The Smithsonian’s american brewing initiative

Homebrewing and the craft brewing industry in America can be credited to the pioneering spirit of Charlie Papazian. Having graduated with a degree in Engineering, Papazian was turned on by the idea in 1970, by an “old-timer” who learned to brew in the Prohibition era. He began researching and experimenting in an old basement. The first few batches went down the drain but provided many valuable lessons. Eventually Papazian’s brews were sought after and people were clamouring to know how it was made. He wrote up a 2-page instruction manual and gave it out to anyone who asked. Creating homebrew was illegal in the US prior to 1978, so a certain amount of discretion had to be maintained.

Years later, while on a road trip with a friend, Papazian fell in love with Boulder, CO and decided to stay. He got a job as a teacher and although his brewing equipment was back east, his friends knew of his skills and wanted lessons. Papazian bought new equipment and began weekly classes which quickly became oversubscribed. He published the debut issue of Zymurgy, a beer-making magazine named for the science of fermenting yeast for beer or wine. Inside were recipes, comics, columns and reported pieces. Less than two years later Papazian published “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing”. The book became an instant hit and publishers couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Papazian had become a celebrity. He hired a marketing director, an accountant and some office staff as things had really taken off. Just a few years earlier, there were five or so microbreweries in the United States; now there were close to 200.

Today, there are more than 8,000 breweries in the US, offering more flavours, styles and concoctions than ever before. Theresa McCulla, curator of the American Brewing History Initiative at the National Museum of American History says, “These small professional breweries are almost entirely founded by people who began as homebrewers. To think about craft beer, you really have to understand how homebrewing became so popular, and continues to stay so popular as a social phenomenon and a hobby that so many Americans enjoy.”

And we have Charlie Papazian to thank for it all.

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