Meet the Smithsonian’s new beer historian

"The best job ever" is no longer available. Meet the new beer guru in town.

WASHINGTON — This summer, the internet exploded when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced it was looking to fill a new position: beer historian.

Washingtonian called it the “best job ever”; The Huffington Post’s headline read “dream job alert.” But few were as excited to see the posting as Theresa McCulla.

“I couldn’t believe that this kind of position existed,” said McCulla, who is graduating with a doctorate in American studies from Harvard University in May.

(McCulla won’t be commuting from D.C. to Cambridge in the meantime. She said she already defended her dissertation and just needs to write her bibliography.)

In addition to working as a historian, McCulla has a passion for food and its connection to culture. She has a culinary degree from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts’ Professional Chefs Program and was active in the food scene at Harvard where she directed the Food Literacy Project for Harvard University Dining Services and managed two farmers markets.

And of course, she knows a thing or two about beer. As a child, McCulla used to help her father homebrew in their kitchen.

While “beer” is in the job title, McCulla says consuming the beverage won’t be part of her daily tasks — at least between the 9 to 5 hours.  

“As I like to say, beer and archives don’t mix,” she said.

Instead, she’ll be combing through the archives at the museum to see what it already has related to American brewing. Next, she’ll travel around the country to collect artifacts and oral histories from brewers, hops farmers and others in the industry. Finally, she’ll share her work with the public at the annual Food History Weekend and a few other events.

A special focus of McCulla’s collecting will be on homebrewing, which she traces back to the 1960s. 

“Homebrewing was really where craft brewing began. We would not have what we call craft beer today without homebrewing,” she said. 

Those interested in McCulla’s work will have to follow her on the museum’s Beer History webpage, since a permanent exhibit is not part of the three-year project.

“For now, we’re focused on the collecting angle,” McCulla said.


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