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Lucy Saunders
4230 N. Oakland #178
Shorewood WI
53211 USA
@ site name

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A heady brew of heritage tourism:
beer museums

At night, the Brew Kettle Museum gleams behind glass, its copper dome illuminated inside the rotunda of windows to attract passers-by. Brew Kettle Museum, Miller Brewing Co., Ft. Worth Texas - Ft. Worth Convention and Visitors BureauFilled with artifacts and memorabilia of brewing history through the ages, the museum documents the rich history of the Miller Brewing Company and its 90-year association with...Ft. Worth.

Yes, among the dozens of beer museums that dot the globe is the Miller museum found in Texas, where visitors to the plant's tour center and gift shop may enter an annex to travel through "Miller Time" for "history, relaxation, and shopping."

The Miller Marketplace and Brew Kettle Museum is a good example of how many breweries now turn to heritage tourism to promote their brands.

Miller has plenty of company in displaying memorabilia of brewing dynasties over the decades, mounted as historical exhibits.

The Boston Beer Company maintains a pilot brewery and museum, while the Brewery Museum at Burton-on-Trent, England, and the Czech Beer Museum, in Plzen, are mostly underwritten by the former Bass Breweries PLC and Pilsner Urquell respectively. Anheuser-Busch has subsidized a television show on brewing history and keeps an historical archivist on staff.

There's the Stiegl bier museum in Salzburg, Austria, the Greene King ale museum in Bury St. Edmunds near Cambridge, UK, and closer to home, the Schell's museum and gift shop in New Ulm, Minnesota.

But can a beer museum operate independently, as proposed by the organizers of Milwaukee's Museum of Beer and Brewing?

Actually, a few comprehensive beer museums do thrive without a sole commercial brewer's sponsorship. The Confederation of Belgian Brewers, a 300-member trade organization, maintains the 500-year-old brewer's Guild Hall as a museum on the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium. Twenty years ago, the brewers of Franconia in Bamberg, Germany (pop. 70,000), opened a volunteer-run museum that draws just a few thousand visitors annually. In 1996, the Museo de la Cervesa opened in Madrid, housing both a tap-room and collection of 1930's European breweriana.

Back in the States, the American Hop Museum documents the Pacific Northwest hops industry, through exhibits mounted in an old warehouse in tiny Toppenish, Washington. Supported by donations from both brewers and hop growers, and staffed primarily by volunteers, the American Hop Museum derives operating income from its large gift shop as well. With an admission fee of just $2 per adult, and open only March through October, this museum truly operates on a beer budget.

Milwaukee has a hidden trove of breweriana, in the Haydock Collection.

For the American Breweriana Association, which "advances the public knowledge of brewing and brewing history," and other industry observers, chief speculation concerns what portion of the legendary Haydock Collection of brewing memorabilia will any independent beer museum be able to borrow from the Miller Brewing Co. The now-defunct American Specialty & Craft Beer division of Miller acquired the Haydock Collection from Oldenberg Brewery in 1995.

Some of the Haydock Collection, "about the top ten percent in terms of quality and historical value," says the American Breweriana Association, is ensconced in Ft. Worth at the Miller Brew Kettle Museum. The Haydocks are now involved with the Museum of Beer and Brewing.

The Museum of Beer and Brewing's new board of directors includes: Frederick Gettleman, Gary Luther, Jerrold Hilton, Jeff Platt, Jim Haertel, Marjorie Volke, Jim Kupferschmidt, Paul Popsychala, Paul Bertling, Dave Keating, and Karl Strauss. Among the proposed sites for the museum is the former Pabst brewery complex in Milwaukee's downtown, permitting both casual dining on pub grub, a full bar and historical edification through sampling real beer.

"It certainly makes sense for Milwaukee to be a host city for a beer museum," says Gregg Smith, Idaho-based brewer, beer historian and author of "Beer in America: the Early Years" (Siris Books, 1998). He adds, "A sole brewery's sponsorship is not a requisite for success." As a beer historian, Smith's Ernst Frankenberg, tapping old beer barrels at a Museum of Beer and Brewing Fundraiser; photo by Lucy Saundersvision of the ideal beer museum would encompass not just memorabilia and collectibles such as labels, cans and signs, but "comprehensive brewing education, working displays of brewery operations, and of course, tastes of the region's representative brews."

Left: Ernst Frankenberg, a former brewery worker with Sprecher Brewing Co., demonstrates the tapping of an old beer barrel at a recent benefit for the proposed Museum of Beer and Brewing.

Tim Ericson, head of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Archives helped to assemble pictorial archives representing the Gettelman, Schlitz, Pabst, and Blatz breweries. "When the Oral History Association of America had its national meeting in Milwaukee," recalls Ericson, "the very first thing that everybody wanted to know about was the city's brewing history."

Fortunately, the Wisconsin State Historical Society is now working with the Museum of Beer and Brewing, thanks to its new board of directors. This is a sign of support and progress from at least one nonprofit that recognizes the importance of heritage tourism.

Portions of this article first appeared in the Business Journal of Milwaukee.

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