First Draft Follies: The Founding Of The American Homebrewers Association, Part 5

Part One --- Part Two --- Part Three --- Part Four --- Part Five --- Part Six

Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. This edition concerns the creation of the American Homebrewers Association. The AHA celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on December 7, 2008.

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. The excerpt is long, so I've broken it into manageable bits and am posting those bits as a series.


Summer ended. [Matzen and Papzian] returned to Colorado, still discussing the notion [of beer as a business venture]. Then two omens set their ship on course. I

n January, 1978, Papazian read Michael Jackson's World Guide to Beer. In the space of a few hours, his knowledge about brewing and beer and their possibilities "expanded by leaps and bounds." (*16) Jackson's book empowered Papazian to perceive "community" as a larger, more complex entity than he had found in his homebrewing classes at the Free School. Then there was Jackson himself: an otherwise ordinary guy making a career out of beer.

Omen two presented itself in October 1978, when President Jimmy Carter signed legislation that legalized homebrewing.

Matzen and Papazian began writing the text for and assembling issue number one of Zymurgy, the official mouthpiece of their new organization, the American Homebrewers' Association.

In those pre-computer days, that task entailed hours of work with scissors and gluepot. One friend proofread and edited the twelve-page creation; another contributed the artwork. Papazian and Matzen spent days in the library, combing phone book yellow pages and compiling a list of brewing supply shops around the country. For hours they pasted address labels, about a thousand all told: shops, breweries, and hundreds of names from the Beer and Steer guest list.

The first issue consisted of one part information and three parts chutzpah, all of it doused in humor. In an article about the legalization of homebrewing, a "high-ranking representative of the A.H.A" applauded the senators who sponsored the bill. "With unity, the A. H. A. may become a powerful political force that Washington will have to reckon with. Think Homebrew Power." (*17)

One page contained an announcement of "The First Annual National Homebrew Competition," to be held in Boulder the following May.

Matzen contributed a story about what transpired when a carboy of Black Lava Ale exploded in his apartment in Hawaii, spewing drops of brew and bits of glass over walls, carpets, curtain, and clothes.

There was a recipe for "Stuffed Whole Lobster A-la-mazing"

and one for "Vagabond Black "gingered Ale," as well as a much-repeated admonition to "relax and have a homebrew." The founders included a vague statement of intent: The magazine would "deal with anything (and we mean anything) that has to do with the processes, enjoyment, and indulgement of beers, ales, and meads. Zymurgy will refine the science of brewing to an art."

Subscribers, the editors announced, would receive "fantabulous, great, tremendous discounts and benefits," and a "special price" on Papazian's "internationally renowned" book, Joy of Brewing. (*18) Off the newsletter went, all thousand or so copies.

The two power brewers sat back and waited for "the money to roll in." And waited. And waited some more. "We hoped we would get subscribers, form a base to pay for it," Matzen said later. (*19) What they got was a few takers, although not nearly enough to pay for a second issue; a bit of "who are these weirdo hippie people putting out this newsletter"; and not much else. (*20)

That did not stop the new Barons of Brew, whose enthusiasm outweighed their bank account.

Next: Papazian, Matzen, and the AHA defy the odds.


Sources: *16: Charlie Papazian interview with Maureen Ogle, April 27, 2005.

*17: "Congress Passes Homebrew," Zymurgy 1, no. 1 (December 1978): 12.

*18: Zymurgy 1, no. 1 (December 1978): 2.

*19: Charlie Matzen interview with Maureen Ogle, June 8, 2005.

*20: Papazian interview.