Beer is food. Beer is art. Beer is commerce. Beer is luxury. Beer is daily bread. Beer is a farm product. Beer is what goes into the slushy machine before the fruit. Beer is history.

Whatever you believe beer is or should be, its history now has a home at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “Brewing a Revolution” opens on October, 25 as part of “Food: Transforming the American Table.” The new fall 2019 update to this permanent exhibit was curated by Dr. Theresa McCulla of the American Brewing History Initiative, and highlights stories of changing foodways and “how Americans produce, prepare and consume food and drink.” 

Listen to the DC Beer Show’s conversation with Theresa McCulla, curator of the American Brewing History Initiative at the Smithsonian

The history of brewing in the US has evolved dramatically through the years, responding to immigration and urban change as well as technological innovation and evolving consumer tastes. In the early days of brewing, for example, people drank mostly ales brewed at home by women and enslaved people. 

That changed when European professional brewers, mostly men, began arriving in the 19th Century — changing American tastes to lagers. Some of their names, like Busch, Schlitz, and Pabst — and, locally, Christian Heurich, lasted through Prohibition and beyond.


Smithsonian highlights industry founders

This year’s “Brewing a Revolution” section focuses on the homebrewing and microbrewing movements in California and Colorado from the 1960s through the 1980s, with artifacts, archival material, and photographs from the craft beer “revolution.”

Fritz Maytag's coveralls from Anchor Brewing are part of the Smithsonian beer history collection. Courtesy of the National Museum of American History.
Fritz Maytag’s coveralls from Anchor Brewing are part of the Smithsonian’s beer history collection (Courtesy of the National Museum of American History.)

Also included is a childhood microscope Fritz Maytag used to improve quality after he acquired Anchor Brewing Company and the travel notebook that helped inspire Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch to found New Belgium Brewing Company.

Highlights include the Charlie Papazian’s wooden homebrewing spoon. Papazian, the father of modern American craft beer and the founder of the organization that is now the Brewers Association, used the spoon in his earliest days of homebrewing and donated it to the Smithsonian.

To celebrate the exhibit, the Smithsonian is throwing a party/panel as part of their annual Food History Weekend Last Call event series. On November 8, you can see craft beer pioneers Charlie Papazian, Past President of the Brewers Association; Dr. Michael Lewis, professor emeritus University of California, Davis; Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada owner/founder; and Fritz Maytag, former owner of Anchor Brewing Co. at the Smithsonian’s Last Call event. 

The beer list for Last Call features classic American examples of the “revolution’s’” output and new products from the famed breweries Dogfish Head, Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Raleigh Brew. Co. (who have revived the classic New Albion beer), and New Belgium. The list:

Dogfish Head – 60 Minute IPA and Slightly Mighty IPA

Anchor — Anchor Steam Beer and Anchor Porter

Sierra Nevada — Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Celebration Fresh Hop IPA

Raleigh — New Albion Ale and Hell Yes Ma’am Belgian Golden Ale

New Belgium — Fat Tire Amber Ale and Voodoo Ranger IPA.

Tickets are $45, which includes beer tastings, appetizers, and a one-night-only chance to ask Fritz Maytag what he makes of Stilton blue cheese, Ken Grossman what his favorite mountain range is, and Dr. Michel Lewis if he’s more a fan of hazy turbid DDH triple IPA or fruited kettle sours in cans with protruding aluminum when not refrigerated.