It was overcast but hot in San Diego on this particular afternoon four years ago, the first time I met Daniel Bradford. It was in a courtyard of an aging hotel and convention complex that was playing host to the annual Craft Brewers Conference and he and I were the only two wearing suit jackets. Bradford, the publisher and president of All About Beer Magazine had just finished a conversation and was left standing alone holding a program trying to figure out where a seminar room was located.
I was younger then, still relatively new to the world of beer journalism and had recently penned my second article for his magazine—considered the gold standard among brewers and savvy beer consumers. I introduced myself, calling him “Mr. Bradford” and he squinted back at me through his glasses, and politely pretended that he knew who I was. We chatted briefly about the weather, and the location of his next stop and then parted ways. A few hours later we crossed paths and I got a “Hey! You!” a smile, and a wave as we sailed past each other in a hallway. Later that day, we both had beers in our hands and Bradford was treating me like an old friend. He even went so far as to assign me another story for the magazine, a story idea that seemed at the time—and still does—fairly absurd.
Upon returning home I called the then-editor of the magazine and told him of my assignment. He laughed, told me Daniel often did that type of thing and that the story would likely never see the light of day. I let it go. Years later I reminded Bradford of the assignment, he sounded bewildered and said “Yeah, that’s not going in the magazine.”
He didn’t found the publication, but Bradford ran All About Beer Magazine for 22 years and created the popular and successful World Beer Festivals in the process. Last week he sold his company to Christopher Rice, a New Jersey native who spent the last two years working as vice president, and who plans to continue the vision of the magazine and festivals while growing both and bringing them into a new age of prosperity.
From that auspicious beginning, Bradford and I struck up a working friendship. Shortly after Hurricane Sandy struck my home state of New Jersey I received a call from Bradford and Rice asking me to become editor of that most prized of beer media properties. I accepted and since then have gotten to know Bradford via our several daily telephone calls and occasional in-person meetings at beer events and festivals (I work remotely from the AAB office). He is prone to flashes of brilliance and snaps out quick ideas that will later turn into full features. The things he really likes are called “fabulous” over and over. He’ll laugh at jokes but when something really tickles his funny bone he’ll exclaim, “Oh, isn’t that a riot!”
Through our conversations I’ve been able to piece out the history of modern American beer through his experiences, since he was on the front lines for many years, especially at its birth. He was chair of the Brewers’ Association of America, a founder and director of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), and a tireless advocate who was a trusted confidant, and often a punching bag for the frustrated few in the industry.
“You know nothing until you have been chewed out by a German magazine writer, in German,” Bradford told Steve Hindy for his book The Craft Beer Revolution. “I was probably oversensitive to it. I got accosted in the halls by brewers ready to punch me out.”
Things have mellowed out since then. When Bradford walks the halls of the GABF or brewers conference today he is warmly greeted like the old and trusted friend he is.
Faces are changing in the beer industry. The first generation, the pioneers that worked tirelessly to make flavorful beer, educate consumers, and advocate for better standards and distribution are retiring and passing the torch to a new generation. We see it with breweries like Sierra Nevada and Bells, where the founders are passing the businesses off to their children. Or in sales like Blue Point and Goose Island, where the companies are being sold to larger breweries. The only constant is change.
For the record Bradford isn’t retiring. He now holds the title of Associate Publisher and will remain with the magazine in an advisory role for several more years.
This transition has been a good reminder that nothing lasts forever, but that beer drinkers have been exceptionally fortunate to have stewards in the industry for the last 40 years who brought new levels of pride and renewed interest back to American beer. Bradford is at the very top of that list.
John Holl is the editor of All About Beer Magazine.