First Draft Follies: The Founding Of The American Homebrewers Association, Part 3

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart Six

Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. This edition concerns the creation of the American Homebrewers Association. The AHA celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on December 7, 2008. The material is presented “as is” from the first draft of the manuscript that became the book Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets — [like this] — for clarification. The excerpt is long, so I’ve broken it into manageable bits and am posting those bits as a series.

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Hence homebrewing, a nearly perfect expression of personal ecology. In an otherwise “artificial environment,” explained one enthusiast, homebrew satisfied “man’s yearning” to “create something that fills his needs.” People could make bread or weave cloth, but “the fermenting of a potion . . . seems to grab him.” (*6)

“[N]ow that growing your own (food, dope, hair, younameit) is hip,” wrote the author of an essay widely reprinted in alternative newspapers, “it’s time to resurrect the Dope of the Depression–Homebrew.”

Homemade beer inspired “good vibrations” and a “pleasant high.” Unlike the rest of the “plastic, mass-produced shit” of modern America, homebrew represented “an exercise of craft” and empowered the “politically oriented” to retaliate against “Augustus [sic] Busch and the other fascist pigs who [were] ripping off the Common Man.” “If you’re looking for a cheap drunk,” added the beer adviser, “go back to Gussie Busch. But if you dig the good vibes from using something you make yourself, plus an improvement in quality over the commercial shit,” brew on, brothers and sisters, brew on. (*7)

There is no way to measure the number of Americans who practiced homebrewing in the early and mid-1970s, but by the summer of 1973 enough were that the Treasury Department issued a formal warning advising Americans to “leave the beer-making to the brewers.” (*8) Treasury’s warning was a bit bizarre, even laughable, given that Senator Sam Ervin was a few blocks away conducting hearings into gross illegalities on the part of the Nixon administration. Such, however, are the ways of men.

Charlie Papazian ignored the advisory to cease and desist. He stumbled across homebrewing in the early seventies while studying nuclear engineering at the University of Virginia. A friend introduced Papazian to a neighbor, an older man named George Connor.

One day while the two were visiting Connor, the older man went to the basement and returned with a bottle. It’s beer, he said; he’d been aging it for a year or two. Connor opened the bottle and poured samples.

Revelation. Papazian and his friends usually drank 69-cent six-packs of Ballantine, which was okay but nothing to get excited about. Connor’s “cidery” brew sang with “clean, fresh, lively” flavor. It was, Charlie decided, not only delicious but “interesting.” (*9) And Connor had made it himself. Papazian had never thought of “beer” as something that could be made at home. Beer came from the supermarket, right? Apparently not.

Papazian enjoyed challenges–he was an Eagle Scout–and he decided to try his hand. He obtained a recipe from Connor and loaded up with supplies from a local grocery store: Blue Ribbon malt, hop extract, some yeast.

The first batch was, in a word, “bad.” So was the next one. But Papazian persevered, fiddled with the recipe, and eventually concocted a batch that was downright tasty.

He was hooked, enough so that he began hunting for better ingredients than the local grocery provided. On trips back to his parents’ home in New Jersey he loaded up with goods from a nearby Wine-Art store, buying bigger quantities with each visit. He tracked down some instruction books, all of them British, but they were “confusing,” so he set them aside and employed humankind’s oldest tutor: trial and error.

As Papazian’s skill increased and his beer improved, he discovered another benefit to this new venture: homebrewing was a people magnet. His friends loved tasting and talking about his experiments. Homemade beer, Papazian realized, created community.

Next: Papazian moves to Boulder

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SOURCES:

*6: Peter Lawlor, “Birth of the Brews,” Clear Creek 9 (December 1971): 25.

*7: “Beer–Brew It Yourself,” Great Speckled Bird (May 17, 1971): 22. This article, like so many, appeared in multiple publications, thanks to the Underground Press Syndicate, the hipsters’ version of the Associated Press.

*8: “Treasury Warns Home-Brewers,” Washington Post, July 27, 1973, p. A3.

*9: Unless otherwise indicated, following quotes are from Charlie Papazian interview with Maureen Ogle, April 27, 2005.

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