Brewery. Watch the event here.

July 2017: Washington, DC
McCulla sat down with the Smithsonian’s podcast, Sidedoor, for a patriotic homebrewing conversation. Listen to the episode here.

July 2017: Washington, DC
McCulla 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. McCulla 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
Hello, Mountain Time Zone. Under sunny skies, McCulla recorded oral histories and visited brewers, an artisan maltstress, and the father 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.