Charlie Papazian

How the GABF Came to Be

Last night, the 34th Great American Beer Festival came to an end. There wouldn’t have been a 34th GABF, or even a first one, had it not been for Charlie Papazian—and, perhaps, an event called “Beer and Steer”.

Beer and Steer, organized during the 1970s by Papazian, was annual beer party, held in the foothills above Boulder, Colorado. Homebrewers and beer enthusiasts gathered there each year to swap beers and recipes, and enjoy roasted meat and good company. Partiers brought down snow from higher elevations to keep the beer cold.

Each year the party grew more elaborate and more popular, forcing Papazian and his fellow organizers to limit it to 400 attendees.

The experience Papazian gained from Beer and Steer proved invaluable when he founded the American Homebrewers Association. He invited industry professionals to the National Homebrewers Conference, turning a low-key competition into an industry event. Papazian next launched the GABF, which gave aspiring craft brewers an opportunity to meet professional brewers and learn how to scale up their own operations while maintaining quality.

How Craft Beer Became “Craft”

Q. Who invented the term “craft beer”?

A. According to beer writer Stan Hieronymus, Vince Cottone, a beer columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, first used the phrases “craft-brewing scene,” “craft brewery,” and “craft brewing” in the manner they’re thought of today. Cottone’s readers knew what he was talking about, but it took a while for the phrase “craft beer” to establish itself.

Charlie Papazian, the founder of the Association of Brewers, first defined “craft brewery” in New Brewer magazine in 1987. Since then, the craft-brewing industry has established three criteria: small (annual production of 6 million barrels or less; independent (less than 25 percent owned by a non-craft brewer; and traditional (flavored malt beverages aren’t “beers”).

That definition didn’t exactly settle the matter. Some in the industry point out that large companies employ craftspeople to brew their beer, and that well-known craft brands are becoming increasingly industrialized. Others find the term “craft beer” rather meaningless.

There’s the even bigger debate over what “craft beer” is. The industry doesn’t define it, but recently pointed the accusing finger at several beers—Blue Moon and Shock Top in particular—as craft beer impostors.

Some enthusiasts have even higher standards. Jace Marti, the brewmaster at August Schell Brewing Company, told Hieronymus that an attendee at last year’s World Beer Cup refused to taste his beers, which had won two medals. The attendee told him, “You shouldn’t be here. It’s adjunct beer”.

The Fight to Legalize Brewpubs

Charlie Papazian, who writes about beer on, resurrected a 1982 article from Zymurgy magazine about early efforts to legalize brewpubs. It was written by Tom Burns, then at the Boulder Brewing Company. Burns moved to Michigan, where he fought to change that state’s restrictive laws. Unfortunately, Burns passed away before Michigan became the “The Great Beer State” with more than 150 microbreweries and brewpubs.

At the heart of Burns’ article is America’s three-tier distribution system. He conceded that legislators had reasons to ban “tied houses”—they didn’t want breweries to monopolize the retail market—but argued that the laws were so inflexible they made impossible for a small brewery to sell its beer at retail.

Burns, who was an attorney, urged the craft-brewing community to lobby state legislators. He argued for a narrow exception to the three-tier system—allowing breweries to sell their product, on premises, at retail–and offered some useful talking points. Brewpubs are local businesses, which hire local people. They counter the trend toward industry concentration. They help preserve traditional beer styles, and led to the creation of new ones. And they encourage the consumption of beer, a beverage of moderation.

The strategy worked. A generation later, brewpubs are legal in all 50 states.

Remembering the First GABF

Had The Beer Festival Calendar existed in 1982, the listing for the first Great American Beer Festival might have looked like this:


4: Great American Beer Festival, Boulder, CO

The American Homebrewers Association presents the inaugural Great American Beer Festival, which will take place at the Hilton Harvest House in Boulder. This afternoon/evening event will feature more than 45 beers from around two dozen American craft breweries.

Of course, there wouldn’t have been a Beer Festival Calendar or a GABF website back then, because the World Wide Web wouldn’t be invented for another decade. And the term “craft beer,” if it existed at all, wasn’t in general circulation.

For the record, the first GABF drew 850 attendees. One of them was Michael Jackson, The Beer Hunter. Legend has it that when AHA co-founder Charlie Papazian told him about his plan to stage a festival, Jackson famoulsy replied, “That’s a great idea, Charlie. Only what will you serve for beer?”

The Friday Mash (Ale and Pi Edition)

Today is Pi Day, an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant. It’s celebrated today because Americans write the date as 3/14; and “3″, “1″, and “4″ are the three most significant digits of pi in decimal form. Ludwig recommends a beer, preferably a Real Ale, to go with your pi.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Boston, where Jim Koch invited survivors of last year’s Marathon bombing to his brewery, which is again brewing a special “26.2″ ale to raise funds for those injured last year.

A company in Canada plans to brew a “recovery ale” for athletes. It’s called “Lean Machine”; and it has 77 calories, 0.5 percent alcohol, and contains nutrients, antioxidants, and electrolytes.

Jonas Bronck’s Beer Company has tapped into New York tradition with an egg cream stout. An egg cream contains milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer water–but no eggs.

A Wisconsin lawmaker has introduced a bill that would create a state Beer Commission. It has the backing of the state’s breweries.

Charlie Papazian, head of the Brewers Association, has decided to discontinue the Beer City USA competition because it has “served its purpose.” Grand Rapids won last year’s competition.

investor C. Dean Metropoulos, who bought Pabst Brewing Company four years ago, is reportedly considering a sale of the company, which could be worth as much as $1 billion.

Finally, John Verive, a food writer for the Los Angeles Times, explains why the classic tulip glass is the only glass you’ll need. It’s versatile, supports the beer’s head, and holds in its aromas.

What if Prohibition Never Happened?

The latest column by Charlie Papazian poses an intriguing question: what if the 18th Amendment, which imposed national Prohibition, never became law?

If Prohibition never happened, we wouldn’t have had bathtub gin or speakeasies, the U.S. Treasury would have continued to take in millions in excise taxes, and gangsters like Al Capone would have been forced to find some other industry. And millions of Americans wouldn’t have had to break the law to enjoy an adult beverage.

But Papazian also sees a downside to Prohibition never happening. Lawmakers might not have outlawed “tied houses.” That, plus inevitable consolidation of the industry, could have created a barrier to entry so high that small breweries would struggle to survive. Without distributors, small brewers would have little chance of getting their product on the shelves and into bars. And if big brewers pushed huge quantities of cheap beer, a backlash leading to high taxes and tough restrictions might have occurred.

The ultimate question Papazian asks is, “If there was no Prohibition would we have today’s 2,400 small breweries?”

Point/Counterpoint: Macrobrew

Jim Galligan, who writes about beer and other adult beverages for, has a bone to pick with the World Beer Cup. He believes that competition organizers do good work overall; but he questions their decision to award medals in industrial beer categories, which are won by large breweries.

Charlie Papazian of the Brewers Association defends the practice, arguing that a rising tide lifts all boats. He told Galligan, “Winning in a competition is more than a statement of achievement,” he said. “It enhances the image of beer everywhere.”

Galligan wasn’t convinced. He responded:

If a wine lover saw the Miller Lite commercial where they crow about winning four WBC gold medals, do you think he or she would be convinced to put down their wine glass and pick up a mug? Or would they simply think that the world of beer must be pretty lame if Miller Lite is the best of the best? If anything, giving gold medals to industrial light lagers sends the wrong message. It lowers the tide for all brewers.

The Friday Mash (Tax Man Edition)

On this day in 1861, the U.S. government levied the first-ever income tax to fund the Union effort in the Civil War. A year later, the government imposed another war tax: a “temporary” tax on beer. Temporary? Almost a century and a half later, the federal beer tax is still with us.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Toronto, where beer is taxed even more heavily than in the States. It’s also the home of Bellwoods Brewery, whose owners talked their neighbors into growing hops in exchange for free beer.

Did Ben Franklin really say that “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”? No, says Charlie Papazian, who tells us what Franklin really said.

Earlier this year, TheStreet.Com featured ten of America’s best craft beer vacations. After getting an earful from the places left out, TheStreet has added five more destinations, all of them states.

White Sox slugger Frank Thomas was called “The Big Hurt” for good reason: he hit 521 home runs. Now retired, he’s lending his name to Big Hurt Beer, a lager with 7 percent ABV clout.

Budweiser is losing market share among humans, but Kathryn Olmstead, a writer in Maine, discovered that garden slugs prefer it by a 2-to-1 margin over Corona and Molson.

To get you through one of the hottest summers ever, Heineken has a double-walled beer mug that can cool your beer in five minutes.

Finally, an item that got Ludwig excited. He found a a taxonomic classification of over 600 beers with mammals on their labels. It’s organized by animal, just like in biology class.

Crunching the Numbers

Got your thinking caps on? Good. Because here comes a two-part question: (a) how many homebrewers are there in the United States, and (b) how much beer do they brew?

Paul Gatza and Gary Glass of the American Homebrewers Association tackled those questions in a column on Gatza says: “I would start with a guess of 750,000 homebrewers making beer at least once per year, who average around 4 five-gallon batches per year. 20 gallons x 750,000/31 gallons per barrel = 483,000 barrels of homebrew a year. I think a good working number is half a million bbls of homebrew per year.”

Charlie Papazian of the Brewers Association adds some perspective. He notes that “500,000 barrels is 0.25% of all the beer enjoyed in the United States. It’s a whisper, but a very loud whisper.” Papazian also describes Gatza’s estimate of 750,000 homebrewers as “aggressive,” and offers half a million as a conservative figure.

The Friday Mash (New Albion Edition)

On this day in 1579, Sir Francis Drake landed on the coast of what is now northern California. He called the land “New Albion” and claimed it for England. Four centuries later, Jack McAuliffe resurrected the name New Albion as the name for his microbrewery. It only lasted five years, but it changed American beer forever.

And now…The Mash!

We begin near Aix-en-Provence, France, a region we nowadays associate with wine. Scientists have also found evidence that the locals brewed beer 2,500 years ago.

The Heights in Houston, Texas, is the home of Live It BIG’s Beer Camp. Nicholas L. Hall of the Houston Press came home a happy camper, thanks to all the great beer he sampled.

What is “the mysterious Australian Ale”? Martyn Cornell, the Zythophile, concludes that it was most likely “No. 3 grade” Burton Ale, a sweetish, high-gravity beer exported to Australia during the late 19th century.

Dan, who blogs at The Full Pint, runs down the current trends in craft beer. Topping the list: 750ml corked and caged bottles.

Charlie Papazian revs up his time machine and travels back to 1980, where he unearths a Zymurgy magazine article about the Boulder Brewing Company. It’s part of the Small Breweries Revive series at

In New York City, bars are earning the Good Beer Seal. Participating establishments must be independently owned, have 80 percent of its beer consist of craft domestics or special imports, employ a knowledgeable staff that’s committed to presenting beer properly.

Finally, Session #53 has been announced. This month’s host is John Holl, and he’d like to hear from about Beer Redemption–that is, beers that with which you once had a bad experience, but later came to appreciate.

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