Charlie Papazian at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival
By Tony Forder
Charlie Papazian announced his retirement from the Brewers Association on his 70th birthday January 23, 2018. This story was published in Ale Street News Dec. 1, 2017.
Although Charlie Papazian stepped down from his role as President of the Brewers Association earlier this year, he’s not exactly idle. He still maintains an office at the BA as Founder, Past President, and is active in their many events and departments
Since he founded the American Homebrewers Association in 1978, Papazian has been the architect of an empire – the Great American Beer Festival; Institute for Brewing Studies, which transitioned into BA; the World Beer Cup; and Brewers Publications.
So, with nearly a half century immersed in the craft beer movement, it is perhaps not surprising, while moving to a back seat position, Papazian started thinking about legacy. “There were discussions with the (BA) Board regarding the possibility that we might lose our history unless we pay attention to preserving it,” he said.
Papazian said he doesn’t recall raising his hand to embark on a massive archiving project, but nonetheless it fell to him. He hatched a plan to interview craft beer pioneers who were “involved in the early days of creating craft beer culture.”
His list of pioneers grew…and grew. Begun in the spring of this year, so far 137 45-minute interviews have been conducted (including yours truly on behalf of Ale Street News). Eight more are scheduled for February and that will conclude the original phase of the project. StudioC3 of Colorado Springs was contracted to manage the project. Most of the interviews were conducted by Papazian himself in Boulder, CO, although he did recruit veteran brewer and writer Dick Cantwell for assistance, and some interviews were conducted in the SF Bay Area.
While the first phase is nearly complete, Papazian’s plan is to create a living record that will be continuously added to. The raw footage of the interviews will be maintained by the BA as a resource for any interested parties – writers, producers, researchers. They will join other archives that are now stored in a Boulder warehouse recently purchased by the BA. They include historical documents, thousands of books – including libraries compiled by Pete Slosberg and Alan Eames – and all the photos of the organization’s original photographers David Bjorkman and Virginia Thomas.
For him personally, Papazian said, the project has been something of an eye-opener. “I really had no expectations…it’s been a completely new experience – an opportunity to discover what’s on people’s minds as they reflect. There’s a lot more on people’s minds than what you normally here from carefully crafted PR marketing jingo.”
Naturally, there’s no shortage of craft beer pioneering tales – microbrew as it was first called – in a landscape of big beer dominance. Startups, pursuit, success, failures. Uli Bennewitz, for example, a German farm manager originally contracted to clear 9,000 acres of “jungle” in NC, liked the area and opened the Weeping Radish Brewery in 1986. He remembered drafting some brewpub guidelines with NC’s department of alcohol when he was a non-citizen with an expired visitors visa.
“The Bavarian theme, serving only our own beer was pretty dumb,” he said. “The locals avoided us like the plague.”
As the industry has matured, it was interesting to also here the current perspective from pioneers, some of whom are still in the industry, and some who are not, Papazian said.
“(Many interviewees) expressed the need for “a quality game and humility – you can never learn enough.” Also, “the idea of collaboration gets challenged as the market gets more crowded but generally I got the feeling we’re continuing in the right direction as small brands, and we’re on the same page.”
I asked Charlie if the pillars that craft beer was built on are still there – cooperation, and collaboration. “The pillars,” he mused, “Yes like the Pantheon…we might be doing better actually – we still have a roof,” he said.
The list of pioneers is certainly a Who’s Who of craft. It’s a great resource for those who are up to the challenge of shaping some of these words of wisdom into a palatable format for all the new generations of brewers to learn from.