‘Brewing A Revolution’ Brings Craft Beer History To The Smithsonian

Food & Drink

If John F. Kennedy had lived a few decades longer … and appreciated the legacy of craft beer … and attended the Last Call celebration to inaugurate the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s new craft beer collection Friday night, he may have riffed off his 1962 quote by observing of the invited speakers, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of DIY talent, of bootstrap innovation, that has ever been gathered in Washington, D.C. – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Or, as panelist and American Homebrewers Association founder Charlie Papazian said, “There are pioneers and there are explorers. Explorers go into a jungle not knowing what’s there. And they figure out how to survive. These guys were explorers. The pioneers — they had a map.”

Indeed, the congregated explorers — Papazian (who also founded the organization that preceded the Brewers Association trade group), Sierra Nevada Brewing principle Ken Grossman, former Anchor Brewing owner Fritz Maytag, New Albion Brewing co-founder Jack McAuliffe and former University of California Davis brewing program director Michael Lewis — could be likened to a Mount Rushmore of craft beer history. Though some might argue for the inclusion of others – Boston Beer’s Jim Koch, say, or any number of influential women – there’s no disputing that these five men nearly single-handedly created the global Post-Prohibition craft beer industry as we know it, from the 1960s to the early 80s. Many came after them. But almost no one came before.

“Last Call was an extraordinary privilege to assemble such a talented, accomplished group of speakers—and attendees—and hear them speak with each other about the past fifty years of beer. Even while moderating their conversation I felt like I was able to sit back, listen, and feel amazed by their stories and their long perspectives,” emails panel moderator and curator Theresa McCulla, who’s using a grant from the Brewers Association and others to assemble the “Brewing a Revolution” collection.

Speakers reflected on the difficulties of making and selling craft beer long before there was a market for it.

“It was hard to educate the consumer and hard to educate the wholesaler,” said Grossman, who started Sierra Nevada in Chico, California, in 1980, and still runs it with his children. “It was a lot of hard work and sleepless nights.”

But with the exhaustion and defeats, of course, came the triumphs. Out of necessity, craft brewers have been a collegial bunch since the beginning. But Maytag offered a little-known alternative explanation to the narrative that early artisan brewers had to cooperate to compensate for their lack of educational resources and even greater lack of supplies in sizes and quantities small enough to scale.

He said when craft brewing started in the mid-20th century, the existing survivors of Prohibition “were not microbrewers. They were old rural families all making very boring, very bland lager beer. Mostly they were in individual territories. They were not competing directly with each other and that added an element of camaraderie.”

While some might find it strange that the venerable Smithsonian is devoting time, space and most importantly, money to preserve and display artifacts, photos and interviews to chronicle the 20th and 21st century American beer revolution, a statement released by the museum explains why: “The history of brewing in the U.S. is a story of immigration, urban change, technological innovation and evolving consumer tastes.”

A rotating showcase of craft beer memorabilia now forms a major part of the newly revamped food history gallery. Items like the homebrewing mash paddle used by Papazian and a travel notebook that journeyed through Belgium with the founders of Colorado’s seminal New Belgium Brewing (both of whom attended the event), make up the initial display.

Event guests got the added benefit of browsing some objects that aren’t yet on public view.  

“Mark Carpenter’s signature in that Anchor Brewing visitor book and their white jumpsuits he and other brewers wore to work,” listed international beer judge Herlinda Heras, who traveled from Santa Rosa, California, to attend. She co-hosts a radio segment on beer with Carpenter, who spent 40 years as Anchor’s head brewer.

McAuliffe, who co-established the long-defunct New Albion in 1976 as the first US ground-up craft brewery since Prohibition, came escorted by his daughter, Renee DeLuca, who contracted Raleigh Brewing to reproduce New Albion ale for the occasion. The 74-year-old Navy veteran from Fayetteville, Arkansas, was also accompanied by his sister, brother and two adult grandchildren. 

“It was an amazing experience for Jack to be honored in such prestigious company in the craft brewing world. I know he never could have imagined it when he first opened New Albion! The night was extremely emotional for me, seeing my father recognized in the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian where I had been on nearly every field trip of my life as a kid growing up in suburban Maryland,” DeLuca says.

Seeing the value of McCulla’s work, the Brewers Association has extended the funding for her research through 2022.

“Beer is a thread that runs throughout the fabric of our nation’s history and culture,” she said.

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