First Draft Follies: Early History of the American Homebrewers Association and the Brewers Association, Part 1

Part OnePart Two Part ThreePart Four

Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart Nine

Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. 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. As always, when the excerpt is lengthy, and this one is, I break it into manageable bits and post those bits over the course of several days.

This edition of FDF concerns the early years of the American Homebrewers Association and what is now the Brewers Association, the craft brewing trade group. Much of my research into the topic fell into “insider baseball” information: interesting to those who were involved, and to people with a serious interest in brewing history, but dull as rocks to a more general audience. As a result, almost none of what follows ended up in the book, which was intended for a general audience.

On the other hand, the groups’ early histories provide fascinating insight into the creation of a organization from the ground up, particularly the conflicts that ensued between and among the participants. As a result, I think it’s worth posting this (long) series in full.

For more about the founding of the AHA, see my earlier string of First Draft Follies entries on that topic. (The link takes you to part six of the six-part series; it contains links to parts one through five.)

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NOTE: Charlie Papazian is providing commentary on and photos for this series. See his remarks about this entry.

In April, 1980, [Charlie] Papazian and [AHA co-founder Charlie] Matzen traveled to Minneapolis for the annual meeting of the Home Wine and Beer Trade Association (HWBTA), which represented the interests of shop owners and their suppliers. Retail shops provided the most important outlet for Zymurgy [the AHA newsletter], and it behooved Papazian to cultivate friends and acquaintances in the group.

The event was skewed toward the international: Joe Goodwin, chairman of CAMRA, and two British homebrewing experts were scheduled to speak. The event also featured the first International Beer Competition, so-called because the HWBTA’s membership included Canadians, a homebrewing contest organized by Jay Connor, co-owner with Byron Burch of Great Fermentations, [homebrewing] supply shops in northern California.

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 Great Fermentations Nancy Vineyard and the rest of the staff would “shake [their] heads” over the brewing information which was, by the Californians’ standards, stone age in its technical competence. (*1)

But that was part of the philosophy bordering on mystique cultivated back in Boulder. Nearly every issue repeated his admonition to “Relax. Have a homebrew.” When a reader wrote to Zymurgy to share with others a technique he used during brewing, Papazian responded with a slap on the wrist in the form of a detailed and complicated scientific correction, but then negated his own advice, and the reader’s concern for detail, [by dismissing] science and complexity.

“Let’s try keep our homebrewing simple but knowledgeable, concerned yet not worried and above all relaxed. Have a homebrew!” (*2)

“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.’” (*3)

Have fun. Keep it simple. Relax. Have a homebrew. Papazian’s Joy of Brewing 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 sophisticated events organized by homebrewers in California. (*4)

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SOURCES:

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

*2: Professor Surfeit, response to Herb Vadney, Zymurgy 3, no. 4 (Winter 1980): 22.

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

*4: Byron Burch, interview with Maureen Ogle, June 16, 2005.

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