First Draft Follies: Early History of the American Homebrewers Association and the Brewers Association, Part 6

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 comments on this segment.

Another Institute-inspired program made more sense, but it, too, backfired and for many of the same reasons. Papazian and the board knew that one way to raise money was to increase the AHA’s membership and thereby earn more revenue from dues and sales of Zymurgy.

Thus the “road shows.” The Institute created a package of programs with titles like “The World of Beer”; “Advanced Homebrewing”; and “The Good (Bad) Beer Clinic.” A host group, such as a homebrew club, paid travel expenses for Papazian, who presented the selected topic. These events promoted homebrewing and the AHA’s various wings and arms and, in theory, attracted new dues-paying members.

A typical road-trip was Papazian’s appearance at a Washington, D. C. event co-sponsored by the AHA and a local brewing club, Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP). A “standing-room-only crowd” of over a hundred people jammed a hotel meeting room to hear Papazian discuss homebrewing and watch two Pennsylvania men, identified only as Suds and Dregs so as to protect their jobs, taste BURP members’ beers. The two tasters expressed their disappointment at the “crass commercialism” of the event, a reference to booths where suppliers sold malt and hops, t-shirts, and books.

But the crowd was enthralled by Papazian, who made homebrewing “so easy that one wondered by anyone would buy beer.” “‘The question isn’t how hard it is,’” Papazian assured the audience, “‘It’s how easy it is.’” No word on whether he advised the troops to relax and have a homebrew. (*1)

Vintage Papazian and a classic example of the Institute’s modus operandi: Wow the crowd with beer. Attach a face to homebrewing and emphasize the hobby’s simplicity. Last but not least, make sure a major newspaper (in this case, the Washington Post) covers the event.

But to outsiders–anyone who was not ensconced in Papazian’s inner circle–the jaunts looked like grandstanding and, worse, as though Papazian was touring the globe on the AHA’s dime. He was not. The host group paid Papazian’s travel expenses and the “jaunts” were anything but. He had to meet, greet, speak, hobnob, trying to persuade people to jump on the homebrew wagon.

Still, the travel left Papazian and the AHA “open to criticism that he was spending money on himself.” (*2) Even AHA board members challenged Papazian’s absences from the office; some resented what looked like the glamorous life of trips to Europe, to New York, Los Angeles. But Papazian refused to budge, arguing that “expanding the base was more important than his reputation.”

Eventually the directors decided that each board member must attend at least one “offsite conference outside Boulder” so that they could learn “what kind of work was being done” at the events. One trip, and even the most skeptical board member agreed that Papazian’s road trips hardly constituted pleasure tours.

Then there was Papazian’s book. During the 1980s, royalties provided Papazian with most of his personal income. But even that played against him, again because of poor management. Advertisements for Joy of Brewing appeared in nearly every issue of Zymurgy, but the AHA never profited from any of its sales. Nor did the organization profit from Papazian’s later books, all of them written on what amounted to company time.

“We talked openly about the possible conflict,” one board member said later, but talk is not the same thing as action and once again the AHA and the Institute allowed negative perception to fester. “We could have done a better job with PR,” Matzen admitted.

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SOURCES: *1: All quotes from Angus Phillips, “Home Brew is Best, Say Purists,” Washington Post, September 30, 1984, p. C3.

*2: Charlie Matzen interview with Maureen Ogle, June 8, 2005. All remaining quotes are from Matzen interview.

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