Beer pong and cornhole might call to mind your college days, but for some it’s just another night at the museum.
Those are just a couple ways area museums are using beer as a conduit for an educational experience. From the mountains to the coast, museums across the state are using after-hours events to draw in new faces looking for a more adult museum experience.
“It’s a trend definitely over the last few years to incorporate adult engagement into museums and to try to draw a different audience in,” said Ro Rode, manager for fundraising events at Durham’s Museum of Life and Science.
The museum has hosted its Science of Beer event every year since 2010, making it one of the first in the area to host such an after-hours event. This year, more than 700 people attended Science of Beer, where they sampled beers from 36 breweries.
Far from just another chance to drink, attendees learned something, too. There were hands-on experiments with taste and smell that examined the science behind why people are attracted to certain beer styles, but not others. Special “beer goggles” allowed participants to try their hand at cornhole through the eyes of someone under the influence. And it all played out across the museum’s indoor exhibits, including the Dinosaur Trail, Gateway Park and the Magic Wings Butterfly House.
“We definitely hit you with samples, but we want you to learn the science,” said Rode.
The same is true at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, which has hosted a beer-themed event called Natural Selections for the last three years. Around 1,000 people attended this year’s event in August, where they too sampled beers and played cornhole.
They also examined yeast in a lab, and tasted two sour beers fermented with yeast isolated from a wasp and a bumblebee. These beers were brewed by John Sheppard, a professor who oversees the brewing lab at N.C. State University. Natural Selections is the museum’s largest fundraising event, and it supports museum programs, exhibits and research.
Charlotte’s Discovery Place hosts its Science on the Rocks events every third Friday of the month, pairing science-themed events with local beers or cocktails. They set up various bars and bring in DJs to create a party atmosphere.
For those who attend the event, it’s a chance to see the museum in a new light.
“We say, ‘Play like a kid and party like an adult,’” said Kaitlin Rogers, the museum’s director of public relations and marketing. “We decided to do this because so many said they hadn’t been to the museum since they were kids. We found that we had an audience that was looking to come back.”
Amid the museum’s exhibits, attendees can sample a variety of local beers and look at the scientific process involved in brewing, analyzing the chemistry of the ingredients and how they are incorporated into the beer-making process. The museum also recently hosted the sixth annual Brewer’s Ball, a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. And Oct. 21, Science on the Rocks presents “Fright at the Museum.” The museum’s own Curio City Kitchen will serve up beer and wine while attendees get schooled on “spooky science.”
Of course, many consider brewing to be as much an art as a science, and the crafty curators at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh might agree. The museum will host an event on Oct. 27 that discusses how yeast has influenced mankind’s genes and social interactions, and they will do it using works of art as a visual backdrop. To drive the point home, they’ll also be pouring the aforementioned “insect beer” from Sheppard’s N.C. State brewing lab.
CAM Raleigh, the city’s contemporary art museum, lures visitors not just with its exhibits, but with its own beer garden outside. From a shipping-container-turned-bar, visitors can grab beers (this month’s featured brewery is Durham’s Bull Durham Beer Co.) and enjoy them at traditional beer garden tables beneath the strung lights. The beer garden is open from 5-11 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and noon-5 p.m. on Sundays through October, but careful – you just might forget you’re drinking at a museum.
Daniel Hartis is the digital manager at All About Beer Magazine in Durham and author of “Beer Lover’s The Carolinas” and “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @DanielHartis.