​Preserving Brewery Heritage: The Art of Archiving

This is the second of three Heritage Chair pieces on the merits of preserving your brewery's history. Last month I shared how my recent autumnal immersion into the carefully preserved German beer culture served to remind me of the growing uniqueness of our own American beer culture. I made the case for encouraging our younger and newer members to take steps now to preserve their own brewery's history. Our industry has shown that if a brewery is successful, posterity will, in time, request its story. And with just a bit of forward-thinking, brewers will be able to fulfill the request for their story.

I'd like to take this preservation thinking to the next level by providing a brief glimpse into deciding just what to preserve and how to preserve it. An article of tremendous value was published in the September/October 2015 issue of The New Brewer entitled, “The Art of Archiving: Preserving Your Brewery's History,” by Erika Goergen. The spirit of the article is that “... there's never been a better time to start archiving your brewery's history.” Yet the practicality of the article includes: “While ideally you should keep documents and objects from the inception of your brewery, sometimes this is just not spatially feasible.” That balance sets the stage for some great heritage considerations.

To illustrate her preservation message, Erika uses the example of the Heurich Brewing Co. in Washington, D.C. Besides the U.S. government, brewer Christian Heurich was once the area's largest employer. Heurich's former home is now the Heurich House Museum in the DuPont Circle area of Washington, D.C. Erika is the collections manager at the Heurich House Museum, so her unique, hands-on perspective offers some solid and practical advice. She approaches the preservation process from a “Think-Of-Your-Brewery-As-A-Museum” methodology, and leads the reader through a few big areas to think about before archiving. These big areas involve: 1) defining the scope of your collection, 2) deciding what to keep, and 3) deciding how to store the items that are kept.

A brief summary of Erika's suggestions follow:

1) Define the scope of your collection. What do you have... paper, photos, objects? And how are you willing to organize them? These could include organizing primarily by subject matter as well as by date and year.

“Subject matter” might include more specific areas such as:

  • Beer brand
  • Marketing materials
  • Business records

“Date and year” is self-explanatory... organizing whatever category you choose in a more chronological manner.

2) Decide what to keep. This might be the most challenging endeavor as the possibilities seem endless. But Erika suggests that this exercise allows you to clarify your vision. Staying consistent with your perceived scope, individual categories included might be as follows:

  • Beer brand: Recipes, recipe adjustments, notes and logs on production, brew schedules, brand memorabilia, press releases, labels, notes on tastings, etc.
  • Marketing materials: Correspondence, press releases, posters, signage, interview transcripts, coasters, table tents, t-shirts, glasses, openers, and all manner of hand-outs.
  • Business records: Equipment purchases, raw material purchases, expansion records, personnel records, employee records, employment dates, photos, etc.

3) Storing items. Erika provides advice for physical objects as well as digital materials. The traditional acid-free boxes and file folders are discussed for physical materials, and she doesn't shy away from scanning the more fragile materials. The merits of cloud-based storage and multiple storage sites are considered.

My attempt here is to whet your appetite enough to read Erika's full article for yourself. Read it once as an overview to absorb the big-picture message. Then read it again to digest those aspects that speak to you, your brewery, and your unique situation. As I said, this article deserves exposure because it provides some fabulous first steps to start the thinking process toward preserving your own history.

In our third article in this series, we will have fun going down memory lane... with brewer-provided questions, designed to jog your preservation memory.

Brewing Resources

Ask the Brewmasters Technical Quarterly MBAA Webinars MBAA Podcasts Food Safety Brewery Safety Vendor Search