Some 10,000 years ago, beer transformed the way we as humans viewed agriculture. It helped ignite the agricultural revolution, which involved a shift towards sedentism. Now, beer is transforming the way residents of New Haven view the Yale Peabody Museum.

Last Thursday evening, the Yale Peabody Museum reopened an hour after its usual closing time for an exclusively 21-and-older event: Hops and History. Now in its fifth occurrence, the event offered an opportunity for community members to experience the Museum’s exhibits with a sampling of Southern Connecticut’s local craft brews and food from Olmo, a local New-England-style kitchen.

“The beauty [of this event] is that people that might not regularly come to our museum are coming to our event regularly. They’re engaging with the exhibits,” said Christ Renton, the assistant director of development for the Peabody. “What we’re trying to do is bring people in to enjoy good beer and food and to take in the museum with an adult beverage in their hand.”

He emphasized that the Peabody understands that adults often consider the museum an environment to entertain kids. Contrastingly, last night, the museum was essentially turned into a mature social space — welcoming some 200 older attendees. Visitors made their way around the array of local taps under a projection of a black-and-white film of the British hops industry.

To curate the selection of local brewers, the Peabody teamed up with the Beer Collective — a bar located a few blocks from the New Haven Green that shared the museum’s enthusiasm for highlighting local beers.

“This was a collective project,” Renton said. “We brought it to the Beer Collective and they helped us [bring it to fruition].”

On Thursday, seven local vendors were featured alongside the Beer Collective. The Collective’s co-founder Craig Sklar selected a cross-selection of local brewers. While predominantly from Southern Connecticut, brewers hailed from all over the Nutmeg State, traveling from as far away as Salem and Kent and as close as Woodbridge and East Haven. To Sklar, Hops and History was a great way of increasing the visibility of the craft brew industry within the greater New Haven community.

Miguel Galarraga, owner of New England Cider in nearby Wallingford, concurred. Galarraga also expressed his contentment with being a part of the event and the greater Southern Connecticut craft brewing scene and emphasized the open and welcoming nature of the community.

This year’s theme of “Farm to Fermentation” focused on the history of beer and its fermentation process. Scattered across the museum’s collection, interactive, pop-up “specimen tables” displayed artifacts relating to the natural and human history of beer and fermentation. Since less than a tenth of the museum’s artifacts are on display at once, the event showcased artifacts that have not been available to the public in some time.

At one table, Patrick Sweeney, senior director of the Peabody’s botany division, organized and discussed the various plants that have been used throughout history to change the flavor and texture of beer. Here, guests observed through a microscope certain yellow hairs of the hops plant that gives beer its bitter taste.

To encourage visitors to take advantage of all the museum’s exhibits, Museum Director of Public Programs Chris Norris encouraged guests to try their hand at a scavenger hunt that included exhibits stretching the museum’s three floors.

“It’s an audience development event,” Renton explained. “[For] someone who hasn’t been here in a while, I would hope this event gives them a reason to come back.”

Renton added that the event serves as a more substantial part of the museum’s larger goal to increase visitor traffic in the coming months before next June, when the Peabody’s exhibits will close for a two-and-a-half-year renovation project. The planned project follows last year’s $160-million donation to the museum made by Edward Bass ’68 — the largest known charitable gift ever made to a natural history museum in the United States.

The museum’s push to use Hops and History as a means to attract visitors who would otherwise not frequent the Peabody appears to be finding success among locals. Many attendees interviewed by the News admitted that Thursday’s event and past renditions were the only occasions in which they had visited the Peabody in the past year.

“We have been [in New Haven] for two years now and haven’t been to the Peabody until now,” said Caitlin Meyer, a librarian at the Cushing-Whitney Medical Library who visited with her partner. “We came because it was an exciting opportunity to both see the Peabody and support local breweries.”

The Yale Peabody Museum hosts Hops and History on a quarterly basis.

Emiliano Gómez |