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New York museum taps the city's long history of beer

May 29, 2012|By Chris Barton
  • A variety of beers are lined-up on the bar at the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido.
A variety of beers are lined-up on the bar at the Stone Brewing World Bistro…

With the craft brewing craze in Los Angeles and beyond expanding to the point where the term "beer sommelier" is part of the lexicon, newly converted hop-heads and longtime Joe Sixpacks can make a pilgrimage to a new exhibit in New York City to see just how deeply America's beer roots run.

Called "Beer Here," the exhibit opened last week at the New York Historical Society with its eye squarely trained on the recent explosion of gastropubs and beer gardens around the city, proving that the taste of malt, hops and yeast was a favorite in the city as far back as to Colonial times.

Examining the time when the term "Breukelen" meant more than a hip T-shirt design on a bearded guy selling artisanal pickles, the museum shows that the former New Amsterdam was at the forefront of the American beer scene with its hop-friendly climate and an influx of Dutch and German immigrants. Among the exhibits are packages of hops from the era, a beer order for George Washington's troops and foggy bottles  excavated from lower Manhattan that point to the drink's popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries.

While Dutch colonists contributed to establishing the city's strong beer tradition by sharing that of their own in an explosion of taverns around the city, simple health concerns also played a role.

"Clean water was a huge issue," museum curator Debra Schmidt Bach told the Associated Press. "And most of the sources that had been developed in the early 18th century were pretty polluted by the 1770s. So absolutely, beer was much cleaner."

Prohibition and horticulture issues resulted in the city's beer culture falling behind the West Coast, but the exhibit nods toward its long road back. Vintage advertisments pointing to beer reaching a new standing the 1950s and 60s, and a tasting room at the end of the exhibit offering beer from local brewers showcase how strong the craft is today. Smart move -- taking in so much history can work up a powerful thirst.

The exhibit runs until Sept. 2.

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