To Joe McAllister, beer is more than a beverage; it’s the story of civilization in a glass.
“Humans have been brewing for 10,000 years,” he says. “It’s who we are as people.”
McAllister is the founder of BREW: The Museum of Beer, a 50,000-square-foot complex that’s planned for a yet-to-be-determined site in Downtown Pittsburgh. Organizers are trying to raise $20 million for the project, which will include 20,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, a 300-seat brewpub pouring 30 to 50 drafts, an event space and a gift shop.
To give people a taste of BREW, McAllister is launching a free, online exhibit called The Story of Beer in Pennsylvania. It details the origins of the beverage from Penn’s Colony up to today’s booming craft beer scene. (There are 40 breweries in Allegheny County alone).
The online exhibit goes live Dec. 15, starting with a Zoom presentation at 7 p.m. Speakers will include McAllister, BrewDog Pittsburgh brewer Paul Young and Lauren Churilla, a St. Vincent College lecturer who will discuss the history of Latrobe’s controversial Benedictine brewery. Participants can register online and are encouraged to sip a Munich-style lager (similar to what the monks made) during the hourlong event.
Debbie Stueber, BREW’s director of community relations, says the online event is a good way for hop heads to hang out and support local beer makers by purchasing a six-pack to sip while learning about the state’s beer heritage.
Before the pandemic, McAllister was planning a pop-up exhibit at a Downtown storefront to showcase the legacy and significance of Pennsylvania beer. Covid forced the festivities to go virtual.
The project, which is supported by a $59,700 grant from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, features video interviews with the state’s craft beer pioneers, historians and collectors, an interactive map of all the active and pending breweries in PA, a searchable list of the 21st-century, local winners at the Great American Beer Festival and a beer quiz.
McAllister, who started The Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and co-founded the Advisory Board On Autism and Related Disorders, began homebrewing 40 years ago. After a few failed attempts, he left the beer-making to the experts.
He followed the progression of the craft beer industry and, after a visit to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland, decided to open a similar venue in the states.
Pittsburgh, he says, is the perfect place for a beer museum.
The city is within 500 miles of 45 percent of the U.S. and Canadian population, making it an ideal weekend road trip. It’s also the site of the first brewery west of the Alleghenies.
“Pittsburgh is a neutral beer city,” McAllister says. “We aren’t dominated by a beer brand like St. Louis or Milwaukee.”
More than 300,000 tour the Anheuser-Busch facility in St. Louis each year and McAllister is hopeful that BREW — which will be located within two miles of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center — will welcome just as many beer lovers.