The American Brewing History Initiative

At the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo in Philadelphia this past May, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History announced the launch of the American Brewing History Initiative. This will be a three-year effort to “collect, document, and preserve the history of brewing, brewers, and beer industry—with the goal to explore how beer and beer history connect to larger themes in American history.” This program will dovetail with and be part of the Smithsonian's Food History Project. It is made possible through a donation from the Brewers Association and will focus primarily upon the craft beer experience of the past 30 years. The National Museum of American History website explains the initiative:

“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,” said John Gray, the director of the museum. 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. Museum staff...will work with the Brewers Association, American brewers, and beer historians to document and collect the stories and history of modern American brewing.

The American Brewing History Initiative is truly a home run for heritage!

Having the Smithsonian and the Brewers Association join forces to promote our industry's heritage underscores its importance. It gives our product tremendous credibility. Those of us in the brewing industry have always known this. Your Heritage Chair has been writing about the importance of heritage awareness in the Communicator for over 4 1/2 years now. In these pages we have featured numerous examples of “hands-on heritage.” We have lobbied for Heritage Chairs at the district level. We have profiled MBAA member brewers who take their heritage very seriously. We have provided how-to advice for preservation and archiving. We have showcased the value of going digital. We have featured our MBAA archives at Iowa State.

But now, America's brewing heritage truly goes mainstream. The National Museum of American History will take it directly to the nation through its world-class exhibitions, ongoing research, digital collecting efforts, online offerings, and public programs.

Whenever I visit the local tap room of one of our many fine Ohio craft breweries, I can't help but smile at the historic irony of the craft beer movement and how it has come full circle. The history of the evolution of craft beer-making 30 years ago, in the 1980s, is a reflection of craft beer-making 400 years ago. In the 1980s, most of those first commercial craft brewers started out as home brewers. They brewed small batches in readily available household items that they owned... buckets, pails, and carboys. They brewed primarily for home consumption and to share with their friends. Similarly, in the Massachusetts and Virginia Colonies, beer-making was often just another household chore. Much of the brewing was done by housewives. They brewed at the fireplace hearth, in readily available household items that they owned... wooden buckets and cast iron kettles. They brewed, primarily, for home consumption. And similarly, many of those “home brewers” ultimately turned “drink into business.” The National Museum of American History's website further explains:

“The craft brewing revolution in America has had a profound social, cultural, and economic impact on this country,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association. “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.”

Clearly, historians, researchers, scholars, and the general public all stand to benefit from these efforts. But perhaps most importantly, this unique partnership and its mainstream efforts serve to drive home the importance of preserving and archiving the histories of each of America’s almost 4,300 breweries! Brewing heritage awareness just got better!