For Theresa McCulla, the first few weeks on the job as Smithsonian's first official brewing historian have been intoxicating. From delving into the museum's archives full of old beer ads to handling century-old home-brewing equipment, McCulla loves being suds deep in the history of America's favorite alcoholic beverage. However, the one thing that she doesn't get to do a whole lot of is actually drink any of her subject matter. "My tastings will be occasional and judicious," McCulla says with a laugh when asked how often she will get to imbibe. After all, beer isn't allowed in the museum archives.
With the country still riding the craft beer wave, beer culture and history have had a resurgence of public interest. Acting upon this, over the summer, Smithsonian's National Museum of American History announced they were looking to hire a "professional historian/scholar" for their new American Brewing History Initiative (made possible by a donation from the Brewers Association). In McCulla, the museum may have found the perfect candidate to take on what was called by some the "best job ever."
First of all, she's a certified culinary historian. In 2010, McCulla earned her culinary degree from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Over the last decade, she has also directed Harvard's Food Literacy Project, run two local farmers' markets and earned a Masters degree in history from Harvard. In addition, McCulla is currently writing a book about the intersection of race and food in New Orleans and will receive her doctorate in American Studies from Harvard University later this year. She's also well-versed in all things beer. Her father's family is from Milwaukee and he was a homebrewer himself, often recruiting his kids to help. "He fermented beer in a container in our shower," says McCulla, "My siblings and I helped him cap the bottles on bottling day in the kitchen." Today, besides McCulla's own work, she has several relatives who are in the brewing business, including an uncle who is opening a microbrewery in Radford, Virginia and another one who works at a homebrew supply store.