It’s a busy Wednesday night at James Street Gastropub on the North Side as patrons take advantage of the bar’s weekly no-cell phone special. Twenty-percent off the check, and not a smartphone screen in sight.
It’s the perfect place to meet with Joe McAllister and Matt Sherwin of the National Beer Museum Development Corp. to discuss their plans for Brew: The Museum of Beer. Inspired by McAllister’s trips to the Guinness Storehouse in Ireland, the future site would serve as a major Pittsburgh tourist attraction dedicated to the 10,000-year history of beer, from the origins of civilization to the growing contemporary craft beer movement.
“Beer is wildly popular right now,” says Sherwin, noting that the US currently has 4,600 breweries, with 900 more in development. “There is no museum in America dedicated to the story of beer. We’re gonna make it happen.”
The concept marks the second alcohol-related museum proposed for Pittsburgh, along with Jordan Pallitto’s Whiskey of America Museum.
McAllister and Sherwin foresee a 50,000-square-foot complex situated within two miles of Downtown Pittsburgh. The inside would house an on-site microbrewery, retail facilities, a large event space, and a brewpub and restaurant featuring beers from local and national breweries. Anchoring the museum will be a 20,000-square-foot exhibition space where guests can sip a tasty brew as they take in fun and educational history lessons about beer.
They say Brew has already garnered support from a long list of local, national and international partners, among them VisitPITTSBURGH and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
The two men will launch an Indiegogo campaign on October 18, 2016 to raise $50,000 in early-stage funds, and to gauge public interest.
There’s no denying their own interest in beer. The men display an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, due primarily to the three years of research they committed to preparing for Brew. The process included speaking with beer academics at UC Davis, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, and England’s University of York, as well as international beer experts in the UK and Belgium.
They talk at length about Pittsburgh’s beer legacy, which, according to them, stretches back to 1765, when the British Army built a brewery at Fort Pitt to pacify restless troops.
Brew has as much to do with Pittsburgh’s future as it does with its past. McAllister and Sherwin believe its mass appeal would boost the city’s economy as a hot tourist destination that would bring in thousands of visitors from outside the region. They project that the museum will provide a direct economic impact by providing more than 200 jobs.
“There are so many different types of populations that would be interested in this, whether you’re a beer aficionado, a sports fan, or if you just like the fact that your grandfather drank Schlitz,” says Sherwin.
They cite Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which attracts a steady stream of out-of-towners, as a model.
“Why would a beer museum in Pittsburgh be less successful than a rock and roll hall of fame in Cleveland?” says McAllister. “They’re equally attractive topics; they’re demographically equivalent cities. They are our aspiration.”
To create a high-quality visitor experience, the duo will consult with entertainment firms behind some of the world’s biggest museums, including the Guinness Storehouse and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They also plan on tapping local tech figures such as Duolingo, the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Google’s Pittsburgh offices to help them create a state-of-the-art, 21st-century museum.
McAllister and Sherwin are currently working with the Pittsburgh-based real estate firm DLA to find a space suited to their vision.
Sherwin says that while constructing a new space isn’t out of the question, they would prefer to convert an existing building. “This project speaks to a cool, old, gritty building on the outside, but the inside will be modernized. It’s going to come down to numbers and locations,” he adds.
Brew: The Museum of Beer is slated to open in 2018.
A kickoff event for the Indiegogo campaign will take place on October 19 at the James Street Gastropub. Visit the Brew website to read more about the project and sign up for email updates.