If you’re a big fan of the local beer scene, which includes 60-plus breweries from Winters to Nevada City, you might occasionally decide to take home a keepsake, whether it’s a T-shirt with the popular logo from Bike Dog or a commemorative pint glass from a rare beer release or anniversary celebration.
If you do that often enough – and hang onto them long enough – you’ve begun to dabble in breweriana, the term collectors use for beer-related memorabilia.
Ed Carroll has been into it long before there was a Claimstake or Knee Deep or Berryessa Brewing. Many credit his 2010 book “Sacramento’s Breweries” with helping to set the stage for the huge growth in local craft beer that transformed the Sacramento region in the past five years. There’s a good chance Carroll’s book, published by Sacramento County Historical Society, will become a piece of breweriana in the years to come.
On a recent weekday, we arranged to meet Carrol at his midtown home for a chat about his collection. After years of stashing it in numerous boxes and taking it with him whenever he moved, Carroll finally decided to come to grips with what he had amassed and worked hard to put much of it on display in his large finished basement. Coasters, cans, clocks, mirrors, signage and all kinds of glassware that trigger memories – where he found each piece, how much he paid, how long ago.
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“I’ve been collecting these glasses for 30 years, on and off,” Carroll said, nodding toward long shelves of beer glasses of all kinds. “Glasses are a little easier to collect because they are easy to come across. I got them from all over the world and from right here – thrift stores to northern Italy.”
Each glass takes him back to the time he found it – a trip to London, another trip to Germany. He points to a glass he snagged in Holland. Zeroing in on specific pieces, he pointed to some with brightly colored logos of Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Carling Black Label.
“Those were mid-’80s and late-’80s Sacramento thrift store kind of glasses. You could find them everywhere, and now you can’t,” he said.
Yes, with the rapid growth of craft beer, there’s more interest and far greater demand for breweriana. It used to be common for Carroll to wander into a local thrift store and expect to find something cool beer-wise. No longer. The good stuff is worth more and gets gobbled up quickly.
Fortunately for Carroll, he got in early and managed to amass a large collection well before there was such a person as a “beer geek,” though it wasn’t until he organized his trove, dusted off his favorite pieces and put them on display that the collection truly came together.
“I still have a lot in boxes, but I got these ones out. I just didn’t have them properly displayed. The way you display them is at least half the battle. I got them from all over the place. I finally had to stop bringing them home, but I like to collect them.”
Along another section of one wall, Carroll pulled off a clever bit of shabby-chic-meets-breweriana by taking a discarded antique back bar he found in an Oak Park alley, cleaning it up and using it to display a colorful part of his collection.
“I said, ‘What am I going to do with that thing?’ So I got the glue gun out, and I have thousands of coasters, so I decided to glue-gun some,” he said. “This came off pretty well. I’m not the craftiest person, but I was pretty excited about it – glue guns are pretty cool.”
Despite his prolific research into the early days of Sacramento breweries dating back to the 1800s, Carroll has been unable to find many collectibles from that long-lost era. Fire, flood, the wrecking ball and the garbage dump claimed most of the items before anybody figured they’d be worth something.
Many of Carroll’s pieces are displayed in groups. Clocks, for instance, are all electric and must be plugged in. When Carroll gets them going, they all light up and it’s visually impressive – Burgermeister, PBR, Colt 45, Old Milwaukee, a Schlitz globe clock that still spins.
“I don’t know how it keeps working,” Carroll said, moments after plugging in the clocks.
If you’re interested in joining the likes of Carroll and become a collector, it’s a good idea to focus on what you like rather than what you think is going to be valuable years from now. If you’re into New Glory Craft Brewery, save one of its colorful new cans. If you like Knee Deep, you may someday enjoy explaining to your grandkids why its Breaking Bud IPA is a play on words from a TV show about meth, of all things.
The California Craft Beer Summit, heading into its third year this September, should have items that will be collectible. Same with the Track 7 Brewery Invitational + Competition, especially the little booklet they supplied to help you score the beers being served. All those brewery T-shirts, caps and coasters, the Sacramento Beer Week posters, the Sacramento Beer Frontier Passport book and many more items will someday be collectible and, whether they demand huge sums or not, will surely bring back memories.
Five places to find breweriana
1. Friends and family. Once they know you’re into it, they’ll dig things out from the attic, basement or storage unit and pass them along.
2. Thrift stores and antique shops. Ed Carroll found many great pieces in the 1980s while rummaging through secondhand shops. But he cautions that good pieces are becoming harder to find.
3. eBay. There’s no getting around it. If you want something, you can probably find it here. The only catch is the price. eBay has its own breweriana section, broken down into subcategories – drinkware, signs, coasters, etc.
4. Garage sales. You better enjoy them because you’ll have to visit several before hitting upon the kind of old beer stuff that interests you.
5. Craigslist and classifieds. There’s nowhere near as much stuff as eBay, so you have to check in regularly.