With pandemic-themed cans, brewers tell history museums to ‘hold my beer’


Museums across the United States have collected artifacts from the COVID-19 pandemic for future exhibits tracing this strange time. That has meant a lot of masks, of course, but also things like printouts of test results and hand-made signs announcing impromptu restaurant closings.

A man from Tacoma heard the call for items made locally by the Washington State Historical Society. He’s now looking to donate a collection of items that are a bit more colorful than the average PPE or the handmade sign.

And much more refreshing.

Bill McClure is a lawyer with an undergraduate degree in history. He is 28 years old and grew up near Chicago. He attended law school here and lived in the Puget Sound area for less than a decade.

It was in 2020 that Bill McClure learned that the museum was looking for artifacts related to COVID. That’s when he started noticing images appearing on the Instagram accounts of the local breweries he follows.

“And those [images] were COVID or pandemic themed cans of beer, ”McClure said. “There are a lot of breweries here in Tacoma, but generally in the Puget Sound area and across the state, that have one-off or batch beers. And what they started to do is shoot different themes of adjusting life during the global pandemic. “

Maybe it was that undergraduate degree in history, but McClure wanted more than just a nice, relaxing drink. He questioned the background and backstory of the different beers and what appeared to be a significant regional and industrial trend.

“I thought it was really interesting, [and] thought this might be a unique addition to the Washington State Historical Society’s collection, ”McClure continued. “As a result, I started saving the cans. And over time, it kind of piled up a lot more than I expected. “

Without an interest in local craft breweries or an Instagram account, it might have been easy for many people to miss this whole phenomenon, unlike those countless and repetitive “in these uncertain times” TV commercials.

McClure, who enjoys a good IPA, says many of the small batches have fancy names and unique label designs that play on pandemic fatigue and other realities of the past year, including “What a day is -he ? ”From Matchless Brewing in Tumwater, or“ Indoor Survival ”from Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon, Klickitat County. A number of special beers also raised funds for charitable causes, such as “Look for the Helpers” and “All Together”.

One of Bill McClure’s favorites in the era of the pandemic is made by Narrows Brewing in Tacoma. The label reads “IPA Checklist”.

“He’s got keys, a wallet, that would be your normal checklist for leaving the house,” McClure said. “But besides, he has a mask. There is hand sanitizer. There are gloves. He has a ruler, which is probably a reminder of social distancing. “

“I thought it was interesting, because we all kind of have a checklist when we leave the house,” McClure continued. “We are checking our pockets, and now, at least then, you have to have the mask on to leave the house, or you have to turn around and go get it.”

This kind of interpretation and analysis is what turns an otherwise ordinary object into a priceless artifact. The context and the stories – or even just the observations of someone who used this object – are absolutely essential for future historians tasked with understanding each artifact and displaying the objects in a way that helps future visitors to the museum. to understand more than the basics of a decorative object. can of beer.

With that in mind, McClure is embarking on a volunteer research project to find out more about these breweries and their pandemic-themed beer cans. Over the next few months he will be trying to figure out how it is that so many different breweries in Washington have done similar things with their products and packaging. Her ultimate goal is to write an article for COLUMBIA, the quarterly magazine of the Washington State Historical Society which relies on volunteer writers for most of its content.

In the meantime, KIRO Radio has checked with Matthew Rhodes, head brewer at Narrows Brewery in Tacoma, which houses the ‘IPA Checklist’ and about six other pandemic-themed beers that have been produced during the course of the year. past year.

Rhodes says the idea for the special infusions in special cans hatched early in the lockdown. And it was a team effort.

“We all got together as a team, obviously at a social distance, and thought about what we could do to reconnect with our drinkers,” Rhodes said. “And we came up with the idea of ​​just referencing COVID in a light way. “

It seems the main idea was to show solidarity with their drinkers – to say, basically, we’re all in the same boat. Like many alcohol producers, Narrows Brewing has performed well during the pandemic with retail sales and with their auction room in Tacoma, and brewer Matt Rhodes told KIRO Radio that the response to pandemic cans has been very positive.

“Beer drinkers love the designs and love the beers,” Rhodes said. “It kind of gave them something to look forward to because we were releasing them every week [for about two months]. We got into a rhythm where we were able to pull out the new COVID referral box every week and give our drinkers something else to look forward to. “

It’s perhaps worth noting that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the names of the cans, and Rhodes says “commemorative” is the wrong word. He’s sensitive to the death and suffering of the pandemic, and it doesn’t appear that Narrows Brewing or any of the brewers are profiting from COVID with their decorative cans, which are tastefully made in every way.

But, all those other judgments aside, do these pandemic cans – or whatever they name – belong to a museum, or are they better suited for the recycling bin?

Margaret Wetherbee is the Collections Manager for the Washington State Historical Society and has overseen efforts to collect pandemic artifacts and stories over the past year (and still ongoing). Of pandemic cans, Wetherbee enthusiastically says, “Hold my beer! “

Or, maybe it should be, “We’ll keep this beer – for eternity.”

A can of beer is “something anyone can relate to,” Wetherbee told KIRO Radio, and makes a perfect addition to the museum’s collection for the stories it can tell and for what it says. on local culture, around 2020-2021.

“Everyone knows what a can of beer is… little kids, 90s,” Wetherbee said. “Everyone knows what it is, and it’s something that was created specifically for this time that we live in.”

Wetherbee has made it clear that she will welcome the cans and labels if and when McClure offers to donate them. She says they will help tell the story of the current pandemic in the distant future and help make up for the fact that most museums have very few artifacts from the 1918-19 flu pandemic.

Rhodes of Narrows Brewing was delighted to hear that the cans created by his team will find their way into the Washington State Historical Society.

“It’s extremely special,” Rhodes said, when he heard what Wetherbee had told KIRO Radio. “I didn’t think the cans and labels would make this a museum.”

But what about the hyper-local liquid made by hand and in small batches? inside can anyone in the McClure collection?

“Well when I first get it it’s full,” McClure said. “[But] the collection is now empty cans. I made an executive decision [about] what was going to be important to the story, and what would be important to me.

Fortunately, Wetherbee says it’s for the best.

“We would rather the cans were empty,” Wetherbee said with a laugh. “We don’t like to preserve food historically.”

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, find out more about him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.


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