No. 117: The Beer Enthusiast—25 Years
My congratulations and blessings to Daniel and Julie Bradford for making this magazine the great success that it has become in its 25th year. The brewing community owes them a great debt for what they have done to make this the greatest beer magazine on the planet. I remember the low point years ago, when it was owned by a survivalist publishing company, with a centerfold devoted to a Beermate of the Month.
The first issue, as a 16-page bimonthly tabloid newspaper in 1979, showed promise, claiming 20,000 circulation, which was especially good for those precarious times. It was a publication of Mike Bosak’s Beer Drinkers International, out of Calabasas, CA, with editor Sam Hicks, a protégé of mystery novelist Earle Stanley Gardner.
The beer situation in 1979 was not all that promising. There was a beer strike in Canada, and yellow industrial American beer was selling there as a high-priced import, with wonderful Canadian beer not available at all.
That was the good news. The bad news was that there were 91 US breweries, and only three of them were “boutique” breweries (“micro” and “craft” hadn’t been invented yet). The really bad news was that experts predicted there’d only be 10 breweries in the United States by 1996.
A Pretty Good Rag
That first issue of All About Beer Magazine was pretty good. There was a nice article about how home brewing had just been legalized, and another about the delights of Anchor Steam Beer, the brewery of which was just settling into then-new digs on San Francisco’s Mariposa Street.
The tabloid format continued through volume 3 (I think). My spotty collection ends at 3:3 with 120,000 readers in tow. By the time I acquired my next issue (4:1, January 1983), the publication had gone to full magazine format under the leadership of survivalist publisher McMullen on a five-year agreement with Mike Bosak as “editorial consultant.” There was a mix of sporting news, big brewer news and Hollywood personalities’ doings.
But February’s issue had a blond Beermate of the Month firmly ensconced in the center pages and featured on the front cover as a small inset. I lost all interest when I found she was wearing a swimsuit. By now there were some 11 American craft (“micro”) brewers in operation, but already three had failed, including Oregon’s first. The Beermate of the Month was gone by the November issue (4:7). The magazine really was getting better.
The May 1984 (5:3) publication featured an interview with a very young looking Michael Jackson, whose 1976 World Guide to Beer had created a tidal wave of beer interest, casting new light on the great (and dying) beer styles of the Old World. His book would become instrumental in saving those classics in a great revival of beer culture. The same issue was to introduce Dan Bradford to the readers with his review of Samuel Smith’s beers, Oatmeal Stout and Nut Brown Ale.
Off and Running
In November 1984 (5:6), Michael Jackson made his first appearance, although his “Jackson’s Journal” was still two issues away as an All About Beer Magazine column. Now the magazine was off and running.
As for me, I finally joined the lineup with “The Beer Enthusiast” and advice to beer merchants on the management of their stocks. I was moaning about the state of the brews available to beer enthusiasts. Daniel Bradford was also in that same issue, daring the reader to “Make Your Own Beer.” This from a fellow who confessed that he’d actually avoided beer for his first several years out of high school. That was before he’d met Charlie Papazian, the American Homebrewing Association’s impresario of Boulder’s growing beer culture. There’s a photograph showing Bradford looking almost too young to drink beer. This was volume 7:6, December 1986. At the end of 1986, there were 62 micros, or craft brewers, with only four failures so far.
My second piece, in March 1987 (8:1), “Chocolate: It’s Not Just for Lovers,” began a long love affair studying that combination; it’s one with which I’m still not finished. My picture there showed this old goat wearing a “Gimme a Beer” baseball cap and sitting in front of a lot more beer than I would ever dare to consume in one sitting these days.
When McMullen’s five-year contract ended, Mike and Bunny Bosak resumed control of the now successful magazine out of Oceanside, CA. They wanted to retire, so they needed to find another home for their now mature “baby.” Their last issue was 14:2, May 1993.
Our friends Daniel and Julie Bradford started with the July 1993 issue, and the publication has been getting better and better as we enter what must be the 30th year of the Great Craft Brewing Revolution that began with Fritz Maytag’s purchase of Anchor in 1965.
116 and Counting
As for me, I’ve had a wonderful time with all of this. My 116 “Beer Enthusiast” pieces have allowed me to venture into a wide range of subjects over the last 17 years.
As a consumer advocate, I often compare the here-now beer with the what-it-was-in-the-good-old-days beer. I think it is the mystique and ceremony of beer that are most appealing; and I know that our average reader is super curious about beer and everything around it. I like to write about that everything, and the ceremony of that everything.
I have received many compliments about my “diatribes”—those dissertations about what is wrong with society’s relationship with beer. My favorites have been the four babblements about lowering the drinking age. Even now, we are confronted by the spectacle of our government sending full-fledged 18-year-olds off to war without the drinking privileges that should be available to all citizens. Not that there is much of that going on in those Muslim lands we are trying to “rescue.” But I digress. (I learned that sport from Michael Jackson).
Other favorites include “I’m Madd” and “I’m Still Madd,” March 1988 and August 1991, about the wretched neo-Prohibitionists who are trying to create a “War on Beer” to go along with their miserable “War on Drugs” that is sending so many young people to permanent, or near-permanent, prison in what may yet become a Christian Republic if we are not careful.
Another favorite was my Diatribe No. 99 (May 2002) about food writers who couldn’t see beer as a distinct beverage in its own right, even if we poured it over their fat heads. Then there were the two pieces, one about the malt liquor blight (December 1988), wherein the Oregon (home)Brew Crew declared non-alcohol Guinness Kaliber America’s best malt liquor, because it had more taste than any malt liquor in a blind tasting (they’ve never forgiven me for that, either).
The other one was a set-up by two guys from a distributing firm, who wrote a letter to the editor in the name of one Arch Stanton. In it, Mr. Stanton declared that he would subscribe only after an article on light beer appeared in the magazine. I gleefully shoved the farce that has become “lite” beer down the phantom Mr. Stanton’s throat (January 1998). At a subsequent beer festival, one of the culprits came up to me and told me of their successful plot to egg me on. We both laughed, especially because I had really enjoyed writing that one.
Two other of my favorites were “Don’t Drive Drunk” (November 2002) and the recent “Zero Tolerance” (September 2004). However, none of the above can compare with the fun of writing a feature about “Beer and Cheese” for the May 2003 issue.
It’s such a gas writing about beer. I always tell people that I am having entirely too much fun, and I am. Had I known that it would be this much fun growing old, I’d have done it years ago.
Fred Eckhardt is still having too much fun in Portland, OR, where he brews sake and drinks almost any potable containing alcohol.