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Smithsonian Gala
Alaskan Brewing Company's Perseverance Ale was featured with the dessert course at the Gala. (Credit: National Museum of American History, Joyce Boghosian)

The Smithsonian Looks to Beer and Food Pairings to Tell History of Food in America

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Beer is a very, very old beverage. There’s evidence of beer, not quite in the form we know now (sorry hopheads, hopped beer didn’t show up until around 1000 B.C.), but many historians believe beer was born around 10,000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia.

This “liquid bread” has been celebrated by poets and lyricists for eras, and that’s exactly why the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is featuring craft beer as a pairing option at its Food History Gala.

“Beer and brewing have been an important part of the American experience since before the nation’s founding and into the present day,” explains Susan Evans McClure, the director of the Smithsonian Food History programs. “Beer pairings at the event are another way for our guests to experience history by tasting it.”

(MORE: Pair Like a Pro with the Beer & Food Course)

The gala is a black-tie fundraiser that kicks off the Smithsonian Food History Weekend, an annual event exploring food history and the role that we all play in shaping the future of food.

The event is where world-class food and beverages meet, showing that modern beer stretches beyond tailgating and taprooms, and that full-flavored beer made by America’s small and indie brewers can do so much more.

“The Gala menu was created by Chef Bayless as a way to tell the story of his own history as a chef and his relationship with Julia Child,” McClure tells “Beer and wine pairings extend that story in meaningful ways, and help our audiences make a tangible connection to a complex story.”

(MORE: The Winning Case for Craft Beer on the Menu)

The sensory science behind beer and food pairing is a relatively new field (at least relative to how long the beverage has been around). The Smithsonian turned to Executive Chef of the Brewers Association, Adam Dulye, to bring the gala’s beer pairings to life.

“The goal of these pairings was to open up new palates to the world of beer pairing and once again show the wide range of what beer and food can do together,” Chef Dulye says. “This menu was a bit of reverse pairing to how many pairing dinners are planned. In this case, we were pairing to a menu already written and searching through our members’ vast library of beers to find the ones that would best tell the story of each layer of flavor in the dishes. The main course of a 28 ingredient black mole gave small and independent beer a chance to outshine all other beverages.”

“When pairing to such complex dishes, beer can do what many other beverages cannot by layering each of flavors on the palate,” Dulye explains. “The Indian Brown did just that by showcasing all the deep connection food and beer have from Maillard reaction to umami to how carbonation can lift deep spices off the palate.”

Here is a look at the sensory experience Dulye’s pairings provided.

Reception: New Belgium Snapshot Wheat

As your palate tours around the flavors of cilantro, lime, avocado and delicate chili flavors, this will be a refreshing sip to reset the palate for each new bite. Smile-inducing aromas of citrus hops jump from the nose, accompanied by the sweetness of coriander and grains of paradise. Brewed with wheat and pale malt, Snapshot pours a hazy, lemon-yellow with bright white lacing. But the real enticement is the snap of tart.

1st Course: Allagash White + Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche Verde

Look for the gentle carbonation to lift the herbs to the roof of the mouth while the subtle citrus notes brighten the jicama and calm the serrano. Allagash White is an interpretation of a traditional Belgian wheat beer. Spiced with coriander and Curaçao orange peel, this beer is fruity, refreshing and slightly cloudy in appearance.Entrée

Entrée: Dogfish Head Indian Brown + Carne Asada en Mole Negro

The darker malt notes play to the umami of the porcini while the hop notes and carbonation allow the palate to explore the complexity of the mole. Indian Brown, says Sam Calagione, “is a hybrid of an IPA, an American Brown Ale, and a Scotch Ale. The dark roasty grains and assertive dry-hoping contrast the earthy sweetness of the brown sugar.”

Dessert: Alaskan Perseverance Russian Imperial Stout + Mesquite Chocolate Cake

Gentle notes of smoke from the beer linger and mix with the unique flavors of Mexican chocolate. The dark malts increase the dense chocolate flavors and the carbonation comes in to leave a very slight smoky finish. Brewing with Alaskan birch syrup lends a deep, almost tart character to the dark malt profile, while wildflower honey adds a delicate sweetness and floral notes to the aroma and finish.

Jess Baker walked into a beer fest in 2010 and realized beer had come a long way from what her dad had been drinking since the 70s. She served as editor-in-chief of from spring 2016 to spring 2020, bringing you stories about the people who are the heartbeat behind U.S. craft brewing. She's a runner, a die-hard Springsteen fan, a mom who is always scouting family-friendly breweries, and always in search of a darn good porter. is fully dedicated to small and independent U.S. breweries. We are published by the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers. Stories and opinions shared on do not imply endorsement by or positions taken by the Brewers Association or its members.