Exploring the Mid-Atlantic Craft Brewing Industry: A New Oral History Collection

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beer and Craft Brewing Highlighted in New Hagley Oral History Collection

In recent years, the craft brewing industry has expanded across the mid-Atlantic region with dozens of new breweries opening in the last decade, contributing to increased tourism to the region, changes in state and federal policy, and a renewed interest in local products and ingredients. Hagley explores this evolving industry in an oral history project aimed at capturing the stories of those who have turned their passion for beer into a successful business.

“Beer and Craft Brewing Oral Histories” includes interviews with brewers and brewery owners from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Additionally, the collection features interviews covering topics related to the brewing industry, including packaging, distribution, retail sales, and the politics surrounding the regulation of the alcohol business. In total, Hagley compiled more than 20 interviews for this oral history project.

"The mid-Atlantic region enjoys some of the nation's most exciting and creative craft brewing," said oral historian Gregory Hargreaves, initiator of the project. "Given the rapid growth of the craft brewing industry today, it is a perfect time to document the development of this innovative industry in our region."

"Beer and Craft Brewing Oral Histories" includes in-depth interviews with the founders of several breweries in the mid-Atlantic region. Among them is Dogfish Head Craft Brewery founder Sam Calagione who highlights Dogfish Head’s use of unusual ingredients in its beer during his interview.

“So many amazing American craft breweries have collectively changed the trajectory of the beer industry in America and brought it more diversity and made it more vibrant," Calagione said, reflecting on the content of his interview for the oral histories. "For Dogfish Head, we are really proud to have been the first American craft brewery focused on brewing the majority of our beers using culinary ingredients in our recipes instead of militantly following modern beer style parameters. This approach is still true at Dogfish Head today – 22 years into our journey – and I believe it will still hold true 22 years from now.” 

Other breweries whose brewers were interviewed for the oral history collection include: Blue Mountain Brewery; Flying Fish Brewing; Heavy Seas Beer; Iron Hill Brewery; Mispillion River Brewing; Pale Fire Brewing Co.; Stewart’s Brewing Co.; and 3rd Wave Brewing Co.

Also included in "Beer and Craft Brewing Oral Histories" is an interview with Robert Murray, owner of State Line Liquors, in Elkton, Maryland. Murray elaborates on the evolution of the craft brewing industry in the mid-Atlantic region, where beer from commercial breweries was the staple throughout the 1970s and 1980s until craft breweries like Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams became popular, and describes what he sees as a renaissance of historical traditions and methods.

“There are still a bunch of naysayers alive today in the industry that say that the craft beer industry is a fad and that it’s really not here to stay,” he said. “They just thought that it was always going to be Budweiser or Miller Lite, but people started to revert back to the old ages and the early days here when there were tons of breweries in every city. This is a revival from the 1800s and the early 1900s.”

"Beer and Craft Brewing Oral Histories" is a product of the Hagley Oral History Office and is available here.

Interviews were by Hargreaves with summaries and indexing by Benjamin Spohn. Support came from the 1916 Foundation, the friends and family of Mary Laird Silvia, and individual donors.

For more information about oral history at Hagley, contact Amrys Williams, associate director and oral historian, Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society, at aowilliams@Hagley.org.