By Templars Guest Blogger Connor Wrenn
In spite of beer’s rich historical ties to human civilization, it’s very difficult to find a museum dedicated to man’s favorite fermentable beverage. Three Austinites are looking to change that. Matt Benevidez, Virginia Benevidez and Cameron Paxton run The Beer Museum, a traveling exhibit dedicated to showcasing ancient beer artifacts and teach patrons a thing or two about beer history.
The pioneers of Austin’s Beer Museum. From left to right: Matt Benevidez, Virginia Benevidez, Cameron Paxton
Photo Credit: Adam Kneisler
The story of the museum itself started with a challenge. Virginia wanted to drink all the beers available at Spec’s, one of Texas’ prominent liquor store chains. In order to keep track of what they had (bear in mind, this occurred before the days of apps like Untappd), Matt and Virginia kept all the bottles and cans. They amassed quite a collection that soon overtook their home.
“When we went looking for a place to donate the collection, no one would take it,” Virginia said. So, without a place to put it, Matt and Virginia decided to create their own museum.
After attending a small business seminar, the duo settled on a mobile exhibit to get the ball rolling. They partner with events and other breweries and bars to showcase their exhibits to a wider audience. Cameron later joined the group to assist with marketing the museum and designing web content like the history of beer showcase on the website. Virginia focuses on museum and business operations, while Matt focuses on brewing operations. Eventually, the trio will build out a permanent space for their museum. With that permanent space comes a grander vision for the history display.
“Ideally, we’d like people to be able to sample historically-accurate recipes as they walk through the exhibit,” Matt said. Currently, because of their mobile setup, TABC law doesn’t permit them to hand out beer to patrons, even as samples.
As a mobile exhibit, The Beer Museum currently showcases over 40 pieces in the on-site exhibit, but the total collection includes over 2,000 pieces. In addition to the original Austin beer collection, Matt and Virginia have curated a number of interesting artifacts. Among them:
- A large collection of beer cans from the 1960s and 70s, thanks to a generous donation of an old collection.
- An ale muller, which is a copper cone that can be set in a fireplace to heat beer. The practice of drinking hot beer was common in Europe and American from the 1600’s to the1800’s, and people would often add spices to the warm beer.
- A beer jug from the Mesopotamian civilization, dating back to 3000 BC.
- A Bellarmine jug from 17th century Europe. Named after Catholic Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who was vehemently opposed to drinking, Bellarmine jugs were the 15th-17th century equivalent of a growler. Also called a “Bartmann” Jug (German for “bearded man”), the face on the jug represents Green Man, a forest spirit from German folklore. These jugs were used throughout Europe to transport beer.
- A collection of character steins, mainly with animal faces on the front.
Two jugs on display at the beer museum: an ancient Mesopotamian beer vessel (left) and a Bellarmine jug from 16th century Europe (right). Photo Credit: Kim Giles
Matt and Virginia love that the mobile exhibit allows them to adjust the display as they receive feedback from patrons. It also provides a wonderful way to be meet potential patrons at the places and events they already frequent. However, as the display gets bigger, transportation becomes a challenge.
“The biggest initial challenge was figuring out a way to transport our artifacts while keeping them safe, but keeping handling down to a minimum. We designed special display boxes that keep our rare artifacts protected during travel and while they're on display,” Virginia said.
An example of a display box designed to hold a canning exhibit
Photo Credit: Matt and Stephanie McBrayer
Throughout the journey of the museum, the ultimate goal is to establish a space for beer fans of all kinds.
“Ultimately, it is about the story, not the style,” Cameron said. The Beer Museum wants to be a place for beer nerds of all types to gather together and explore history. After all, every brewery, be it a macro lager or a nano-brewery fruited sour, has a place in beer history.
That message is resonating with local breweries, many of whom are eager to host the museum at various events. Texas’ own Barrow Brewing Company hosted the museum as part of their one year anniversary.
“We love what The Beer Museum is doing and wanted to juxtapose our fledgling new brewery against the long, vibrant history of beer and brewing. Local microbreweries are kind of a new phenomenon in Texas right now, but brewing has been a part of communities and part of building community since the beginning of civilization. The Beer Museum does a great job of educating in a fun way,” VP of Dreams and Schemes KD Hill said.