First Draft Follies: Early History of the American Homebrewers Association and the Brewers Association, Part 4

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 Assocation, 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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For Charlie Papazian’s comments on this entry here and here.

And what the AHA needed in early 1982 was someone to manage the million details that combined to produce the first Great American Beer Festival. Papazian planned the event to coincide with the annual homebrewing competition and the second “conference” on both homebrewing and microbrewing. “In sponsoring this event,” wrote Stuart Harris, the Zymurgy reporter who covered microbrewing,

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. (*1)

The GABF was not the nation’s first national beer festival. That honor belongs, most likely, to the German Alps Festival, which began in the early seventies in the Catskills. By the late seventies, it was attracting 300,000 people who sampled well over a hundred brands of domestic and imported brews.

The GABF was, however, the first beer event designed to showcase American beer in general and the new “micro” brews in particular. The debut proved a modest affair, which was about all that Papazian and his tiny crew could manage. The festival featured “1000 gallons of lagers, ales, stouts and porters,” a handful of “small” brewers, and ran just four hours on the Friday night of the first day of that year’s conference. (*2)

Papazian sandwiched the event in between the annual homebrewing competition and the brewing conference which, by the spring of 1982, had grown into a two-day affair. The organizers devoted day one to commercial brewing, with panels on packaging, bacteria control, and marketing and legal issues that small brewers could expect to face. Michael Lewis from UC-Davis spoke.

So did Michael Jackson, joined by David Bruce, who was single-handedly reinventing the British brewing-pub.That last exemplified Papazian’s ability to see around the curve in the road: brewpubs were about to become the Next Big Thing in small American brewing.

Whatever niggling doubts Papazian had about the wisdom of these new ventures were laid to rest in November, 1982, when he attended the annual meeting of the Brewers’ Association of America. (*3) He knew few people at the meeting, and although some of the small brewers welcomed his presence, he felt “uncomfortable” and “out of place.”

But he was nothing if not a genius when it came to seeing opportunity, and he came away convinced that regional and small beermakers were “doing their own thing,” and that “their thing” was “totally irrelevant” to the homebrewers and microbrewers he had met at the AHA conferences. (*4)

It was true that the AHA annual conference had become a “focal point” for homebrewers thinking about investing in commercial brewing. It’s not so clear that the new brewers themselves agreed with Papazian’s claim of ownership to their industry, or his assessment of the BAA as irrelevant.

The two most successful microbrewers, Ken Grossman and Fritz Maytag, for example, both joined the BAA because they regarded themselves not as homebrewers grown large but as real brewers and so part of the larger industry. The BAA’s membership may have shrunk, along with its budget, but [the BAA’s director] Bill O’Shea, in his late seventies and in failing health, continued to provide what service he could for his dwindling troops: lobbying, good relations with behemoths like Anheuser-Busch, and keeping abreast of new tax laws and regulatory burdens. What the BAA needed in the early eighties was new blood; men like Grossman and Maytag provided it.

Charlie Papazian understood nothing of that. He regarded microbrewing as an “extension of homebrewing,” and therefore a logical extension of the AHA. (*5) Tax issues? Labeling laws? Relax and have a homebrew.

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SOURCES:

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

*2: Advertisement for 1982 conference and competition, Zymurgy 5, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 20.

*3: The Brewers Association of America was organized in the early 1940s to represent the nation’s small, regional beermakers.

*4: Charlie Papazian, interview with Maureen Ogle, April 27, 2005.

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

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