“Beer Here” Exhibition at New-York Historical Society

When you imagine an exhibit at a historical society, you might picture some manuscripts, dusty old artifacts, and many many books. With the New-York Historical Society’s “Beer Here: Brewing New York’s History” exhibit, however, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Opening tomorrow, the exhibition is an in-depth look at three centuries of the production and consumption of beer in New York City, shown through colorful advertisements, maps, beer cans and bottles, production equipment, water pipes (yikes!) and even a dress worn by Miss Rheingold 1956 (donated by Miss Rheingold herself).

The exhibit is split into eight sections (the final section, you’ll be happy to note, is a beer hall with local breweries on tap. It will be the setting for scheduled tastings throughout the summer). The first section, “Gentlemen Brewers and Sustenance for All,” examines beer in colonial times, how it was considered safer to drink than water. Brewers were among the most distinguished and influential of New Yorkers.

Beer bottles.

Section two, “Water Works: Infrastructure & Early Technology,” looks at how the Erie Canal allowed brewers access to ingredients they hadn’t had before, and how the development of railroads sped up shipping. When the Croton Aqueduct opened, it brought brewers clean drinking water. The ice harvesting trade grew at this time, allowing brewers to control the cooling processes and store supplies in the warm temperatures.

New York State was once the largest producer of hops. In the “New York Hops” section we are presented with tools hop growers used to harvest the crop. “Yorkville & Brewers’ Row,” section four, examines the influx of immigrants to the city, specifically from Germany, and how they influenced American beer by introducing German-style lager to the city.

Maps of sections of the Lower East Side, “Where Lager Reigns.” Squares indicate lager saloons, circles indicate liquor saloons. There are more squares.

“Temperance, Taxes, and Prohibition” is section five, and focuses mostly on Temperance and the organizations in the city established that advocated for the cause, displaying things like song sheets or books of Temperance songs.

Section six is “Modernizing the Brewery.” After the Civil War, the breweries in New York adopted mechanical technology like steam engines, made use of pasteurization, refrigeration and also glass bottles. Delivery methods improved after Prohibition with fleets of trucks, and canning was developed in 1935.

A manual bottle capper, 1892

Cans

“Hometown Brewers in the Age of National Expansion,” looks at the advertising efforts of the three breweries that survived Prohibition: Piels, Rheingold and Schaefer (all located in Brooklyn). Though their efforts were aggressive and memorable, the breweries couldn’t survive in the national market. Here’s where you’ll get to see Miss Rheingold’s dress and many colorful ads with beautiful women.

Standing next to her dress is Hillie Merritt, Miss Rheingold 1956. May we all age that well.

Section eight, the beer hall, is where we can all appreciate New York City craft beer in 2012. We can sit down, enjoy a pint, and maybe chat with a brewer or two. Then take home a growler of whatever local beer is on tap and think about how great it is to be in city the today, when we have clean water, and all the beer we could ever want.

Click here for the schedule of beer tastings in the beer hall that will take place throughout the summer.

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