First Draft Follies: Early History of the American Homebrewers Association and the Brewers Association, Part 2

Part OnePart Two Part ThreePart Four

Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart Nine

Welcome to this edition of 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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Also see Charlie Papazian’s commentary on this entry, as well as photos and a video (how cool IS the internet?).

The laid-back tone and calculated amateurism concealed a more complex agenda. Papazian laid his cards on the table in the Winter 1980 issue of Zymurgy.

An article written by Matzen and titled “Small Breweries Revive” described five “small” breweries — the term “microbrewery” had not yet taken hold — New Albion, Boulder, DeBakker, Sierra Nevada, and Cartwright. Matzen also interviewed Bill O’Shea at the Brewers Association of America [the trade group for small regional brewers]. O’Shea reported that he’d been “getting calls from people all over the country wanting information about starting small, family type breweries.’” (*1)

With that one piece, Zymurgy laid claim to ownership of not just homebrewing but the “real beer” movement. And if anyone doubted his intentions, Papazian upped the ante in May 1981, when the AHA hosted “The American Homebrewers Association Third Annual Homebrew/Mead Countrywine Competition and Conference.”

Papazian held the event at Chautauqua Park, an 83-year-old community education center just outside Boulder, a grand setting for the AHA’s first major event, which included a Friday night reception and the beer competition. The main event, however, was the conference, which featured, among others, Michael Jackson and Fred Eckhardt. (The next issue of Zymurgy added Jackson’s name to Eckhardt’s and [Paul] Freedman’s as an “advising editor.”)

The centerpiece? A ninety-minute session whose title, “The Small Commercial Micro-Brewery in America–Its Revival,” obscured its content. Panelists included Jack McAuliffe of New Albion and representatives from Boulder Brewing and Cartwright Brewing of Portland, Oregon. They showed slides, discussed their journey from home to commercial brewing, and answered questions from an audience that was less interested in the “revival” than in how to get in on it themselves. Topics ranged from paperwork and regulatory woes (Tom Burns from Cartwright warned that state governments caused more headaches than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) to bottling equipment and finances (the “typical” small brewery could be started with “a relatively modest” $100,000 investment). (*2)

everal months later, Papazian, who had left his teaching job to work fulltime in beer, solidified his intent to travel in large circles: He flew to England, where he joined Jackson at CAMRA’s tenth annual Great British Beer Festival. Papazian served as a judge in three categories and met Roger Protz, who edited CAMRA’s renowned Good Beer Guide. He also came home inspired to create an American version of the GBBF. The plan pushed the AHA into questionable activity, give its mission statement.

But Papazian being Papazian, the idea also shifted almost immediately from idea to reality, propriety be damned. The AHA, he told Zymurgy’s readers, had “become a focal point for the microbrewery movement in the United States,” and that alone “warranted a re-evaluation of the Association’s role in devoting its efforts on behalf of the microbrewer.” (*3)

“In sponsoring this event,” Zymurgy announced,

“the American Homebrewers Association hopes to bring public attention to the micro-brewery industry and provide a forum where brewers and would-be brewers may exchange ideas and information about the industry.” (*4)

But accommodating the new mission forced Papazian to dip a tentative toe into professionalism, something he had thus far resisted. [So far], the organization had relied on volunteers and friends. They wrote and produced the magazine and staffed the board of directors.

[Now that was not enough.] Papazian moved operations out of his back porch and into a small space on Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, just west of the Pearl Street Mall, a bustling ribbon of hip entrepreneurial energy and so a fitting neighborhood for his ambitions. He also hired Daniel Bradford, the organization’s first paid employee other than himself.

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SOURCES:

*1: Charles Matzen, “Small Breweries Revive,” Zymurgy 3, no. 4 (Winter 1980): 16.

*2: Stuart Harris, “Small Breweries Revive: A Resurgence of Traditional Beer,” Zymurgy (Special Issue 1981): 8.

*3: Charlie Papazian, “How Many Apples Does It Take to Make a Pie?,” Zymurgy 5, no. 4 (Winter 1982): 2.

*4: Stuart Harris, “Update,” Zymurgy 5, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 18.

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