America's brewing history may be robust, but many Texas regions have put their own stamp on beer over the centuries. San Antonio is no exception. It was, after all, the original home to the Lone Star and Pearl breweries. Before they were established, William Menger brewed beer on the very grounds where his namesake hotel now stands near the Alamo.
Visitors to the Institute of Texan Cultures can explore that history thanks to a new exhibit, “Brewing Up Texas,” which opened on October 21. Staged in a room resembling a traditional beer garden with picnic tables and benches, the exhibit educates patrons on the basic process of beer brewing. (Sorry, no actual brewing takes place on the premises.)
The exhibit room involves a solid collection of brewing-related equipment and memorabilia that’s bound to make even the heartiest of beer drinkers wax nostalgic. Many of the items are on loan from private collectors who have worked with renowned brewers past and present, including the earliest system used by Joey Villarreal of Blue Star Brewing Co., the first San Antonio craft beer producer to sell its beer city wide. Other items on view include historic mugs and product signage from long-established brewhouses and breweries long gone.
One interactive area invites visitors to pull tap handles from six Texas breweries. Each pull brings up a small screen where one can read more about that brewery’s history. There’s an impressive timeline outside of the exhibit room, tracing the known history of beer production across the United States and throughout the world.
Sarah Zenaida Gould, the Institute’s lead curatorial researcher, notes that beer — and the production of it — has become ingrained with practically all things Texan, such as football, honky-tonks, and ice houses. The idea of putting together a local exhibit about the history of Texas beer had been, well, brewing for at least seven years, explains Travis Poling, a local journalist and noted beer writer who helped with the exhibit. “Back then we had 36 breweries in the state of Texas. We now have 220 and counting,” he explains.
“This is such a dynamic industry and it harkens back to the 1840s, 1850s, through the early 1900s, getting through Prohibition and into the 1960s,” says Poling. “We’re seeing the dynamic happen again, and it’s happening in big cities, small towns, and in your neighborhood.”
“Brewing Up Texas” will be on display through October 28, 2018, and will include quarterly events, such as beer tastings, lectures, and even home-brew classes. The exhibit is free with Institute admission.