Where does one go to find information on Scottish beer from the 1920s?

I found myself asking that same question as I started my holiday baking this year. I came across an unusual recipe that I wanted to try: Fochabers Gingerbread, a traditional Scottish gingerbread containing beer. Unfortunately, the original 1929 recipe didn’t specify what kind of beer to use, and I know absolutely nothing about beer (let alone historic Scottish beer). Attempting to search for this information online only led me to contradictory Wikipedia articles and pervasive advertisements for modern beers. Finally, after several pages of Google search results, I discovered the website for the Scottish Brewing Archives Association; the perfect resource to answer my question!

John Martin, the Chair of the Scottish Brewing Archives Association, responded right away to my query about what kind of beer should be used in gingerbread (the answer, if you’re curious, is a stout or dark ale). At this point, however, I was becoming interested in beer and brewing libraries themselves. John Martin very kindly agreed to answer my questions about the Scottish Brewing Archives, and I was able to search on my own to discover more about beer and brewing collections in libraries and archives all over the world.

A Brief History of Beer and Brewing Libraries and Archives

While the history of beer goes back thousands of years, beer and brewing libraries are much more recent. Several of the beer and brewery collections I found were created just in the past few years, driven by the rise in interest in craft and home brewing. The Miami Craft Brewery Collection, for example, was established only last year in 2019. Some collections focus on recent brewing history, while others go back much further. The Scottish Brewing Archives, for instance, holds items dating back to the 18th century. For libraries in the United States, the temperance movement and the Prohibition Era of the 1920s are a popular collection focus.

Prohibition Party Propaganda Leaflet, 1900. From the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives Collection.


Many beer and brewery collections exist due to the efforts of passionate individuals eager to preserve the history of brewing. The Scottish Brewing Archive was founded by two professors at Heriot-Watt University (the only university in the UK to offer both Honours and Masters degrees in Brewing and Distilling). Realizing that many breweries in Scotland were closing, merging, or declining, the two professors wanted to preserve Scottish brewing history before it was lost forever. When the original Scottish Brewing Archive moved from Heriot-Watt to become part of the University of Glasgow’s Scottish Business Archive in 1991, another group of passionate individuals formed the Scottish Brewing Archive Association to promote awareness of the Scottish Brewing Archive and of Scotland’s brewing history.

Where do they work?

Most of the beer and brewing archives I researched are located within special collections in university libraries. Some examples are the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives at Oregon State University, the Miami Craft Brewery Collection at the University of Miami, and the National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes University. Others are associated with brewing organizations, such as the archives of the National Brewery Centre in the UK. In the United States, the Brewers Association is currently sponsoring The American Brewing History Initiative at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. While the museum already has extensive holdings related to American brewing technology and advertising from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the new initiative aims to build their collections with newer histories of home brewing and craft beer.

Naturally, many beer and brewing libraries are located in places closely connected with beer.  For example, the Scottish Brewing Archives was originally located in the Brewing School of Heriot-Watt University. The “Brewchive” at California State University San Marcos and the beer special collections at the San Diego State University are both located in San Diego County, known as the craft brewing capital of the United States.

A page in Greg Lorton’s Brewlog, 1989-1993. From the California State University San Marcos Brewchive Collection.


What do they collect?

No, they don’t just collect beer! Most beer and brewery archives collect objects and materials related to the brewing industry or to home brewing. This could include documents such as advertising materials, brewing industry publications, recipes and brewing logs, or objects such as beer taps, bottles, or brewing equipment. The Brewing History Initiative at the National Museum of American History even collects sheet music celebrating beer! Oral histories are another focal point, particularly for archives and libraries focusing on the recent homebrewing and craft beer industry.

I asked John Martin to tell me about what he considers the most interesting item in the Scottish Brewing Archives collection. He responded with three: the Malt Duty Petition of 1725, signed by 60 brewers in Edinburgh; the James Fleming Scrapbook (dated 1818-1822), which is one of the oldest brewing records held at the Scottish Brewing Archives; and a bottle of Tutankhamun Ale (1990), which is a beer brewed based on research into beer in Ancient Egypt. The sheer variety of these items is just a small taste of the many interesting collections that beer and brewing archives have to offer.

Photograph of Tennent’s bar mount, glass, and bottle, 1980. From the National Brewery Centre Archives Collection.


Who do they serve?

Beer and brewing archives serve a variety of patrons, including beer industry experts, home and craft brewers, collectors, students, and researchers. The story of beer and brewing encompasses many different subjects, such as business, agriculture, marketing and advertising history, chemistry, food history, and even transportation. At the Scottish Brewing Archive Association, John Martin told me that my question about beer in gingerbread was the only food-related question he had ever answered; other questions have included asking for information about specific breweries no longer in operation, details behind a specific item in the collection, beer labels, and beer bottles found in shipwrecks.

Brewery employee, 1933. From the San Diego State University Special Collections.


A Few Concluding Thoughts

While there are currently only a few dedicated beer and brewing libraries in the world, that number is growing. Additionally, many archives, libraries, and museums already hold beer and brewing-related materials in their collections. Library and Information Science students interested in beer and brewing may have many opportunities to tap into this field!

Further Reading/Resources:

American Brewing History Initiative – Smithsonian National Museum of American History


Beer and Brewing Collection – Smithsonian Libraries


Brewchive – California State University San Marcos


Miami Craft Brewery Collection – University of Miami


National Brewery Centre Archives


National Brewing Library – Oxford Brookes University


Oktoberfest and Beer in Special Collections – San Diego State University


Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives – Oregon State University


Scottish Brewing Archive Association


Scottish Brewing Archive – University of Glasgow


Well Crafted NC – University of North Carolina Greensboro


Author: Amanda Raver

Editor: Max Gonzalez Burdick

1 Comment

Gabrielle Visco · 20 Jan 2021 at 8:42 AM

This is great! Thank you for sharing.

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