First Draft Follies: Early History of the American Homebrewers Association and the Brewers Association, Part 7

Part One --- Part Two --- Part Three --- Part Four Part Five --- Part Six --- Part Seven --- Part Eight --- Part 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.)


See also Charlie Papazian's commentary on this entry.

A classic blunder unfolded in the fall of 1986. The Association of Brewers [the new name of the group’s craft brewing arm] planned to hold its annual microbrewery conference in Portland, Oregon, a wise choice given the proliferation of small brewers there.

The schedule included tours of the city’s brewhouses but Papazian announced that without consulting first with the owners, who, no surprise, regarded this as a blatant attempt “to dictate dates and times” that they were expected to host visitors. (*1)

Four Portland brewers faced him down, refusing to abide by Papazian’s schedule and threatening to allow no tours unless he “backed off.” “‘We demanded, and got, a formal apology,” as well as free conference passes for each brewer’s employees.

Still, the damage had been done. The “‘whole thing left a sour taste,’” said Karl Ockert, the brewmaster at one of the four shops, “‘and we felt like it [the conference] had been imposed on us.’” (*2) Papazian, Bradford, and other staff were nothing more than a

“‘pretentious bunch of hypists, presuming to dictate to us when and how we should do them favors. And they’ve appointed themselves as our so-called representatives without any legitimate qualifications. Even their magazine [New Brewer] has no substance. They’re running a scam that’s riding the brewers’ coattails.’” (*3)

Strong words, those, but ones with a kernel of truth. No one at Boulder--not Papazian, not Bradford, not Charlie Matzen--had any qualifications for representing a booming and volatile industry. Neither the AHA nor the [craft brewing trade group] were professional organizations in the conventional sense of the word.

Mostly, Daniel Bradford acknowledged, the Boulder empire was “run by zealots” operating on “passion” and “emotion”; “amateurs doing professional work” and producing a “loosey goosey” mishmash of ideas and ambitions. (*4) The lack of professionalism at Boulder tainted nearly everything the group did, as did a chronic lack of communication that was one part arrogance, two parts naivete, and six parts incompetence spawned by inexperience.



*1: Vince Cottone, “Beer & Loathing in Denver: The Great American Beer Festival 1986,” American Brewer, Summer 1987, p. 17.

*2: Ibid., 17.

*3: Ibid., 16.

*4: Daniel Bradford, interview with Maureen Ogle, April 28, 2005.