Craft Beer Finds a Home at Smithsonian and Other 2019 Beer History Work

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A version of this article was originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of The New Brewer.

To reach the “Food: Transforming the American Table” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, walk past the Batmobile, bathed in a soft purple light as the bat signal looms on the ceiling above. Keep going past Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman costume, encased in protective glass. Then you’ll see it: Julia Child’s kitchen. The entire kitchen, spoon by spoon, fork by fork, pots and pans galore, arranged exactly as Child had done by hand.

The kitchen—packed up and moved from Child’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 11, 2001 as the World Trade Center bombings were being broadcast on live TV—has been at the entrance of the museum’s Food History Exhibit since 2012. And now, as of October 25, the exhibit devoted to sharing the story of our country’s food and beverage culture also showcases craft brewing and homebrewing.

It’s awe-inspiring, yet fitting, that the museum that also houses Dorothy’s ruby slippers, President Lincoln’s top hat, Lewis and Clark’s compass, and the Star-Spangled Banner now also hosts our modern brewing story.

As is often the case with things of such magnitude, this project came to be over the course of many years, and it involved many bright minds and gift givers. A Smithsonian advisory board called the Kitchen Cabinet contributed to the notion that it was time to refresh the exhibit. New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan sits on that cabinet, and at her urging to both the museum and the Brewers Association, craft brewing found its place at the exhibit. On the advice of Theresa McCulla, curator of the American Brewing History Initiative, homebrewing was also included. The Brewers Association has been the lead sponsor of the American Brewing History Initiative since its start in 2016. The rest, as they say, is history.

Add this exhibit to your bucket-list, must-attend, can’t-miss destinations next time you’re in Washington, D.C. You will be in good company. The National Museum of American History is the most-visited history museum in the world, with 4.5 million visitors making the pilgrimage each year, and the Food History Exhibit is reportedly the most popular destination.

Further Documenting Craft Beer’s History

The Brewers Association was involved in many other beer history efforts in 2019:

  • In addition to her role with the Food History Exhibit, McCulla worked with the Chicago Brewseum and Liz Garibay to co-host the first ever Beer Culture Summit in October. This four-day event was packed with beer history seminars at locations including the Field Museum and the Chicago History Museum. Off-site events took place at bars and breweries. A special night at Metropolitan Brewing was dedicated to a tasting and deep dive behind the collaboration beer Ella from ERIS Brewery and 3 Sheeps Brewing. The beer was inspired by work conducted by Dr. Jennifer Jordan, professor of sociology and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Her research about a hop picker named Ella transports the drinker to 19th century Sauk County, Wisconsin, where Cluster hops were harvested. The collaboration harvest ale is wet-hopped with the same variety. The brewers were given excerpts from a diary and other agricultural information as inspiration for the beer.
  • For the Love of Craft is the documentary short produced by the Brewers Association, Studio C3, and Charlie Papazian that peels back the label of what it means to be a craft brewer, revealing the true heart of craft and independence. At the time of this writing, there have been 100 screenings by breweries and beer lovers in eight different countries, and audience interest continues to build. The film was accepted into the Napa Valley Film Festival and the Denver Film Festival. We encourage breweries to host their own screening. Visit our World Tour page to learn how.
  • Additional beer history efforts were spearheaded by Brewers Association archivist Karna Murphy, creative director Luke Trautwein, and web director Cindy Jones. According to Murphy, the Brewers Association Archive has been working behind the scenes to bring its collection of more than 100,000 photos and 140 video interviews online to BA members and the general public. Since the establishment of the archive three years ago, the gathering and cataloging of the physical and digital library has been its main focus. Member and media access to the collection is a priority, and the collections will be live soon.

Cheers to ongoing efforts to advance U.S. craft breweries and homebrewing. We aim to capture and share the history you are brewing up each and every day.