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Charlie’s Swansong at Homebrew Con #40

Charlie’s Swansong at Homebrew Con #40

To the booming cries of “Foaaaam!”, Charlie was borne to the stage in front of an ecstatic crowd

By Warren “BeerSensei” Monteiro

On June 28, Homebrew Con’s opening day, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution honoring the 40th year of the American Homebrewers Association and its founder, Charlie Papazian. The AHA has grown from a few guys around a kitchen table to having 50 employees and 45,000+ members brewing away in clubs in every state.

Portland Oregon is a perfect fit for a Homebrewers Conference. The city is overwhelming with craft bars, micros, chains and pop-ups and has been a beer destination. Over 3,200 homebrewers, young and old, flocked here to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Charlie Papazian starting the whole thing. He retires later this year when he hits 70, but that hasn’t slowed him down. And he gave a tremendous Keynote Speech to let us all know it.

AHA Director Gary Glass, clearly fighting his emotions, described the huge contributions Charlie has made over 40 years. He invented the American Homebrewers Association; he started what is now the Brewers Association; he published Zymurgy and launched Brewers Publishing; he founded the Great American Beer Festival, starting with 20 brewers in 1984; he then added the World Beer Cup. Whew! And, of course, from The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, he gave us his Mantra: Relax, Don’t Worry, Have A Homebrew.

To the booming cries of “Foaaaam!”, Charlie was borne to the stage in front of an ecstatic crowd, leaving the apotheosis of Phil Farrell’s legendary chicken waiting in the (dare I say) wings. He launched into scrappy reminiscences of his beginnings as a teacher, back in the ‘70’s, of illegal home brewing (2 words back then), kidding us that it would’ve been great publicity if he’d gotten busted. He described the formation of the Homebrewers Association just after things got legal. He lauded the special folks who gathered round him, feeling their way into the ’80’s, among them Dave Miller espousing all-grain brewing, and Fred Eckhardt acting as Charlie’s guiding light. And that they all needed some kind of a guide to it all.

Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing has touched probably a million homebrewers over time. Starting out with a 2-page summary in college, then a 76-page self-published pamphlet, then a full-fledged volume in 1984, each revised edition remains as relevant now as ever. Its charm lies in Charlie’s deep belief that brewing should be fun. Why call it Pale Ale #3 when you can name it Goat Scrotum Ale and get away with it!

When, at the end, he said he wished the audience was seated higher than the stage “So I can look up to you,” the crowd roared. And Charlie’s still brewing. The next Zymurgy features his recipe for Flub-A-Dub Porter, based on a beer he tasted at GABF 1982, dry hopped Ballantine Porter with a story to match.

The Festival beer, Charlie 2018, has a pedigree as well. Thirty years ago, a young John Maier was named Homebrewer of the Year. Now his brewery, known to us as Rogue, poured forth this lovely 7.8% version of Charlie 1981, John’s original batch of beer using Charlie’s book.

Solemnity gave way to the Kickoff Party sponsored by Oregon Brewers with a Sam Adams assist. Next evening was Club Night, dominated by local homebrew clubs. The Social Club, on the Trade Show floor, kept the mood going during the day with myriad oddities, tastes and styles.

I love the degree of zaniness some of these tyros achieve simply because they are limited to small batches. Throughout, I noticed an emphasis on sour beers and barrel aged experiments similar to what I recently witnessed at SAVOR. On the trade floor, too, I noticed a strong accommodation to sours by yeast and juice and flavor purveyors. In the seminars, sours had a very strong track, with successful producers taking large audiences through very different approaches. And nobody was afraid to say that you throw out about 30% of what you make in that wild world.

On the Trade Floor, there seemed to be greater emphasis this year on getting homebrewers to take that big step. Equipment offerings, seminars and demonstrations were geared towards bigger, cleaner batches. Are we building up to yet another big wave of brewers? I wouldn’t be surprised.

The Homebrew Competition maxed out at 8,405 entries from 3,517 homebrewers. Beers were submitted from all 50 states, Washington DC and 18 countries. We congratulate Homebrewer of the Year Michael Rogers (Wichita, KS), Cidermaker of the Year Nathan Williams (Somerville, MA) and Meadmaker of the Year Michael Wilcox (also Wichita KS!). NHC Homebrew Club Award went to QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity – San Diego), and North Seattle Homebrew Club, WA won the Gambrinus Club Award. Greg Young (Roseville CA) aced the coveted Sam Adams Ninkasi Award for most wins in the competition. A full list of this year’s winners is on the BA website.

The American Homebrewers Conference is a wonderful event. Especially for those of us who have embraced The Complete Joy of Homebrewing or maybe just had that first really deep malty kiss at a homebrew club. So what about Charlie and 40 years? Being the right guy in the right place at the right time is all right, but you’ve gotta have your hand on the wheel. And Charlie has done just that. He can thank us as much as he wants, but without him we might still be boiling over in the kitchen. Next year’s conference pours in Providence RI, June 27-29. Until then, I’ll just Relax, Stop Worrying, and… well, you know. Don’t you?


Audio sessions from the Conference should be posted shortly at for AHA members.