Words can’t express how the news of Charlie Papazian stepping down after 40 years as head of the American Homebrewers Association hit us here at World Headquarters. Well, maybe some words. To quote Luke Skywalker, “Nooooo! That’s not true! That’s impossible!”
Where would any of us be without Charlie?
I started brewing as a ‘90s-era recent college grad with a newfound love of good beer and a screaming case of perfectionism. And I can assure you I would have quit after my first, flawed batch of homebrew, if not for Charlie.
After years of foamy frat-house swill, homebrew sounded like a great idea. But the practice of it seemed way out of my league. Or so I thought, as I wandered the crowded, confusing shelves of my first local homebrew shop. Don’t get me wrong. The shop owner was amazing, and eager to help. (I still have his card. It bears a fax number and a members.aol web address.) But as a young, female, wanna-be brewer, I was easily intimidated.
That all went away the minute I opened my second-hand copy of “The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by some guy named Charlie Papazian.
To this day, these words from Charlie’s intro stick with me whenever I’m up against some brewing obstacle, even/especially the ones that originate in my own head: “Worrying still can spoil your beer more than anything else.” That and the now-famous mantra, “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a homebrew.” didn’t just make brewing more approachable, but life in general. The very ‘70s photos of a couple double-fisting beers and brewing gear didn’t hurt either.
I’m not saying homebrewing is the solution to all the world’s ills (though, I’m not gonna rule it out) but I haven’t found an instance yet where “Tense up & Fret” made a bad situation any better.
So many of us here at HQ consider Charlie Papazian to be our own personal teacher, mentor, Jedi Master and homebrew hero. Here are a few favorites from the crew.
CHRIS FARLEY Founder of Northern Brewer and near-contemporary of Charlie’s
Toad Spit Stout
Part-Time Mariachi and Head of Northern Brewer Customer Service
When Charlie popped in for a photo op with the Northern Brewer Fermentation Brigade during costume night at the 2012 NHC.
VP of Marketing and Weekend Mountain Bike Warrior
We spoke to Charlie on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Great American Beer Festival in 2011. Kind of crazy when you think about what he wrote in the intro to “The Joy of Homebrewing” back in 1984: “The brewing industry in the United States is only beginning to discover that…we like good beer.”
Master Vintner Wine Guru and Kilt-Clad Cask Brewer
FAVORITE ORIGIN STORY:
I bought the first edition of The Joy of Homebrewing, secondhand and wadded up like a paperback softball, in 1986. I’d been brewing since 1976, but had flailed around with some photocopied recipe sheets and some very oddly written books by British authors who had some pretty funny ideas. The book changed my approach and I made a lot better beer after that.
More than that, however, I grew to love beer with an open heart, rather than just making it my beverage of choice. It led me to learn more about beer, styles and brewing, and introduced me to good beer writing by showing me who Michael Jackson was.
I actually met Charlie when I was visiting Austin Texas. I was only there for a day, coming back from the Gulf Coast, and I stopped in to visit friends. We went to a local bar and standing there, casual as anything, was Charlie, playing darts with a bunch of brewers and industry associates. I was pretty banjaxed, and I couldn’t believe I was randomly running into him so far from my own home in Canada.
I bought him a beer, introduced myself and thanked him for the inspiration that he and the AHA had given me over the years. I told him how it had led to a career in the industry. He said that was the thing about homebrew: if you weren’t careful you could spend the rest of your life enjoying it.
And so I have, Charlie. Enjoy your retirement.
Not sure any of us could have imagined a world where we’d be working in an industry that probably wouldn’t exist, if not for Charlie. I know I certainly couldn’t. So thank you, Charlie, for inspiring us to keep at this crazy hobby no matter what, and never stop learning, brewing, or sharing our passion for homebrewing every chance we get.
Hopefully, after all those decades of practice, you’ve got that Relax thing down pat. Glad to hear you’ll have some time to enjoy it. We can’t wait to see what you’ll brew up next.