You can’t drink beer, wine or coffee inside the Washington State History Museum. But you can have a lot of fun at its newest exhibit “Steins, Vines and Grinds,” where historical artifacts, photos, graphics and posters all show that our love affair with hops, grapes and beans goes back a long way.
All the way back to Fort Vancouver, actually, and one of the first things you’ll see in “Steins” is a case of old beer and wine bottles discovered in an archeological dig at the fort. But while it’s fun to gape at ancient drinkware, vintage wine presses, mid-century espresso machines and the like, the real value of this show is how it teases apart the reason why Washington ended up second only to California in wineries and craft breweries, and home to a certain famous coffee chain.
There’s the “Why Washington?” room, with helpful infographics on our state’s geographic lottery trifecta of 300 sunny days per year (on the east side, that is), rich volcanic soil and a snowpack/rainfall irrigation combo. Growing maps, farming season calendars and the like help tell the story.
Then there are the people: Ezra Meeker’s initial hops success in Puyallup (and why it failed where New Yorker Charles Carpenter succeeded, European immigrants who brought their knowledge of homemade wine (don’t miss the beautiful Croatian wine press from Gig Harbor, all seasoned oak slats and curvy cast iron legs); Germans such as William Naumann, who brought beer-brewing skills to Olympia; and countless folks with home-grinders who bought all those coffee beans being shipped in on the Columbia River. Facts highlight local inventiveness, such as the Olympia Brewing Co., which was the first to use metal bottle caps, in 1898, the first to bottle with stubbies, in 1935, and the first to use stainless steel kegs in 1946. Profiles of contemporary Washingtonians like Olympia Coffee owner Oliver Stormshak and Georgetown Brewing Co. founder Manny Chao keep the story going.
Finally, the artifacts take over: a 6-foot-high hand-crank hop sifter, a 1950 Gaggia espresso machine with detailing like a vintage Cadillac, a Rainier beer bottle found in an 1899 shipwreck and a wall full of hilarious Rainier posters, from a surfing Seattle lumberjack to a “Star Wars” parody.
At the gallery’s end there’s a life-size mock-up of a bar complete with fake spilled coffee, beer glasses and a trivia game.
Of course, once you’ve seen “Steins, Vines and Grinds,” you’ll probably feel like heading over Pacific Avenue for a drink of something. But now you’ll know a whole lot more about the history behind your brew.
Steins, Vines and Grinds: Washington’s story of beer, wine and coffee
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. third Thursdays through April 23.
Where: Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.
Admission: $12 adults; $9 seniors, students, military; free for 4 and younger and 2-8 p.m. third Thursdays.
Information: 888-BE-THERE, washingtonhistory.org.