A few days ago, my former editor at Washington City Paper asked, has the Smithsonian’s National Zoo always had booze?

A valid question to be certain. And in her menchies was another DC writer who responded with his piece from 2006, when Budweiser and Bud Light were $3.95 for a 12 ounce cup. Bud Light has come under fire lately for dumb reasons, but if you follow the money, they’re not absolute in their politics. Black lives matter, Trans lives matter, antisemitism is bullshit, and Islamophobia is a cancer that needs cutting out of the fabric of American society. This I believe. But I digress.

In the 2006 article, National Zoo was selling a cup of “microbrew” for $4.95. 17 years ago, Kirin was the microbrew (this was before their owning stakes/buying/holding Bells, Brooklyn, and New Belgium breweries), which the author noted was Japan’s largest brewer at the time.

The question prompted me to ask how long has the Smithsonian’s museums been pouring beer and wine? The Smithsonian’s National Zoo was founded in 1889, with the Smithsonian Institution itself founded in 1846. The 19th century will have to wait for a proper beer and wine history dive, but in the meantime I figured I’d reach out to the Smithsonian Institution for a proper post-Prohibition context.

A spokesperson responded to my question of the timeline for beer and wine writing:


It appears that we have had wine and beer for sale in our cafes for sure since 1992 but possibly even going back as far as 1973. There is some documentation but no one is here from back then to explain how that worked.

Woah. According to the Brewers Association there were 122 breweries in America in 1973. And in 1992, 359 breweries existed. 

Was 1992 the first year Dogfish Head beer was served at a Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History or National Zoo? Nope! Dogfish Head didn’t open until 1995. Brooklyn Brewery was four years old at this time, Boston Beer was eight, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company was 12.

Today, you can find a good deal of American craft and even DC-brewed beer throughout the 21 Museums and Zoo. You might consider an ANXO cider or a DC Brau beer, which I’ve found at a few museums throughout the dozen I regularly frequent. If you like a strong assertive hop-driven character, try an Atlas Ponzi at the National Museum of the American Indian. Or a Boston Beer Company beer at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

The menus change regularly and the beer and cider stocks seem to come and go as the museums and zoo attract thirsty tourists. Of late, the National Zoo has had some tasty drafts. Last July, the cart had Sparkle Pils by Pherm Brewing from Gambrills, MD. Pherm describes Sparkle Pils as a 5.6% ABV, 26 IBU beer that has Pilsner malt and a touch of wheat and with Tettnanger and Hersbrucker hops, it was really hitting on what felt like a 99 degree day with 99% humidity. Thanks to my old editor for reminding me, it’s time for another visit to the National Zoo on a hot day with a cold beer.