Beer Group Helping to Brew Up a History Lesson

The Smithsonian Institution says it’s time to document the history of brews and beers, and the Brewers Association is here to help.

It’s time for a toast.

Last week, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced at the Brewers Association’s (BA) Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America in Philadelphia that the two organizations have launched a three-year initiative to preserve the history of brewing.

“Brewing has a long and deep connection to our country’s history, and the museum’s collections explore the history of beer from the late 19th to early 20th centuries,” Museum Director John Gray said in a statement. “The support of the Brewers Association allows our staff to collect the more recent history, including the impact of small and independent craft brewers who continue to advance the U.S. beer culture and inspire brewers worldwide.”

As part of the “Smithsonian Food History” project, the initiative’s work will focus on beer history in recent decades since the museum already houses a collection from the 1870s to the 1960s.

“[The museum] presented to the brewing community that through interfacing with the Brewers Association that we should help fix that,” BA Craft Beer Program Director Julia Herz said. “Let’s get them armed with the ability to preserve the history from that era that will be a benefit not just to scholars and researchers, but also to the public.”

Through sponsoring the initiative, BA will fund hiring a scholar to carry out the collection work. Then, by enlisting help from members, it will also provide the museum with artifacts and oral histories of brewing, covering themes such as advertising, agriculture, industry, innovation, business, and community life.

“The information—the oral histories and artifacts—they end up compiling is going to come from all nooks and crannies of the brewing community, everyone from nano-breweries, microbreweries, brew pubs, regional craft brewers, and the association ourselves,” Herz said.

This announcement comes as craft brewing is growing in the United States, turning the country into a beer destination. “What it really does is show that small and independent craft brewers matter,” Herz said.

“Just based on sales alone and contributions to our culture and economy, you get the sense that craft brewers from this announcement feel validated and appreciated and that their contributions to our country in those various things do have value and are worth preserving,” she continued.

Already, BA has received steady interest from members who want to participate in the initiative.

“The craft brewing revolution in America has had a profound social, cultural, and economic impact on this country,” BA President and CEO Bob Pease said in the release. “America is a beer destination. We are honored to support this effort and work with the National Museum of American History to chronicle and showcase the significant achievements small and independent brewers have made throughout this nation’s history.”

A brewer, shown working at the Pabst Blue Ribbon plant in Milwaukee during the 1950s. (upnorthmemories/Flickr)

Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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