Jul 112008

Charlie Papazian

Charlie Papazian

I’m happy to announce the start of a new feature – the Private Tastings interview series. I hope to include short interviews here with noteworthy and interesting figures in the homebrewing and craft beer universe.

I’m very proud to report our first Private Tastings is with none other than Charlie Papazian. Charlie is easily one of the most recognized names in the beer community. He is the author of five best-selling books, including The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and Microbrewed Adventures. He is also the founder of the Association of Brewers, which evolved into today’s Brewer’s Association (of which he is president). If you don’t know who he is, you probably found this website by mistake.

I’m thrilled Charlie was able to take a few moments out of his extremely busy schedule to answer a handful of questions for me. So, without further ado, here is the first in what will hopefully be a long series of Private Tastings!

Private Tastings: There appears to be a divide in the craft beer community – some believe beer is well-served by following in the footsteps of the wine revolution. Others feel that beer should not compare itself to wine. Do you feel the interests of the beer industry are better served by following the path laid out by wine, or by forging a brand new path?

Charlie Papazian: I’m not aware of any “divide” though I’d be interested in being pointed to the direction where that divide exists. 40 years ago, American wine went from cheap rotgut context to now enjoy world class admiration. There’s much to learn in how they did that. The major lesson is “patience” and a vision that American beer deserves a lot more respect than it has received in the past. Beer enthusiasts today realize all the great flavor and diversity that American and other beers can offer. The reason why there is that knowledge is because many people have been working at educating the public for decades; slowly one beer drinker at a time. Beer will never go down the same path as wine. How can that even be imagined? They are so very different beverages. Wine has gone down its path. Beer will go down its path. You don’t have to take any cues from wine to forge a vision and path that leads to teaching people that beer is accessible and can be enjoyed on so many different occasions. And there’s no such truth to the statement “I don’t like the taste of beer”. Show me a person who says that I can make a liar out of them in a heartbeat.

PT: What was the catalyst which led you to found the Association of Brewers and get into the political aspects of the industry?

CP: The Association of Brewers doesn’t exist as the AOB any longer. AOB merged with Brewers Association of America in 2005. I founded the American Homebrewers Association, which in turn morphed into Great American Beer Festival, Association of Brewers and other projects (see www.beertown.org). In 1978 in founding the AHA, it was a desire to create a communication vehicle among beer lovers, who back then were limited to homebrewers.

PT: What inspired you to begin homebrewing?

CP: I was in college drinking cheap uninteresting yellow beer. Someone introduced me to homebrew. I never looked back.

PT: Microbrewed Adventures is an amazing book filled with some unique beer experiences you have been able to partake in. For me, the book really underscored how beer can bring us all together. When you look at the multitude of places, people, and events you experienced, it is obvious that beer is a common thread that is enjoyed and appreciated the world over. Out of all your adventures, which would you say is the most important to you and best represents the universal nature of beer?

CP: This is like asking me “what’s my favorite beer?” I can’t really answer that. Because my favorite beer is the one I’m drinking at the moment. My favorite adventure is the one I just had and looking forward to the next. If you have the emotional state of being in the moment, life provides you with so many great beer adventures. Some simple, some seemingly exotic. In the end it’s about the camaraderie, friendships, and seeking the emotional state some call “pleasure”. What’s wrong with that?

So, there you have it! Once again, many thanks to Charlie Papazian for indulging some random blog author who emailed him a bunch of questions. Drop him a line and let him know how much you enjoyed reading it, and maybe he’ll let me bug him some more!

If you know, or are, someone you think should be interviewed for future Private Tastings, please drop me a comment or an email and I’ll do my best to oblige.

May 202008

I stumbled across this Newsweek.com article about the craft brewing industry. The title would have you think it focuses on brewers’ lobbying efforts in Washington, but it seems a bit disjointed to me. It does start off discussing the political concerns of the American craft brewing industry, but then meanders about, touching on beer’s complexity compared to wine, how beer’s perceived status can be elevated, and if the recent growth of the craft beer industry is a flash in the pan. All in all, a fluffy piece saved only by the fact that the questions it posed were answered by Charlie Papazian, homebrewing icon and president of the Brewer’s Association.

I applaud Newsweek for publishing an article about craft beer – even if it is only a “web exclusive” (sort of like this site). They got the timing and location right – after all, last week was American Craft Beer Week and the Brewer’s Association’s SAVOR event drew tons of beer enthusiasts, brewers, and, yes, even lobbyists, to the DC area. However, the article seems so light on substance – where’s the real discussion of the issues facing small breweries in America? Charlie P. is allowed to briefly mention how increased federal excise taxes and label printing requirements threaten to strangle an already over-regulated industry, but there is no follow-up by the interviewer and the article loses its focus.

Don’t get me wrong, I think discussing the status of beer as a beverage and getting the Brewer’s Association’s message out to the public is vital to the continued growth of the industry. However, an article titled “U.S. Brewers Bid for Influence on Capitol Hill” in the politics section of Newsweek should have a bit more meat to it. Was this a poor job by the interviewer, or was the story edited to appeal to a broader segment of the general public?

So, what do you think? Should we be happy as beer enthusiasts and brewers that Newsweek published anything at all? Is any press that doesn’t completely mangle the facts or badmouth beer good press for the craft beer industry? Or are we at the point now where we can demand more from an article like this?