Homebrewing Icon Charlie Papazian Retires From The Brewers Association

Cover photo credit: Brewers Association

1978. That was the year that Charlie Papazian published the first issue of Zymurgy Magazine, along with Charlie Matzen, and announced the formation of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). That same year homebrewing became legal in the United States thanks to President Jimmy Carter. Charlie (he wouldn’t let me call him Mr. Papazian) had been teaching homebrewing classes for years prior to legalization. 

He’s authored several books focusing on homebrewing, including the now classic 'The Complete Joy of Homebrewing’, which has been updated many times over the years. His original wooden brewing spoon now resides at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. He’s taught thousands of students, many of whom went on to found commercial breweries including Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper, who founded the Wynkoop Brewing Company.

“Relax don’t worry, have a homebrew’ is perhaps the his most famous tagline, a tagline that will likely be repeated long past his official departure from the Brewer’s Association (BA) on January 23, 2019, his 70th birthday. Charlie founded the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in 1982, the World Beer Cup (WBC) and saw his beloved AHA through reorganization into the Association of Brewers, along with Institute for Brewing and Fermentation Studies in 1983. In 2005 he spearheaded the Association of Brewers merger with the Brewers Association of America, forming the Brewer’s Association. Charlie stepped down in 2016 as BA president and was succeeded by longtime BA employee Bob Pease. 

After such an illustrious and influential career with his favorite malted beverage, what’s next for Charlie? "My life has been an unending series of unanticipated opportunities," he said. “What I’ll do next, I’ll see.” as he’s quoted in the Boulder, Colorado based newspaper The Daily Camera. During his last year at the BA, Charlie will be compiling the many photos, articles and artifacts that have accumulated over the last 40 years into an archive at the BA for researchers. 

Years ago when I started brewing to gain a better understanding of what I was writing about, I  picked up The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. Though originally written decades ago, it language and explanations were easy for my inexperienced mind to understand. He was reassuring throughout the book. Years later, I corresponded with Charlie over a variety of topics and our common connection as writers for the now defunct ‘examiner.com’ website, Charlie was always happy to lend a hand with anything I needed, even if it was just to bounce an idea off him.

Perhaps my favorite Charlie moment was when I first met him 10 years ago on a family trip back to my home state of Colorado. Anxious for an opportunity to meet Charlie on this trip, I had contacted him by phone. He answered immediately and was happy to take time to meet. We met in the lobby of the BA offices in Boulder and Charlie already had beer in hand for us. As we sat down at the BA’s bar in the lobby, Charlie happily welcomed me to the BA offices and we began just getting to know each other a bit. He even engaged in conversation of with my then 10 year old son. At one point, he pulled out a porter from a brewery in Brazil that he had picked up on a recent trip. That he was willing to share this with a virtual stranger speaks volumes to who Charlie is and to the community of brewers and drinkers that I am proud to call family. 

Though I met Charlie many other times in person, watched him in person shake hands with and later fist bump winners of the many GABF and WBC competitions, I’ll never forget that first in person meeting with Charlie. He never made me fee like a newbie and always treated me (as he does everyone) as an equal. 

Though Charlie’s story with beer isn’t over, January 23, 2019, still marks the end of one hell of an era. God Bless you Charlie and thank you for everything. I look forward to your next chapter.