From Ancient Egypt To Contemporary Culture, These Upcoming Events Help Elevate The Study Of Beer

Food & Drink

Through much of the course of her career, Chicagoan Liz Garibay struggled to convince her superiors to let her work on her greatest area of interest. They just didn’t deem it worthy of serious research. But after years of persuasion, the PhD and former curator at several of Chicago’s top cultural institutions finally managed to persuade her bosses to let her program around her passion: beer.

She writes on her website, “Beer is more than just a beverage. It is a dynamic cultural force with the power to bring people together and the ability to influence change.”

Since founding the non-profit Chicago Brewseum in 2016, Garibay no longer has to ask permission to highlight beer as the cultural phenomenon that it’s always been. In November, she and the museum, which has no physical space yet, are hosting their third annual Beer Culture Summit, this year in hybrid form because of the pandemic. As in years past, the world’s top beer historians, curators, archivists, journalists and scholars will exchange knowledge about subjects like the dearth of South Asians in American beer and indigenous people making inroads in the hospitality business. 

“The whole thing is meant to open communication amongst different fields and different kinds of people,” emails Garibay, who identifies as Latina and queer. “I was so tired of going to academic conferences and museum conferences and beer conferences listening to the same people talk about the same things for the same people. And for what? It’s all so insular and nothing ever changes. So the Summit was born out of seeing a need for people of different backgrounds to come together to speak to one another and learn.”

The summit is just one of several high-level beer history and culture forums contributing to the cultural dialogue this fall and winter. Here are some highlights from the calendar.

October 22, 7:00-8:15 pm ET — Last Call: Beer Histories, Now (National Museum of American History in collaboration with Smithsonian Associates); $15

The Smithsonian’s American Brewing History Initiative curator Theresa McCulla hosts a quick-hit, one-night virtual conversation with four women in beer. 

Her description is too beautiful to paraphrase: “Panelists hail from the fields of filmmaking, historical research, journalism, and brewing. They consider the unique potential of their diverse worlds—film, the archives, the classroom, the written word, even a glass of beer itself—to better understand this beverage, the people who brew it, and their lives. In a lively discussion they share what intrigues them about beer in the United States past and present and how they communicate with beer’s many devotees.”

Those panelists are documentary director Atinuke Akintola Diver (This Belongs to Us); Assistant History Professor Allyson Brantley (“Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism”); Austin writer Ruvani de Silva (South Asian Beer Club); and brewmaster Briana Brake (Spaceway Brewing). 

November 4-7, Beer Culture Summit (Chicago Brewseum); $25/day for virtual events

The aforementioned Beer Culture Summit starts with a virtual keynote talk by Brienne Allan, who broke open the #metoo reckoning in beer last spring, and ends with an in-person party to release Forgotten Half pale ale, brewed in collaboration with Goose Island Brewery in honor of the 19th century Chicago women who toiled in taverns and breweries. In between, the world’s top beer scholars explore everything from the history of Jews in beer to how to apply feminist principles to improving safety for everyone in the alcohol industry.

On November 5, I’ll be presenting “Prohibition: For American Women, The Most Failed Experiment in the History of The Republic is the Gift that Keeps on Giving,” a look at how Prohibition gave women new freedoms that we take for granted today.

November 12-14, Ales Through the Ages (Colonial Williamsburg); $75 

Peppered with on-demand workshops and live virtual Q&A sessions, this annual conference showcases illustrious beer historians Frank Clark, Lee Graves, Marc Meltonville, Travis Rupp, Kyle Spears, Dan Lauro and myself as we tackle topics like “Brewing Beer in Roman Britain” and “The Who, What & How of Brewing in 18th Century Virginia.” On November 15, I’m presenting solo and IRL at a ticketed event ($5) called “Alcohol Production in 18th and 19th c. Virginia.”  

November 18 and December 16, 5:30–6:30 pm ET, Brews and Views (The National Museum of Women in the Arts); free

Celeste Beatty, the tenacious brewer who became the first African-American to open a US craft brewery in modern times, hosts a happy hour series to converse with select beer industry guests and assorted artists about contemporary issues related to “beer making, the restaurant industry, art, politics, culture and more.” 

Beatty features a different artist on every show and will speak with Kendra Woods of Sylvia’s Restaurant on Nov. 18 about entrepreneurship, small businesses and shopping local and filmmaker and journalist Nicole Franklin about the ways “art, businesses, and consumers create community.”

November 19, 6-8 pm ET, Ancient Alcohol After Hours (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology); $15

Here’s your chance to make beer the way indigenous South American women have done it for millennia: by chewing corn kernels then spitting them out in an ancient process in which their saliva doses the mash with enzymes needed to break their starches into sugars. At this romp through the distant past, the Penn museum — home to Dr. Pat McGovern, of Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales fame — everyone from a Mesopotamian queen to a modern archaeologist make an appearance.

Not only is the Penn Museum the most underrated attraction in Philadelphia, IMO, these Ancient Alcohol events are inspired, full of games and trivia, and sure to engage people who want to learn a little (more) about what, when, where, why and how our ancestors imbibed alcohol. 

Curators have revamped the tour for fall, and the museum’s treasure trove of ancient alcohol artifacts never gets old.

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