Craft Beer and Museums: A Smart Pairing

On a Thursday evening in midwinter, the lobby of Burlington's ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center was packed. But the crowd anxiously awaiting the stroke of seven hadn't arrived for a new display or the chance to see baby Softshell turtles in the Animal Care Lab. No, everyone in line had turned up for a craft beer tasting. More specifically, they were there for FeBREWary: The Science of Beer, a two-hour special event that included presentations on beer history and chemistry along with access to more than two dozens bottles of stouts, saisons, pilsners, and pale ales.

Well before the last guest had even left the building, staff members were declaring FeBREWary a success, excitedly discussing the possibility of future beer nights at the aquarium. All across the United States, from Syracuse to Seattle, a growing number of institutions are discovering the tremendous appeal of craft beer and its ability to raise revenue and attract visitors. This weekend for example, marks the tenth anniversary of Hops and Props, a tasting event that features over 40 breweries and benefits Seattle's Museum of Flight. Meanwhile, at the end of March, the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology in Syracuse will host the eighth annual TAP into the MOST.

Numerous animal parks organize "Brew at the Zoo" days. And fine art museums have taken notice, too. On March 9th, the Akron Art Museum in Ohio brings back their popular Art of Ale event, while the Oklahoma City Museum of Art has already begun to plan another ARTonTAP for October. Will history museums embrace this trend next? Maybe. In May, the New York Historical Society launches Beer Here: Brewing New York's History, a temporary exhibit that surveys "the social, economic, political, and technological history of the production and consumption of beer over the past 350 years." Heady stuff, to be sure.

I'd really like to see an exhibit that places fermented beverages in a historical context, explaining the relationship between ancient ales and cultures of the past. To drink, the museum could offer Fraoch, a Scottish gruit made with heather and bog myrtle instead of hops. Or maybe they'd pour Dogfish Head's Egyptian-inspired Ta Henket and Birra del Borgo's Enkir, a saison brewed with a grain that's been found at Neolithic sites. I'll bet it would find a large audience, and beer travelers like me would probably race to the internet afterwards, feverishly searching for Egyptian holiday offers, Scottish heritage vacations, and archaeology tour packages.

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