A key piece of early Dogfish Head brewery equipment will be part of the American Brewing History Initiative collections, covering four decades of brewing innovation.

By Mike Pomranz
September 17, 2019
Dogfish Head

One of the many (many, many) awesome things about the "craft beer revolution" is that it has happened (and is still happening) during our lifetime—meaning it's history we can directly relate to. Looking at artifacts from other parts of beer history can be stuffy: Sure, an ancient brewing recipe engraved in a tablet is amazing, but it's less likely you can understand the symbols it's written in, let alone the life of the person who engraved it. But with the Smithsonian's growing American Brewing History Initiative collection, these modern craft brewing artifacts will instantly resonate: like the electric football game Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione used to develop their famed 90 Minute IPA.

Though the game itself won't initially be on display, the newly donated piece of modern brewing history is indicative of the kind of items guests will be able to see starting on October 25 when the National Museum of American History debuts parts of this collection to the public for the first time.

For those not familiar with Dogfish Head's football story, about two decades ago, Calagione came up with the idea of "continual hopping"—instead of intermittently adding hops into the brew kettle, he wanted to introduce a slow but steady stream the entire time. A slow conveyer belt would have been perfect, but at the time, Dogfish Head was just a tiny microbrewery on a tight budget. So Calagione came up with an inexpensive workaround: He bought one of those vintage vibrating electric football games that were popular in the ‘60s from a thrift store and made some small tweaks, angling it to steadily shake hops into the brew.

Continual hopping was born, leading to the release of 90 Minute IPA—one of the most important American craft beers ever—and the rest is history… now literally that the vibrating football game is held by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. "My Dogfish Head co-workers and I could not be more proud of this amazing recognition that will stand the test of time," Calagione wrote in an email. "We are truly honored that the folks at the Smithsonian are allowing us to help preserve the history and heritage of the vibrant, indigenous craft brewing community."

Dogfish Head

Of course, one electric football game doth not a collection make, so curator Theresa McCulla recently broke down some of the other items she's added to the American Brewing History Initiative since taking on the job a couple years ago. She's nabbed original labels from some of America's first craft breweries including Sierra Nevada and the short-lived by seminal New Albion. California's Buffalo Bill's—one of the country's first brewpubs—donated all sorts of stuff from barstools to tap handles. Other items mentioned by McCulla come from the likes of Fritz Maytag, who made history by revitalizing the Anchor Steam Brewery; Michael Lewis, who was behind UC Davis's esteemed brewing program; and Charlie Papazian, who, among many accomplishments, founded the Great American Beer Festival.

Selections from the collection will make their public debut next month when the National Museum of American History reopens its "FOOD: Transforming the American Table" exhibit which will include a new section: "Beer: An American History." Sure, an old Sierra Nevada Pale Ale label might not seem as historically significant as an ancient tablet, but, first, you can actually read it, and, second, you can still drink the beer, both of which make it much cooler in my book.

And if you absolutely must see Dogfish Head’s electric football game in person, McCulla told me via email that it will definitely be on display during the museum’s "Last Call" event on November 8 – along with samples Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, something you won’t find during the regular exhibit.

UPDATE 9/18/19: An earlier version of this article stated that Dogfish Head’s electric football game would be on display when "Beer: An American History" debuted to the public. McCulla reached out to inform us that though the item was recently added to the collection, it will not be part of the initial exhibit.

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