Starting Your Own Brewery Collection
I’ll never forget it. It was the summer between fourth and fifth grade when I toured my first brewery. My father knew a salesman from the George Wiedemann Brewery in Newport, KY. We met up with him one afternoon and toured the brewery. At the end of the tour, my father sampled a few beers in the rooftop garden and I had a soft drink. My real reward, however, was a collector’s treasure: two of every beer can they were producing. Since this brewery was owned by G. Heileman Brewing of LaCrosse, WI, there were more than 50 cans in this haul. Little did the three of us know what a life-changing experience this would become for me!
More than 30 years have passed since that first brewery tour. Since then I have visited (or “collected”) more than 1,500 breweries in the United States. The current record is held by Herb Haydock of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. He and his wife Helen have visited more than 3,000 breweries. Dan and Linda Forbes of Arcata, CA, are running a close second. Myself, Don Kurtz of Northern IN, and Don Johnston of Lima, OH, make up the rest of the top five known brewery collectors. Author Michael Jackson is generally recognized as the holder of the record number of international brewery visits.
Brewing’s Banner Year
In the late 80’s, the prayers of brewery collectors everywhere were answered when microbreweries and brewpubs began to open at a feverish pace. Within a couple of years, a number of us had developed a network to inform each other of various establishment openings and, sadly, closings. Don Johnston even began to keep a database of all breweries known to have opened since 1977. (I have always photographed the building and the brew house of each brewery I have collected.)
The significance of 1977 is because that was the year that saw the first micro, New Albion, begin operations. Information about these new breweries became readily available through various “beeriodicals.” Years later, as technology progressed, beer-related websites began to appear on the Internet. And, as the number of breweries grew, so did the number of brewery collectors from all over the country.
One of these brewery collectors is Roger Levesque (of South Windsor, CN), who began his own unique collectable item. Roger and his wife Christine have photographed every sampler set they have used at the various breweries they’ve visited. Roger has a unique way of arranging the sampling of beer to include various identifying collectibles from the brewery he is visiting. Many of his photographs have included coasters, menus, matches, logo glassware, napkins, and the various trays upon which the beers are served.
Samplers & Souvenirs
The trays used to serve these sampler sets come in many unique shapes. Some are custom-crafted of heavy gauge wire, while others are unique platters carved from wood in a shape that represents a particular brewery’s theme. I have sampled beer served on trays cut in the shapes of trains, planes, automobiles, whales, fish…even a dog bone, muffin tin and a mailbox.
Brewery collecting is an incredibly rewarding hobby. Although you don’t actually take possession of the building you tour, you do take ownership of the visit. The mementos you acquire, such as logo-bearing glasses, t-shits, coasters, matches, growlers, and other collectables are the tangible treasures of your visit. Also, you just can’t beat getting the chance to sample and enjoy each brewery’s “Nectar of the Gods” right there on the very premises where it’s brewed.
Finally, brewery collecting is a pastime with a future. Since we will never allow (another) national prohibition, this hobby has no finish line. So get out there and “collect” a brewery or two today. And don’t forget those souvenirs.
Beer Dave Gausepohl has collected breweriana since 1974 and has a personal collection of more than 400,000 items. He has visited more than 1,500 breweries and has tasted well over 10,000 different brews from around the world.