A Q&A With The Father Of Homebrewing And Craft Beer Pioneer, Charlie Papazian

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Charlie Papazian

In Steve Hindy’s book, titled The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink, he uses the Oxford English Dictionary to define a pioneer as  “one of a body of foot-soldiers who march with or in advance of an army or regiment, having spades, pickaxes, etc. to dig trenches, repair roads, and perform other labours in clearing and preparing the way for the main body.” Some may say that the craft beer revolution has been lucky to have a number of great  pioneers – and one such pioneer is Charlie Papazian.

According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, Papazian is often referred to as the “father of homebrewing.” He was a nuclear engineer and teacher who decided to take up  homebrewing. Papazian would eventually share his knowledge of home brewing with others. Eventually he founded both the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and the Association of Brewers. He and home brewer Charlie Matzen started the AHA’S magazine, Zymurgy – named for a branch of chemistry that studies fermentation. Papazian’s most popular book, Complete Joy of Homebrewing, has been and still is an important guide to many homebrewers. Some other works of his include: The Homebrewers Companion and Micro-brewed Adventures.

Given his prominent role in starting, shaping and further informing the craft beer movement, the Brew Studs have long been anxious to have a chance to pick his brain about current events. I recently put some questions to Charlie in order to learn more about his view of the craft beer industry.


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Eugene J. Arlotta: What is your favorite beer/style?

Charlie Papazian: My homebrew. The beers I brew most often are usually between 4.5 and 5.2 percent alcohol.  They are well spoken recipes that reflect the themes of enjoyable drinkability, having more than one, not getting super buzzed and full of great hop and/or malt character.  I brew Ordinary Bitter, IPA, Pale Ale, Czech-style dark lager, Pilseners (both all malt and adjunct enhanced), German style Helles, and a swarthy yet mild true Irish-style stout.  I have to nod to the frequently brewed experimental or specialty brews I make that are also “favorites.” I like to visit where the sidewalk ends and explore new directions in technique, ingredients, fermentations, and ideas. Also, fresh beer is the most perfect beer. It has aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel that is fully intentional and communicates what brewing and beer enjoyment is all about.

EJA: Do you like where the industry/culture is going?

CP: Yes.  Here are a few thoughts on why and where it’s going.  Most craft brewers love beer and beer culture; they are passionate about what they do and are currently not interested in growing their business only to sell it for lots of money and profit. Many well established craft brewers entrepreneurs have had other jobs before getting into the craft beer business and wanted a change and sought job satisfaction.  If they were to sell their successful brewing business, they realize that they would have lots of money, but then what?  Another job?  Why do that?  They love their job, control over their destiny, what they do and the communities they support.  They have achieved their goal of job satisfaction.  Why give that up?  They have enough money.  More money can’t buy the satisfaction they have worked for.  You might even call it being content? “Content” doesn’t usually translate into the traditional lexicon of the business world.

EJA: Do you fear as the founders of the modern beer movement age and retire microbreweries will increasingly sell to macros?

CP:  The continuing consolidation of the large brewing companies and the near monopolization of the beer network create opportunities for small entrepreneurs to provide for fundamental human needs that have gone missing with the dynamics of consolidation.  Mega-large international beer companies find it difficult to compete in niche and specialty markets.  It clashes with their business culture and their reason to exist.  By legitimate choice theirs’ is a different business model.  Profits are priority and profits are difficult to achieve with differentiating of beer types. Resonating at a local level is one of the strategies, but getting more difficult to achieve as a giant company.  Their strategy of buying out small breweries and eventually shutting them down as they harvest the value of brands (as they have consistently done in the past) isn’t so successful –- because most craft brewers have different business priorities which the consumer has grown to understand and support.

EJA: What do you think could be an answer to this problem?

CP:  Job satisfaction trumps most everything else.  Do they teach that at business school?  Are stock market trends based on job satisfaction? Doing the right thing? Are shareholders who await their return on investment going to tolerate leadership’s preferences?

Dare I say it, that most American craft brewers have pursued a somewhat different approach to capitalism.  People and business journalist are still trying to figure this out. Even as they observe with amazement at what is happening, they are still asking “Why?”

Why aren’t the same dynamics happening in the wine world or in the ice cream, coffee, potato chip, yogurt, baking, chocolate, toothpaste producing worlds?  I’m thinking, that perhaps, it’s because there has been a collaborative community of brewers and beer fans that have made the beer business fun and enjoyable.  Despite the healthy competition with each other there is a genuine effort by most small and independent craft brewers to value, educate and nurture the entire community of brewers and beer drinkers.

EJA: How important do you think home brewing is to the craft beer industry?

CP: Very important.  Most professional craft brewers and founders attribute their origins to homebrewing.  Homebrewers continue to be on the frontier of innovation and creativity. They lead on the path of discovery.  Their enthusiasm is symbiotic to the success of pro craft brewers.

EJA: What regrets, if any, do you have about your involvement in the craft beer movement? (What could you have done differently?)

CP: Nothing differently. If I were going pro I would have done so a long time ago. I love what I do. I love homebrewing.  Being a professional brewer is another kind of intimate relationship with beer and brewing, but much different than hobby brewing.  What would I name it?  I’d need to have a few beers and think about it before going down that road.

EJA: What do you think the craft beer culture will look like 10 years from now (Local and/or worldwide)?

CP:  In the USA craft brewers will have 30% of the market share by 2025; Worldwide it could get to 20%.  The emphasis will be local/regional breweries brewing specialty beers and in breweries local communities will take pride in supporting.

EJA: Any advice to inspiring craft brewers?

CP: Beware. The brewing business is a long-term commitment.  It is capital intensive, in other words you need to invest a lot of money on equipment and infrastructure and skilled employees.  Quality of beer matters.  If you take short cuts or don’t invest in quality then ultimately you will fail.  Education about beer to the beer drinker matters.  You must educate beer drinkers about why your beer is different and matters.  You need to be an expert and learn yourself. Marketing alone will not sell craft beer nor assure success. Beer business is not a get rich quick business. Commitment to craft beer ideas and quality is essential. Quality, quality, quality.  One mistake with not achieving quality can cause a business to fail.

homebrew motto

#RDWHAHB

To all of you who may be concerned about the future of  craft beer, take a tip from one of the pioneers of the craft brew revolution: [RDWHAHB] “Relax. Don’t worry, have a homebrew.”

 

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I live on Long Island with my wife where we raised two sons. I'm a graduate of Stony Brook University and currently a middle school social studies teacher. Family, reading, writing, good company, laughs, sports, homebrewing and of course great craft beer are some of the things I enjoy.

1 Comment

  1. Nathan

    September 1, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    Lots is great points. Very comforting predictions.

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