A local group is going public with its long-brewing plan to make Pittsburgh home to a beer museum that would bring hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors.
“We want this to be a first-day destination attraction such as Pittsburgh doesn’t have now,” says Joe McAllister, principal of the National Beer Museum Development Group LLC.
It’s been more than two years that his small team has been researching, planning and quietly talking with beer and museum people, tourism and government officials and others in the region and beyond.
Now they want to spread the word about Brew: The Museum of Beer.
As they will lay out in the runup to a fall crowdsourcing campaign to raise $50,000 in startup funds, the multimillion-dollar museum would be built in the city limits, close to Downtown’s hotels and other attractions, and would open in phases starting in the winter of 2017 or spring of 2018.
Think, he says, of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which draws 400,000-plus visitors a year. The beer museum could accommodate those numbers, too, with 50,000 total square feet, 20,000 of it for exhibit space, including its own Beer Hall of Fame.
“Our focus is on telling the history of beer,” he says — stories that go back 10,000 years to the world’s earliest civilizations and continue through today’s craft brewing boom.
In fact, the museum also would house its own brewery and 300-seat restaurant, which would serve its own beers as well as others from here and elsewhere. The complex also would include a large (6,000-square-feet) space for private and public events as well as a gift shop.
Mr. McAllister said he hopes the shop would open online — at brewmuseum.com — before this Thanksgiving, to generate some cash as well as some buzz, which the group is going to start fomenting at Oktoberfests and other beer and public events.
The Indiegogo.com crowdfunding campaign is to launch Oct. 18, just after an Oct. 15 party where organizers will reveal more of their vision. What they believe the museum can offer this region is about 200 jobs and more than $100 million in annual economic impact, while also adding some more “cool factor.”
Because of that, they’ve already lined up many early supporters, including Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh, which markets the region to out-of-towners. A beer museum “is something incredibly unique and would definitely drive visitors to Pittsburgh,” he says. “It would be something we’d truly want to support and help market.”
Others who are on board include brewery owners such as East End Brewing Co.’s Scott Smith, who says, “I can’t wait to see beer be a certified tourist attraction. I think it’s going to be wonderful.”
Unlike the rock hall of fame and most museums, Brew would be not a nonprofit but a for-profit, self-sustaining one, and so Mr. McAllister’s group is seeking big investors, too. His professional experience has been in the nonprofit sector, as the Ph.D. founded The Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and directed the psychological services department at the Watson Institute. He retired in 2013 to focus on this new project, which seemed like a good idea at a good time, agree his team members and fellow entrepreneurs Matthew Sherwin and Denis Meinert, CFO for Hire and Duolingo.
“It’s kind of amazing that there isn’t a national beer museum at this point,” says Mr. McAllister, who now lives with his wife on the North Side, where at least four craft breweries are to open in the coming months, adding to the more than 50 the region already has, with at least another dozen on the way. The U.S. now has more than 4,200 — an all-time high.
While he and his group considered other cities, they think Pittsburgh is a great place for a big, popular beer museum, because it has both a deep, 250-year beer history and a rich beer present and future.
This group wants the museum to be independent, not tied to a single brewery as it might be in cities such as St. Louis (home of Anheuser-Busch) and Boston (Samuel Adams).
One of his ideas is to also have a Beer Hall of Infamy, including characters ranging from Carrie Nation to Billy Carter. “We want this to be the people’s beer museum.”
They want it to be the nation’s most popular, preeminent one, but there are other beer museums, including the National Brewery Museum, based at the Potosi Brewery in Potosi, Wis. And there are efforts afoot to create others, including the Museum of Beer & Brewing in Milwaukee, the American Beer Museum in the state of New York and the Chicago Brewseum.
The Smithsonian Food History project at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., got a lot of press earlier this summer when it announced that it was seeking a professional historian/scholar to conduct archival and field research for a new initiative on American brewing history. That initiative is being underwritten by the Brewers Association trade group.
Mr. McAllister says his group, which is consulting with other beer scholars, hopes to collaborate with the Smithsonian and the Brewers Association. “We want to work with everybody.”
That includes a recently announced national whiskey museum here. On Aug. 15, the folks at Wigle Whiskey launched a Kickstarter.com crowdfunding effort to establish WAM! Whiskey of America Museum & Beverage Emporium. They’re hoping to raise at least $35,000 that way by Sept. 19, and if they do, pledge to kick in another $250,000 and raise additional funds to cover the $1.1 million dollar projected cost. Organizers planned to start this November with a temporary “pop-up” museum location Downtown, the exact address of which will be first announced to those who pledge $40 via Kickstarter to be able to attend the pop-up’s grand opening. The permanent museum would open in 2018.
Mr. McAllister, who also talks about having a regional beer trail or trails here, loves the idea of Pittsburgh also having a whiskey museum and a trail. “It complements what we’re doing.”
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.