First Draft Follies: Early History of the American Hombrewers Association and the Brewers Association, Part 5

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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See also Charlie Papazian’s commentary on this blog entry.

So Papazian forged on. In early 1983, he and his staff launched the Institute for Fermentation and Brewing Studies, created to foster “the education of homebrewers, commercial microbrewers and all those interested in quality beer and brewing.” (*1)

Translated into action, the IFBS consisted of two things: First, New Brewer, a glossy magazine geared to microbrewers, with articles on everything from marketing, label design, and trademark law, to water treatment, hop varieties, and yeast. Second, an annual conference devoted entirely to microbrewing.

All of it–the beer festival, the expanded conference, and especially the new magazine–represented a huge risk. Non-profit organizations must file a mission statement. The AHA’s informed the world that it existed for “literary and educational purposes, in order to benefit homebrewers of beer and all those interested in homebrewing.” (*2) A generous soul could construe the beer festival as “educational” for homebrewers. A conference devoted in part to educating would-be commercial brewers stretched the meaning of the mission.

But it also represented insomnia-inducing financial risk — which is why Papazian dived into the expanded mission. In late 1982, the AHA boasted a mere 2,500 members. Their $12.00 membership fee, which included a subscription to Zymurgy, brought in a mere $30,000 each year, hardly enough to pay Papazian’s salary, a pittance at $300 a month (the equivalent of about $600 today), let alone Bradford’s wages, printing costs, electricity, and rent.

A more conservative person would have pulled the reins, and a less ambitious man would have given up and shut the doors. Papazian knew how to stretch a dollar — he was notorious among his friends for his frugal ways — and his grasp was exceeded only by his ambition.

So he forged on, creating new programs, adding new activities. Unfortunately, these ventures more often than not won Papazian more enemies than friends and so counted as mixed blessings.

Consider the “Affiliated Business Membership,” introduced in 1983. The ABM was a new AHA membership category aimed at homebrew shop owners and the companies that supplied them with goods and materials, such as carboys, hop packets, yeast, rubber tubing and the like. Papazian described the ABM as “a way for businesses to increase their sales of homebrew products with carefully researched information about products, equipment and brewing techniques.” The AHA, he explained

has already devoted substantial amounts of time and energy to researching what is best for the customer and business. We wish to share this information with you. (*3)

Lovely. Wonderful. Just one problem: this was precisely what the HWBTA had been doing for years. The homebrewing trade didn’t need another trade organization, and shop owners and supplies manufacturers resented the implication that Charlie Papazian knew more than they did about what was “best for the customer and business.”

In the end, the Affiliated Membership earned zero dollars for Papazian’s group and confirmed the general mistrust that many HWBTA members felt toward the Boulder contingent.

Patrick Baker had already discovered that. After Papazian founded the AHA, Baker, who belonged to both the HWBTA and the AHA, urged members of the trade group to hold their annual meeting at the same time and place as the AHA so that shop owners could attend both. His suggestion “got nowhere,” because, his fellow retailers told him, “they just didn’t trust Charley [sic], and didn’t want to deal with the AHA.” (*4)

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SOURCES:

*1: “The Institute for Fermentation and Brewing Studies,” Zymurgy 6, no. 2 (Summer 1983): 2.

*2: Corporate statement published on each masthead page starting with volume 3, no. 1, Spring 1980.

*3: “Affiliated Business Membership–An Open Letter,” Zymurgy 6, no. 2 (Summer 1983): 2.

*4: Patrick Baker, response to email interview with Maureen Ogle, June 17, 2005.