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Graphic: Smithsonian American History Museum
Graphic: Smithsonian American History Museum

American History Museum Highlights Regional Impact on Beers

How do brewers incorporate local flavors in their products, and how does that impact their profitability and overall image for the American consumer?

This question was discussed this past weekend at the Smithsonian’s Last Call event on November 3, which included an evening of conversation, craft beer tastings and historic artifacts. The event was part of the fourth annual Food History Weekend, held at the National Museum of American History. Each year offers a different theme, and this year’s theme was “Regions Reimagined.”

In a panel moderated by Theresa McCulla, historian of the Smithsonian’s American Brewing History Initiative, four American brewers spoke about the sourcing of their ingredients, what inspired them to dive into the beer industry and more. The panelists included Shyla Sheppard from Bow and Arrow Brewing Company in New Mexico, Jon Renthrope from Cajun Fire Brewing Company in New Orleans, Deb Carey from New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin and Marika Josephson from Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois.

Before the panel commenced, guests were able to view a myriad objects on display related to brewing history in America. There were publications from the Smithsonian Dibner Library that ranged from beer histories to instructional books, some dating as far back as the 1890s.

One was a journal from 1988 by Jeff Lebesch, New Belgium Brewing Company founder and Fat Tire creator. Also on display were vintage posters, photos and business ephemera from the 1870s through 1905, as well as Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub tap handles from the 1980s.

During the panel, each of the guest brewers spoke about their emphasis local ingredients.

“It feels great to be able to highlight some of the special aspects of the culture of the area and the native people in a really authentic way,” Shyla Sheppard said. 

“We get all of our malt from a local maltster,” Marika Josephson said. “We get our hops now all from Illinois, and we hired farmers almost three years ago to help us with our farm, and we were able to give them jobs.”

With this, Josephson added, “I think breweries have a lot of power.”

While guests of the Smithsonian’s Last Call event listened to the panel, they were also able to enjoy samples from each brewery as well as appetizers from the museum’s chef, Stephen Kerschner.

Some of the highlights from each brewery included the tart, fairly floral Blueberry Lavender beer from Scratch Brewing Company; the bright and refreshing Denim Tux Blue Corn Lager from Born and Arrow Brewing; the Big Chief Crème Stout from Cajun Fire Brewing Company, which offered soothing French Vanilla and coffee notes; and the Wisconsin Belgian Red, a very cherry-focused beer from New Glarus Brewing Company whose taste resembled a Jolly Rancher.

“I’m always so grateful for public enthusiasm for beer through the lens of history,” McCulla said. “My job is much easier and fun because the public has a sense of investment in the topic.”

For the future, at some point in 2019, McCulla said the public should expect a refreshed food exhibition on the first floor of the museum in the east wing with a new installation that will focus on brewing history. Some of the items that were displayed in Last Call will be incorporated into the exhibit.

For more information about the Museum’s American Brewing History Initiative, click here

Photos: Lizzie Sorkin
Photos: Lizzie Sorkin

Crafting Community at Streetcar 82

The genesis of Streetcar 82 Brewing Co. is not unlike many other microbreweries that now heavily populate the DMV. What was born of a humble homebrewing project among a group of friends and Gallaudet graduates evolved into a brick-and-mortar brewery in the heart of downtown Hyattsville.

Streetcar 82, newly opened in July, is named for an actual streetcar that connected bustling neighborhoods through DC and Maryland during its 70-year run. While the streetcar itself is now defunct, the brewery’s namesake serves as a fitting metaphor for its ability to connect multiple communities in one place – over delicious beer, of course.

The space aims to create connections among Gallaudet grads, the larger deaf community, Hyattsville residents and craft beer enthusiasts, to name a few. But  what really sets co-owners Mark Burke, Jon Cetrano and Sam Costner apart is the fact that they place as much emphasis on creating a welcoming space for people from different communities as they do on their carefully crafted beers.

“The sense of community that we hope to foster has been a driving factor in the creation of Streetcar 82,” Cetrano says. “Having a sense of place is very important. Gallaudet University is the only university in the world for deaf people, and the sense of community and bond that one gets there is very powerful. As a deaf person, it is an instant connection. Whether you attend there – or are just visiting campus to see and be in a place that welcomes you – [it’s] powerful.”

Their communities were integral in the actual creation of the brewery. The co-owners explain they were encouraged by a professor in Gallaudet’s Department of Business to open their own brewery, and even went on to win a fan favorite award at a university-hosted business pitch competition.

Social media also proved to be an important aspect of the launch. They posted updates on the brewery’s progress via their Instagram account while preparing to open, including ways for thirsty future patrons to contribute to their launch through a Kickstarter page. That alone was indicative of the area’s desire for a space like this. Streetcar 82 raised over $25,000, surpassing their goal before the campaign even closed.

Burke says they also received an outpouring of support from the Hyattsville community, including Kickstarter contributions and help from the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation to get the business up and running. He describes Hyattsville as a place where “we felt comfortable starting a business because we knew the community there would help us thrive.”

Still, the support they received didn’t make them immune to the growing pains many new businesses face and the challenge of a more limited budget than they had hoped for. Costner explains that while they obtained loans in addition to the funding from their supporters, they still had to dramatically readjust their expectations.

“We had to plan on doing a lot of the work ourselves to save money,” Costner says. “We did all the demolition work, a lot of physical labor and all the cosmetic work.”

Their efforts included painting, building the bar and installing the walk-in refrigerator, all as a way to conserve funds.

“In the end, this turned out to be a boon because we moved along a lot faster than if we waited for contractors to do the work. So not having all the money we wanted turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”

Streetcar 82 has felt support from other local breweries and members of the DMV beer community. The teams at Shaw’s Right Proper Brewing Company and Baltimore-based Suspended Brewing, and local brewer Matt Humbard (formerly of Handsome Brewing Company), have offered their professional opinions and even lent equipment when needed. Streetcar’s brewers have also forged a friendship with their neighbors at Pizzeria Paradiso and are currently planning the release of a coffee stout with Hyattsville roasters Vigilante Coffee Company.

As for beer options, the co-founders consider Streetcar to be Belgian-inspired due to the prevalence of Belgian yeasts in their brews. While you can find those varieties shining in their interpretations of New England and farmhouse IPAs and a Belgian dark strong ale, don’t expect only one style from Streetcar 82. The trio is plotting to add Märzens and Oktoberfest-style beers to their roster this month and aim to have at least half a dozen beers on tap on any given day.

And while their ties to the deaf community are strong and the presence of American Sign Language is apparent, Streetcar 82 is a place for everyone to call their own.

“We worked hard to develop a place that is diverse, neighborly and intimate,” Cetrano says. “Our brewery is a place where people can really chat with each other and see people with their kids and dogs. When you’re there, you feel like you belong.”

Check www.streetcar82brewing.com for more information about Streetcar 82. Follow them on Instagram at @streetcar82brewingco and Facebook at @Streetcar82 for the brewery’s most updated hours.

Streetcar 82 Brewing Co.: 4824 Rhode Island Ave. Hyattsville, MD; www.streetcar82brewing.com

Streetcar 82 2 (Photo - Lizzie Sorkin)