Preserving Brewery Heritage: Knowing your Story

My wife and I just returned from another Germany trip, this time with my daughter and her husband in tow. They both had their respective “must-sees.” My daughter's list included seeing her great-grandmother’s home in Lichterfelde (SW Berlin), and the house my father was born in, in Ensingen (between Karlsruhe and Stuttgart). My son-in-law's list was more beer-focused, centering upon Germany's centuries-old beer culture. And immerse ourselves in that wonderful beer culture, we did!

He was a joy to be with. He sampled numerous classic styles across dozens of brands as we worked our way through Berlin... Cologne... the Rhine Valley... Rothenburg... and finally to Munich and Fussen. The trip culminated with a couple of festive visits to Munich's Oktoberfest. While in the Munich leg of the trip, we visited Kloster Andechs and Weihenstephan. I can still see his widened eyes when he figured out what was meant by: “Weihenstephan seit 1040...Andechs seit 1455…”

Our festive immersion into Germany's beer culture came right home with me, serving as a reminder of our own fervently evolving American beer culture. Never has the American interest in its beer been greater and so mainstream. In the space of one beer making career—mine—I have watched American breweries move to create and offer the very lightest tasting beers in the world. Then, I watched us come full circle to offer some of the most creative and assertive beers in the world. While in Germany, more than one (usually younger) German told me how much they admired our American beer culture.

The number of U.S. breweries is at an ALL TIME HIGH. And overwhelmingly, the driving force behind those very creative and assertive beers within the American beer culture has been Master Brewers' younger and newer members. In that spirit, I want to encourage our younger and newer members to take steps now, to preserve your own brewery's history. Your brewery's history is really your personal story. Your taproom is an outward manifestation of your story. You are influencing a way of life in your immediate community. Your story is the sum total of your outlook and attitude. Your repeat customers embrace your story, because it resonates with them. It becomes part of how their own lives speak.

It is so easy to misplace... to lose... to inadvertently destroy... even just forget some of the significant early chapters that unfold as your story. Consider how it all began: that early dream of opening a brewery, those hilarious giggle and back-slap moments, the notes and sketches on beer coasters and bar napkins, the notes and photos into your mobile phone. These become those "rare documents" and "rare photographs" that you will celebrate with when you approach a milestone event. Posterity will request them; you will be unable to provide them.

The big, century-old breweries have known this for years, and they have certainly made it a priority to have their story very well known. But I recently experienced a more contemporary, forward-thinking company that serves as the very model for preserving your story. I visited the Sierra Nevada Chico, CA, and Mills River, NC, breweries. While being escorted on tours in both facilities, I witnessed firsthand how Sierra Nevada proudly celebrates their heritage by displaying brewing tools, equipment, and “rare” photos throughout their hallways. President and Owner Ken Grossman has even written a book about it in, Beyond The Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., published in 2013. The book is loaded with many of those same rare photos. Sierra Nevada is a poster child for heritage preservation and awareness.

I am grateful for the trip to Germany that awakened this awareness of individual brewery heritage within me. It drives home the wisdom of knowing your story and knowing it well. As a part of our American beer culture, you will not regret it. Next month we will explore what specifically might be of value to preserve.

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