First Draft Follies: The Founding Of The American Homebrewers Association, Part 6 of 6

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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.

Note: For more on the creation of Zymurgy, see this essay by Stan Hieronymus. Also see Stan’s essay on early connections between homebrewing and craft brewing.

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To an outside observer, the entire venture showed all the earmarks of one doomed for failure, and sooner rather than later. That observer had not counted on the passion, the persistence, or the patience of Charlie Papazian.

Matzen enjoyed creating the magazine. But Papazian could see something else. Out there, he sensed rather than knew, were beer lovers like himself. Men and women who enjoyed not just the flavor of homebrew, but the pleasure and fellowship it inspired. Out there lay both potential and opportunity for someone to have and to hold in homebrew-legal America. It might as well be him.

That, more than anything else, kept Zymurgy alive: Papazian’s ambition and intuition, his gut instinct, that success and, yes, perhaps an income, lay just around some bend in the road ahead.

Ever so gradually, response trickled in. Enthusiasts submitted thirty-four brews to that first competition, and two hundred merrymakers showed up for the ball, where they ate eggplant caviar and humus and danced to [local band] Jazz Explosion.

And against all odds, the group thrived. Each issue of Zymurgy was fatter than the last, in part thanks to an array of advertisements, mostly for homebrew supply shops, but also for magazines like Home Fermenter’s Digest and All About Beer, and instruction manuals, like Patrick Baker’s New Brewer’s Handbook, which he published in 1979. The magazine also carried ads for Papazian’s how-to book, which the author had revised, doubling the number of pages (and the price). News about homebrewing clubs devoured several pages of each issue. Paul Freedman, a reporter for the Washington Post, contributed articles, most notably a report about [the British group, the Campaign for Real Ale.]

In early 1980, Papazian incorporated the AHA as a tax-exempt, non-profit association devoted to “literary and educational purposes,” and created a board of directors that consisted of himself, Matzen, and several homebrewer friends. A year later, Freedman and Fred Eckhardt joined the Zymurgy staff as “advising editors.”

By that time, the staff list numbered nineteen, all of them unpaid (including even Papazian, who would not leave his teaching job until the end of the 1981 school year). Papazian knew that in order to stay alive, the AHA needed to extend its reach. He relied on the owners of brewing supply stores to distribute Zymurgy, so it behooved him to cultivate friends and acquaintances in the group.

In April, 1980, Papazian and Matzen traveled to Minneapolis for the annual meeting of the Home Wine and Beer Trade Association, which represented the interests of shop owners like Byron Burch and Patrick Baker and their suppliers. Joe Goodwin, chairman of CAMRA, and two British homebrewing experts were scheduled to speak, and the event featured the first International Beer Competition, so-called because the HWBTA’s membership included Canadians.

Papazian won Best of Show and first prize for his Pale Ale, wins that likely surprised the Californians in attendance. Whenever an issue of Zymurgy arrived at Byron Burch’s Great Fermentations, he, wife Nancy Vineyard, and the rest of the staff would “shake [their] heads” over the brewing information that was, by the Californians’ standards, stone age in its technical competence. (*21)

Nearly every issue repeated the admonition to “Relax. Have a homebrew.” When one reader wrote a letter sharing a particular technique he used during brewing, Papazian responded with a detailed and complicated scientific correction of the man’s idea, but then negated his own advice by dismissing the need for science or complexity. “Let’s try to keep our homebrewing simple but knowledgeable, concerned yet not worried and above all relaxed. Have a homebrew!” (*22)

Nor were Burch and Vineyard impressed with Papazian’s Joy of Brewing, which also focused on fun; never mind that its pages were riddled with inconsistencies and errors, including one procedure which, if followed, would cause the carboy used in the task to explode. Even the Boulder brewing competitions were “primitive” affairs compared to the far more sophisticated events organized by California homebrewers. (*23)

But there was method to Papazian’s seeming madness; it was part of the philosophy cultivated back in Boulder. “A much larger market exists” for shop owners, Papazian argued in another issue, “if the average person can be convinced that he/she can make a consistently better, less expensive beer” than those sold commercially, and that homebrewing is not a “mystique” meant only for “eccentrics.” (*24)

Have fun. Keep it simple. Relax. Have a homebrew. Given Papazian’s relative lack of knowledge in a hobby that was becoming more sophisticated by the month, it’s not clear how long the AHA might have carried on. Like [Larry] McAvitt’s [Committee for Real Ale,] it needed some other engine to propel its flight. (*25) Unlike McAvitt, Papazian found one — [in the form of another brewing-related development: the emergence of the craft brewing movment.]

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Sources:

*21: Nancy Vineyard interview with Maureen Ogle, June 6, 2005.

*22: Professor Surfeit, Zymurgy 3, no. 4 (Winter 1980): 22. *23: Byron Burch interview with Maureen Ogle, June 16, 2005.

*24: “Sharing Information is Good for the Homebrewer . . . And Good Business,” Zymurgy 3, no. 3 (Fall 1980): 4

. *25: Larry McAvitt, a Massachusetts man, founded the Committee for Real Ale in the mid-1970s; he modeled the short-lived organization after the British Campaign for Real Ale. For McAvitt, see here. For CAMRA, see here.

One thought on “First Draft Follies: The Founding Of The American Homebrewers Association, Part 6 of 6

  1. […] I | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 Homemade beer inspired “good vibrations” and a “pleasant high.” Unlike the rest of the […]

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