Austin’s St. Edward’s University is now home to one of the first archives in the country chronicling the history and culture of craft beer.
The fledgling collection features memorabilia and other items exclusively from Texas breweries, and the archivist in charge hopes to have Texas distilleries, wineries, cideries and meaderies represented as well.
So far, Megan Blair has gathered documents, merchandise, equipment and all manner of miscellaneous items from the breweries and beer-related entities that have shown interest over the past year, including Austin’s Adelbert’s Brewery, Houston’s 8th Wonder Brewery and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.
A tap handle from the original Celis Brewery; a faded food menu from Waterloo Brewing, the first modern, legal brewpub in Texas; and old Adelbert’s tokens used in the days before breweries could sell pints in their taproom are just some of the items Blair has begun to keep safe in the bottom-floor archival room at St. Edward’s Munday Library.
The widow of Steve Anderson — the brewmaster at long-defunct Waterloo and then founder and brewmaster of Big Bend Brewing until his death in 2015 — also donated some of the things he had kept from his many years in the beer industry, including gold, silver and bronze medals won at Great American Beer Festival.
"Part of the reason we’re interested in starting something like this is making sure the breweries, distilleries, all of the encompassing companies, are remembered," Blair said. "So that we don’t, in 100 years, go, ‘Wasn’t there a brewery somewhere down this road?’ Those items will help us say, ‘Yes, this is the company that was there. This is the stuff they did.’"
She said she got the idea after listening to a lecture given by the archivist of the nation’s first-ever beer-related collection, the Oregon Hops & Brewing archive preserved at Oregon State University. Blair wasn’t working for St. Edward’s at the time, but once she moved to Austin, she realized that "no one was actively collecting these things."
Typically, archivists wait for collections to come to them, but after getting permission from her boss, she reached out to Chip McElroy, the owner of Live Oak Brewing, to gauge interest. He recommended that she speak to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, which represents the interests of independent brewers in the state and helped her to facilitate conversations with interested beer producers.
"We applaud St. Edward's University for taking initiative on this project to protect and preserve the legacy of Texas' growing craft beer industry for current and future generations," the guild’s executive director Charles Vallhonrat said.
He and deputy director Caroline Wallace provided Blair with a collection of guild materials that, in part, lend insight into state laws that affect Texas breweries. One of the items is a poster for CraftPAC, the political action committee the guild launched earlier this year. The legislative side of craft brewing is just as important as its cultural and historical ramifications, Blair said.
Part of her job — because she reached out to brewers, rather than the other way around — has been to explain to them why their seemingly insignificant anniversary poster or branded koozie is worth preserving for the next 100 years.
"I’m taking a different approach by helping the breweries understand why they need to already be saving their stuff coming in so that we don’t lose things, like if Pedernales (Brewing) had closed and been boxed up and thrown away," she said.
Fredericksburg brewery Pedernales had faced dwindling sales and the threat of closure, so Uncle Billy’s owner Bob Leggett purchased the brand early this year and is making sure all Pedernales brews are remaining on store and bar shelves. Now, the St. Edward’s University collection has original items from the years before the acquisition.
The hope is that the brewing archive will one day not only preserve "our collective memory" of Texas’ beer industry but serve as a resource for people wanting to learn more about it. Much of it will go online, and interested students and other folks can also look at certain items in person — under Blair or another archivist’s supervision.
In the meantime, she still has a lot of work to do to grow the archive. Fortunately, that’s her favorite part.
"I just love working with people to help them understand why their history’s important," she said. "You’re making important contributions, and they deserve to be preserved."
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