THE craft of making distilled spirits, brewing beer, and cultivating vineyards for wine have a world history but also a decidedly American history. In the new Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing Collection, Walker Library’s Special Collections has set out to gather books, archives, ephemera, and other materials that illuminate this history. The Collection is focused on the past as well as the present, with materials that illustrate the current vitality of American distilleries, breweries, and wineries, especially those operating in Tennessee, home to 30 whiskey distilleries, 68 wineries, and an ever-changing number of breweries across the state, with 27 breweries located in Nashville alone.
THE Collection was initially conceived as a resource for MTSU’s Fermentation Sciences program, but the Collection has research value for other disciplines if we consider how often drink is entwined with events and circumstances in American social, cultural, and economic history. The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, the New England rum trade’s dependence on the slave trade, the early temperance movement’s roots in abolition and the Second Great Awakening’s evangelism, the rising political force of organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the areas of women’s rights and suffrage--the history of producing and consuming alcohol, or of shunning and prohibiting its manufacture and sale, are embedded in American history.
OUR exhibit aims to represent the breadth and variety of the Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing Collection. Many of the displayed items date to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But making and drinking alcoholic beverages is, of course, ongoing and changing. Tastes are shaped by today’s craft distillers and brewers, who are willing to experiment with new ingredients and flavors, as well as the continuing influence of the natural wine movement, with its emphasis on simplicity and traditional methods in wine making.