First Draft Follies: The Founding Of The American Homebrewers Association, Part 4

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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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[Homebrewing] proved a valuable currency when [Papazian] graduated from UVA in the spring of 1972 and headed to Boulder, Colorado, a city about which he knew nothing but where his roommate’s brother lived.

An interesting choice for a young man just starting out. In the early seventies, Boulder radiated “sunshine, hope, and love. It was a college town with something more, some magical quality . . . .” The town’s cafes and bars teemed with students and hippies; “[e]xuberant mystics,” “bemused academics, dope dealers, writers, artists, [and] musicians.” (*10)

A bit too much humanity. Jobs proved hard to find, so Papazian “hung out,” hoarded his pennies, made friends, and, in the spring of 1973, began brewing for them. By the fall, he’d developed a minor reputation around town as a guy who served up good times and good beer, and the staff at the Community Free School, one of thousands of experiments in alternative education (expressions, thus, of personal ecology), asked him to share his skill one night a week. Papazian jumped at the chance. He loved to teach. He relished the fellowship and sense of community that homebrew inspired. The law be damned.

In the fall of 1974, an otherwise dismal moment of record inflation and heartbreaking unemployment, he and his friend Charlie Matzen hosted Beer and Steer, or, as some called it, “Beerstock,” a celebration of the camaraderie forged by the making and drinking of homebrew.

Five hundred people converged on a meadow campsite in the foothills outside town, where they danced, sang, ate, played volleyball, and drank four hundred quarts of homebrew. What better way to respond to a world gone berserk than with laughter, music, and homemade beer. Take that Gussie Busch! Take that Treasury Department!

The American Homebrewers’s Association was born on a Hawaiian beach. In the summer of 1977, Matzen and Papazian met up at Maui, where Papazian engaged in a bit of organized loafing and Matzen supplemented his teacher’s salary doing carpentry, painting, and other odd jobs for condominium owners.

As the the two lounged one day at Kaihalulu, the “red sand beach” near Hana, they “started talking seriously about beer and making a living at it.” (*11) Papazian had written and self-published a homebrewing pamphlet, a short breezy affair that was low on accuracy and high on touting homebrewing as an easy, fun-filled venture. He sold copies to students enrolled in his brewing classes, but he wanted to find a larger audience for it and fashion a career out of his passion for homebrewing.

How about a magazine about beer?, he suggested. Matzen was a “little skeptical.” (*12) The project sounded ambitious and a bit far-fetched.

On the other hand, it could be “interesting” and fun in the same way as Beer and Steer had been over the past few years.(*13) “Beerstock” was hard work but the gathering and preparation of the food (Matzen’s domain) and beer (Papazian’s arena) and marshalling dozens of volunteers offered an outlet for their “creative urge.” (*14) A beer magazine would provide another one, and, who knew? Maybe there was a career in it.

Besides, Papazian and Matzen lived in Boulder, a city that oozed entrepreneurial passion, and not just from hip stores selling Earth Shoes or batik bedspreads. Mo Siegel had created a profitable empire out of herbal teas: $9 million dollars in sales by the late seventies. Green Mountain Grainery, which sold “health” foods like granola and trail mix, operated in a smaller local market, but each year it pulled in well over a million dollars. The Naropa Institute sold ideas and religion and owned entire blocks of Boulder real estate.

Creating odd businesses was itself a kind of religion in Boulder, a town where “everybody,” mused one observer who visited in the late seventies, “believes like crazy in something or somebody.” (*15)

Next: Papazian, Matzen, and the American Homebrewers Association

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SOURCES:

*10: Raymond Mungo, Cosmic Profit: How To Make Money Without Doing Time (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980), 89.)

*11: Charlie Matzen interview with Maureen Ogle, June 8, 2005.

*12: Matzen interview.

*13: Matzen interview.

*14: Matzen interview.

*15: Raymond Mungo, Cosmic Profit, 90.

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