How Homebrewers Changed the Whole Brewing Industry—Forever
After the repeal of national prohibition in 1933, only 756 of the nation’s estimated 1,900 pre-prohibition breweries resumed operations. WWII and its aftermath had a further effect on their numbers, with the largest American (and world) brewers buying out smaller breweries.
In the process, the large brewers began dumbing down all of their own beer types. Beer color was as pale yellow as the brewers could make it. The hop levels fell to barely detectable amounts, close to the human taste threshold. By 1978, the world’s largest brewers had just about totally ruined the great beer styles of the world.
Cold-fermented and aged, lager beers had become the world’s major brewing style since their introduction in the mid-19th century. The cold-brewing method made lager beer smoother, more mellow and less bitter than the old ale beer types, which were warm-fermented quickly with top-fermenting yeast (above 60 degrees F/15.5 degrees C).
The faster ale ferment produced beer with heavier and more intense taste factors. The British and Belgian brewers were masters of the old traditional ale beers. In this period, only a very few American brewers pursued the ale tradition.
Prohibition also had the effect of destroying the good name of homebrew. My stepfather’s homebrew was a classic example of that miserable breed. His recipe: one 3.5-pound can of Blue Ribbon Hop Flavored Malt Syrup, ten gallons of water, ten pounds of corn sugar and a cube of Fleishman’s yeast. His lone fermenting vessel was a beautiful 10-gallon porcelain crock that stood behind my mother’s kitchen stove. At the end of ferment (about a week signaled by a low-key bubble formation on the surface of the beer), he bottled it in reusable dark quart bottles. A secondary ferment in the bottle, initiated by the addition of a level teaspoon of corn sugar, served to carbonate the finished beer after another week or so.
Unless you really needed an alcohol fix, this beer was truly wretched. It cost my dad a penny per quart, and he continued brewing the stuff until I was in college after the end of the war. By then, he was investing two cents a quart, but it satisfied the alcohol needs of my friends and me. We were after the cheap alcohol effect, and you couldn’t beat the price (free to us) nor the alcohol content (about 6 percent)—especially so since I didn’t reach legal drinking age until 1947, after service in the Marines, where I enjoyed American “3.2” beer (4 percent ABV) on military bases during the war. What I learned from all this was that drinking homebrew was only for the desperate among us.
Say ‘Hello” to Good Beer
When I was recalled for the Korean War, I sampled my first really good beer in Japan (Danish Tuborg). I was amazed at how good that tasted. I’d had no idea that beer had such potential. I became acquainted with delicious imported ales and American-brewed Rainier Ale, a strange concoction that turned out to be a bastard ale, i.e., brewed warm with bottom-fermenting (cold-fermenting) lager yeast. At least these beers had taste, while the mainstream mega-brewers were busy removing all vestiges of flavor from their ever more miserable products.
In 1967, I traveled down to San Francisco, the city of my birth. There, in the company of a friend, I chanced to visit the Old Spaghetti Factory on Green Street. They served San Francisco Steam Beer from the Anchor Brewing Co. Now that was a beer to note! My friend commented that Anchor Steam reminded him of homebrew. I had to wonder where he might have sampled any homebrew of such distinctive quality. But the idea stuck with me, and I began to wonder if one really could brew a beer like that at home.
I soon gave up on beer, and concentrated on exploring the good wines that this country produces. I started to make my own, with the help of Wine-Art, the local Portland home-winemaking shop. My wines were good, and Jack McCallum, the owner, suggested that I should teach a winemaking class for the local community college in 1968. It was great fun, and I discovered that the shop also had a great homebrewing section, with a Canadian recipe for a European-style lager beer, which was fermented warm in the manner of most homebrewers. It was quite different from that made by my stepfather.
This one was based on using only malt extract syrup and/or dry malt extract, with no sugar to ruin the taste. Moreover, the production system called for a brewery-style large kettle boil-up of the wort, during which one added real dried hops, and then transferred the cooled hot wort to an open primary ferment. This, along with a closed secondary ferment (a major feature in winemaking), under a fermentation lock in a winemaker’s glass carboy, made me say, “Wow!” There was a big difference in taste. This beer was like no other beer brewed in anyone’s home that I’d ever tried. It tasted pretty much like one would expect good beer to taste. I incorporated this recipe into my winemaking classes, even though homebrewed beer was still illegal.
Wine-Art owner Jack McCallum was so impressed with my re-write of his very good homebrew recipe that he invited me to write a book on the subject. In 1969, I did just that. A Treatise on Lager Beer came out in 1970 as a small, 52-page, booklet. We sold 110,000 copies of the book’s seven editions or revisions.
At that time, there were only 73 U.S. brewing companies operating 133 brewing plants in 31 states. Industry predictions told us there’d only be 10 by 1990. One could speculate that they’d all be brewing Budweiser clones by then.
But as the techniques of modern, scientifically-based homebrewing appeared, curiosity about small brewing began to rise. Fritz Maytag’s San Francisco Steam Beer techniques also began to draw interest. This culminated in the first American microbrewery the New Albion Brewery in Sonoma, CA, opened in 1976 by Jack McAuliffe.
Enter Michael Jackson and Charlie Papazian
Meanwhile, in England, Michael Jackson appeared with his monumental, soul-satisfying World Guide to Beer in 1977. I had suspected that there was a great variety of good beer out there, but I had no idea of the magnitude. Most of the beers found in the United were sold by the country! Who knew there were also styles?
Ale and lager, light and dark? What other kinds of beer could there be? Charles Finkel soon showed us, when his importing company, Merchant du Vin, brought in some of Jackson’s recommendations, including the great Belgian Orval Trappist and Lindemans Kriek, as well as British Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale and Pinkus Ur-Pils from then-West Germany. Good beer had returned to America.
In Boulder, CO, in 1978, Charlie Papazian formed the American Homebrewers Association, our country’s first national homebrew organization. In December of that year, he introduced their journal, Zymurgy. He had been teaching and encouraging modern homebrewing in that city for several years by then, and he published his first book The Joy of Brewing (1976), whose sequel, The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing (1991), is still the definitive text on that art. The end of 1978 also signaled the legalizing of homebrewing along the same lines as homemade wine had always been, even through Prohibition.
The Return of the Ales
The year 1980 was a banner year, as homebrewers and other interested folks began opening small micro-breweries, including Sierra Nevada in Chico, CA by homebrewer and homebrew shop owner Ken Grossman, and Boulder Brewing in Longmont, CO.
These events brought Papazian and myself together with Michael Jackson at the first Great American Beer Festival in 1982, which included beer from some 40 breweries. Although not very impressive, what it did signal was that one could open a small brewery and enjoy modest success.
From 1981 to 1987, some 80 new microbrewers opened their doors in this country and Canada, due to the efforts of mostly new homebrewer entrepreneurs. By 2002 there were 1,503 breweries operating in this country! Not all have survived, of course, but some 1,449 were in operation by the end of 2007. Microbreweries have spread across the world, producing a wide variety of Jackson’s styles, showing up in such strange and disparate places as Japan, Korea, Europe and even Africa and southern Asia. Most of these new brewers produce ale beer on draft, which can take as little as seven to 10 days from brew kettle to beer tap. None of this would have happened without the work of Charlie Papazian and his brainchild, the American Homebrewers Association, which helped build a home for all these new brewers.
Fred Eckhardt still brews saké (a rice-based beer) in his home in Portland, OR. Charlie Papazian still brews homebrew in his home in Boulder, CO. We homebrewers have changed the very nature of world brewing, and they’ve never had the courtesy to thank us.