Let me start by coming clean: one of my favorite journalists covers neither arts nor culture. In fact, it’s quite possible that the only readers of his who also frequent Third Coast Review happen to share my last name. You see, Pete Sampson is the Notre Dame Football beat reporter for The Athletic. And his authorial ethos (as stated in his Twitter bio, as if the implicit were insufficient), is this is supposed to be fun.
I tell you that to tell you this: I immediately thought of Sampson’s phrase when talking to Liz Garibay, founder of the Chicago Brewseum and organizer of the upcoming Beer Culture Summit. While Garibay certainly wants the summit to be informative, she also wants the attendees to have a blast. “I definitely knew from my experience in creating public programming, and in attending it, there’s a delicate balance between information sharing and socialization,” she said. “I knew there were some areas where we were going to be a little more serious, and some that were a little more fun, and integrate a little of the fun into the serious and the serious into the fun.” After all, why have a weekend conference about the world’s most popular beverage if you’re not going to enjoy yourself a bit?
The first conference of its kind
The Beer Culture Summit will bring together academics, museum staff and beer industry insiders in a hybrid conference that synthesizes elements of all three professions. Garibay explained its origin:
“I spend a lot of time at academic conferences, I spend a lot of time at museum conferences, I spend some time at beer industry conferences, and they’re all really interesting experiences, but they’re also very isolated. They’re very isolated to a specific group of people interested in very specific things . . . The summit was born out of my desire to create a mashup of those three industry conferences, so that we would bring together people from each of those different fields to have a conversation and share information, share their knowledge, but also have a dialogue with people from different industries.”
This “mashup” extends to the summit’s venues, which range from the Field Museum and Chicago History Museum to Goose Island and Girl and the Goat. “It was important to me to have our daytime sessions be at cultural institutions, because we (Chicago Brewseum) are first and foremost a cultural institution,” Garibay said. “I also wanted to make sure we tapped into some of our great breweries and bars, so our evening events are at breweries and bars.” In many ways, those breweries and bars offer their own window into beer history and culture. For example, Friday night’s events take place at Metropolitan Brewing, which focuses on the same German brewing tradition that many of Chicago’s 19th century immigrants brought to the city 150 years ago.
The hybrid approach also includes the sessions themselves: a single Saturday event includes the words gender, race, class, sex and beer in the title, while Sunday afternoon is essentially a choose-your-own (beer) adventure. “Sunday, I wanted to have a day where everyone could get out into the city and really choose what they wanted to do,” she said. Garibay will herself lead a walking tavern session that day, allowing summit attendees to simultaneously explore the city on foot while also burning a few beer-related calories accrued over the weekend.
Mixing and matching is both inter-session and intra-session, as panelists come from a variety of both personal and professional backgrounds. There will be plenty of diversity on display, even within the beer industry. Thursday night’s session features John Hall, founder of Goose Island (now owned by AB-InBev); Friday night’s will highlight Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director at the Brewers Association (the trade group representing independently owned breweries). In other words, the conference is neither put on by “big beer,” nor limited to those who are proudly independent. Rather, it’s representative of the complex economic landscape of beer in America.
Most of all, the summit will reflect a hodgepodge of attendees, which Garibay hopes includes plenty of civilians. “I really just want the public to attend. We have this group of people coming to Chicago from all over the country to have these conversations and this is truly an opportunity for the beer-loving public, the history-loving public, the culture-loving public to have access to them. To know that there are people not from the beer world, the history world or the academic world in attendance—that to me would be the most successful thing to happen.”
A museum for beer
While the summit has a host of partners, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Chicago Humanities Festival, it truly exudes the the Chicago Brewseum’s ethos. “The summit really is this ultimate representation of our mission statement, which is ‘beer isn’t just a beverage, it’s a dynamic cultural force with the power to bring people together and make change,'” said Garibay. Now in its sixth year as an institution and third since launching to the public, the Chicago Brewseum currently has a temporary exhibit at the Field Museum with the long-term goal of a brick and mortar museum. This summit will give the public a (hop forward?) taste of the eventual museum to come: a place that tells the story of beer, along with the people who brew and enjoy it.
The Beer Culture Summit will take place at several locations in Chicago October 24-27. Tickets and details can be found on the event’s web site.