Drink Your History


On nearly every brewery tour that my husband and I have taken, the tour guide quizzes the group. They ask, “What are the ingredients in beer?”

Some tour guides tout their brewery’s adherence to the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law (prohibiting anything other than water, barley, and hops to be used to brew beer).* These guides will then often ask the group, “What are the 3 ingredients in beer?”

Calling back to the Reinheitsgebot is a logical way for American breweries to connect themselves to the history of brewing. Although some ales were consumed in the colonies and in the early years of the nation, beer as we know it today was introduced to America by German immigrants. Their legacy lives on in the Pabst, Miller, Budweiser, and other brewing companies of American origin.

Calling back to the Reinheitsgebot has also had the unfortunate side-effect of prompting a level of snobbery when it comes to what we now call “adjuncts.” The German tradition of brewing only with water, barley, hops, and yeast originated in efforts to control both the quality of beer and the price of grain. But modern beer quality is no longer a guessing game (Master Brewers are scientists, not artisans) and the price of grain is controlled by modern law and market forces, so there is no reason to shun beer brewed with various grains, fruits, spices, honey, pumpkin, etc. These brews harken back to an even older tradition of brewing, when women (alewives) dominated the industry and used a variety of ingredients for various effects (beer was brewed not only as a safe beverage but also as a medicinal one).

The current explosion of American craft beer brewing owes a great deal to brewers’ willingness to experiment with adjunct ingredients. I’ve tasted brews that were spiced with jalapeno, brewed with blueberries, flavored with coffee, and infused with bourbon. A three ingredient beer, while enjoyable, is only one facet of a tradition that dates back to ancient Sumeria.

*the Reinheitsgebot pre-dates the discovery of the existence of yeast.

Outreach Win: Teaming up with Craft Beer

Here is a fabulous outreach strategy: teaming up with the craft beer industry.

The Bostonian Society, which, among other things, preserves Boston’s Old State House, invited the Blue Hills Brewery to conduct a beer tasting in that historic building.

Via bostonhistory.org:

Come to the Old State House to taste beer, hear talks about pubs and drinking in the 18th century and listen to Master Brewers speak about their craft. Each admission includes 3 beer tokens.

In so doing, they grab the attention of the craft brew community, who love to taste beer and hear about its production and history (for proof, check out a local brewery’s tour). The beer will draw an audience, and the Bostonian Society gets the chance to convert these beer-lovers into historical preservation supporters with a modest presentation on beer in early American history.

This seems like a winner, and I hope it catches on with more organizations. Beer, wine, and spirits all have a rich history that people would love to hear, especially while drinking.

Archives in Pop Culture: Adventure Time

Season 2 Episode 14 “The Silent King”

Finn, the new king of a goblin kingdom, is given a tour of the royal facilities, which includes a Royal Game Archive, complete with controller hats!


+1,000,000 points for accuracy, as a true game archives would enable users to play the games in the collection.

Archives in Pop Culture: H.P. Lovecraft

From The Shadow Out of Time by H.P. Lovecraft

Now and then certain captives were permitted to meet other captive minds seized from the future—to exchange thoughts with consciousnesses living a hundred or a thousand or a million years before or after their own ages. And all were urged to write copiously in their own languages of themselves and their respective periods; such documents to be filed in the great central archives…

The archives were in a colossal subterranean structure near the city’s centre, which I came to know well through frequent labours and consultations. Meant to last as long as the race, and to withstand the fiercest of earth’s convulsions, this titan repository surpassed all other buildings in the massive, mountain-like firmness of its construction.

The records, written or printed on great sheets of a curiously tenacious cellulose fabric, were bound into books that opened from the top, and were kept in individual cases of a strange, extremely light rustless metal of greyish hue, decorated with mathematical designs and bearing the title in the Great Race’s curvilinear hieroglyphs. These cases were stored in tiers of rectangular vaults—like closed, locked shelves—wrought of the same rustless metal and fastened by knobs with intricate turnings. My own history was assigned a specific place in the vaults of the lowest or vertebrate level—the section devoted to the culture of mankind and of the furry and reptilian races immediately preceding it in terrestrial dominance.

Thanksgiving 2014

Noting major holidays is on social media is a basic outreach strategy. Following is a list of my favorite GLAM Tweets from Thanksgiving 2014:

Outreach Win: Reaching a Target Audience

I recently started listening to Strange Brews, which is a podcast about craft beer. Unexpectedly, it is also evidence of a successful outreach strategy by the Library of Congress: a blog post about beer in colonial America was tweeted to the podcast’s hosts, and they were so excited about the topic that they asked the blog post’s author, librarian Alison Kelly, to be a guest on the podcast.

I was particularly struck by the enthusiasm exhibited during the episode, including this choice quote:

I didn’t even know that there were blogs on the Library of Congress website, but there are and they’re great!

This is a total Outreach Win for Alison Kelly and the Library of Congress. Not only did her research on colonial beer reach (and excite) beer enthusiasts, those enthusiasts rebroadcast that research to their listener base – a highly targeted group of people who are now more aware of American beer history and more able to conduct additional research on the topic.

I love that the hosts of Strange Brews sing the praises of LOC blogs, model excitement about learning, and completely geek out with a librarian. And, obviously, I adore that Kelly gives a shout out to the Archives of the American Philosophical Society as a source of information about something so contemporary and commonplace as beer; her comment can easily help make the connection between archives and modern life for Strange Brews listeners.

Crack a beer and read Kelly’s blog post here, then listen to the Strange Brews podcast here (episode 48; start at 26:00 for the segment discussed above).