How an Association Helped Put Craft Beer in the Smithsonian

The Brewers Association funded a wide-reaching initiative to bring the story of craft beer to the National Museum of American History. A new exhibit opens this week.

If your association (along with the field it represents) has a lot of history, you might want to give a museum a call to help preserve it for posterity.  Just ask the Brewers Association.

Since 2016, BA and its subsidiary the American Homebrewers Association have been collaborating with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History on a new exhibit, “Brewing a Revolution,” to tell the story of beer, with a focus on homebrewing and craft beer.

“The history of brewing in the U.S. is a story of immigration, urban change, technological innovation, and evolving consumer tastes,” the museum said in a press release announcing the showcase, which opens October 25 within the permanent “Food: Transforming the American Table” exhibition.

“Brewing a Revolution” came out of the museum’s American Brewing History Initiative, which BA funds and helped create in 2016. The exhibit, curated by Theresa McCulla, who leads the initiative, brings together artifacts of beer’s long history in the United States. Some are specific to the association, including a large wooden spoon (above) that Charlie Papazian, the founder of BA’s predecessor organization, used for homebrewing in the 1970s. Other elements, including oral histories captured by McCulla, reach more broadly.

“The artifacts featured in this new display convey histories of innovation, creativity, and risk, as well as deep pride and pleasure in the processes of brewing and drinking beer in the United States,” McCulla said in the release. “Beer is a thread that runs throughout the fabric of our nation’s history and culture.”

The exhibit will get a grand opening November 7-9 as part of Smithsonian Food History Weekend, with McCulla moderating a conversation featuring Papazian and other key figures in craft beer history, including Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. founder Ken Grossman and former Anchor Brewing owner Fritz Maytag. (In case you’re wondering: Yes, there will be beer.)

“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 news release. “America is a beer nation, and 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 and homebrewers have made throughout our nation’s history.”

BA recently extended its funding of the Brewing History Initiative through 2022.

A vintage Sierra Nevada label that will be included as part of a new permanent museum exhibit. (Smithsonian Institution)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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