America’s museum of record is ready to take beer history seriously. The Smithsonian recently hired its first beer scholar to run the new Brewing History Initiative chronicling the history of American brewing.
The groundbreaking new job belongs to Theresa McCulla. It entails keeping track of current trends in the industry and telling the cultural story of “the role beer has played — and continues to play — in American history,” according to a story in Smithsonian Magazine. In short, its a job that just made every beer lover have deep seated jealousy for McCulla.
“If you look at the history of beer, you can understand stories related to immigration and industrialization and urbanization,” McCulla told Smithsonian Magazine. “You can look at advertising and the history of consumer culture and changing consumer taste. Brewing is integrated into all facets of American history.”
It’s hardly an exaggeration to call McCulla’s job the best job in the country. She’ll travel around the U.S. to create an oral history of American brewing as well as gather historical objects from brewers, hop farmers, and people in the industry. And drink beer, of course. McCulla wants to document it all, from the immigrants who shaped our beer to the politics of alcohol. And people may be surprised by what she finds.
“One common stereotype about American beer is its identity as largely, if not exclusively, masculine,” McCulla said. “But the history shows us that the very first brewers were women and enslaved peoples who brewed beer in the home.”
It’s no wonder why the Smithsonian is getting into beer. There are more than 5,000 breweries in the country, and the beverage has become a lifestyle. Countries with strong brewing traditions are now looking to America, with England using distinctive American hops and Germany welcoming Stone Brewing with open arms.
The Smithsonian isn’t the first one to think about creating a museum for beer, but private beer museum concepts like Brew: The Museum of Beer in Pittsburgh, and the Brewseum in Chicago have yet to take off. With the financial backing of the government museum, though, academic respect for the country’s most consumed alcoholic beverage will only grow.
We can’t wait to see what McCulla can accomplish.