Legends in Brewing: Charlie Papazian

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We can thank one person for almost single-handedly lifting the obscure and primitive activity of homebrewing to the artform it is today: Charlie Papazian. Charlie organized a small, nascent corps of intrepid DIY brewers into a cohesive group, formed the AHA in Boulder, Colorado, and encouraged people at home to experiment and make better beer. His seminal book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, offered the first real instructions on the subject. Many of the craft breweries we enjoy today were founded by homebrewers who owe their beginnings to Charlie. Even the forum you are looking at would probably not exist were it not for the effort and vision of this guy.
So relax, don't worry, have a homebrew, and learn from Charlie how his "zapap" lautering buckets got their name , why beers never go extinct, and how he's connected to the GAPF (Great American Pie Festival - I'll bet you think that's a typo).

Charlie Papazian spoke with HBT over the phone. The following is an edited transcription of that conversation.

Andrew: Hi Charlie. Please describe your first homebrewing session.
Charlie: It was in 1970 while I was a student at the University of Virginia. It was based on a five-line list of ingredients and recipe that an old-timer gave me - nowadays you'd call it a prohibition-style homebrew. It was a couple of cans of malt extract, a lot of cane sugar, bread yeast, and water. It was a "dump and stir" no-boil recipe. After finishing the beer, bottling and tasting, we then dumped it down the drain. It was not very good. That was my first attempt.
We then found a homebrew shop in the area - there weren't very many so we had to go a distance to find it. There, we found corn sugar, dried beer yeast. Just those things improved the beer enough that we were encouraged to continue to pursue beermaking, beer that we and our friends could enjoy.
Andrew: How did you make the leap from that early experience to founding the American Homebrewers Association (AHA)?
Charlie: After I graduated in 1972, I moved to Boulder Colorado. Word got out that I knew how to make beer, so people asked to teach a class in beermaking. Through those classes, I experimented and learned along with the students that were taking the class. I discovered what different hops looked like, the differences between various malt extracts, grains and yeasts. We learned as we brewed.
In 1978 I founded the AHA. It was comprised, mainly, of the approximately 1000 people that I had taught to brew in the Boulder/Denver metropolitan area. That community of people were really jazzed about the idea of my friend and me founding the AHA, creating a newsletter, and sharing recipes, events and beer news. That was the leap: from homebrewing to teaching classes to founding the AHA.
Andrew: Were you still working in Boulder at that time? Did you see this path in homebrewing as your future career?
Charlie: For the first few years it was all non-paying, volunteer work. I was a full-time schoolteacher at the time. The AHA was a part-time endeavor. Around 1981 I made the AHA a my full-time job. I was committed to making it work. I still had a many volunteers in the Boulder area helping me with that goal.
Andrew: So, you were a brewer in the 70's. What are some of the big changes in the world of homebrewing between a 1970's homebrewer and a 2015 homebrewer?
Charlie: Well, to start, there's one thing that hasn't changed: the flash of the light bulb when they finish a beer and say "Wow, I made this! It's really good! I didn't know I could do this! I can now share this with my friends, and when I go out for a beer I have a sense of what I'm drinking and how it was made." What's different? The access to information and better ingredients. It makes homebrewing much easier.
Andrew: Colorado seems to be one of the big brewing meccas in the country. Why is that?
Charlie: Well, a significant part of that is because it's where I founded the AHA. I often got the question "Why did you found it in Boulder Colorado?" My answer was pretty simple: I live here! [laughs]
Then of course we had the National Homebrewers Conference here, which drew people and publicity. Also, we had the Great American Beer Festival here in Boulder for the first two years, before we moved it to Denver. The first microbrewery in the state of Colorado, in fact one of the first in the nation, was Boulder Beer. So, Colorado was one of the centers of homebrewing because of that's where this community of homebrewers formed. There were events, independent of the AHA, that were going on regularly that brought homebrewers together. You know, homebrewing is contagious: when you taste someone's homebrew, and you've never had it before, you're usually hooked, and you want to try to make it yourself.
Andrew: You still brew?
Charlie: Yep, I still brew 12 - 15 times a year. I brew ales and lagers. I do brew strong beers, but my tendency, my go-to drinking beers, are lower alcohol beers based on bigger styles. I experiment with hops and different ingredients and techniques throughout the year.
Andrew: Have you attempted to brew a non-alcoholic beer?
Charlie: No. The closest I've come is something I've included in one of my books called Quarter Bock. It's a bock beer diluted with water, 4:1, and then carbonated. It's about 2% ABV. That's as close to NA as I've gotten. The alcohol in beer does add complexity, particularly for the bigger beer styles, so I recognize that it's difficult to make a good NA beer.
Andrew: What does your brewing setup look like Charlie? Have you transitioned to automated brewing?
Charlie: No, still hands-on. I use the same equipment I've been brewing on for more than 20 years. It's five or six gallons at a time, stainless steel pots on the stove, a plastic bucket system for lautering, and I ferment in glass carboys. The most sophisticated thing I have the most homebrewers don't is a 6' x 9' walk-in cooler in which I can ferment at 55. I also have a refrigerator with 3 sliding doors that allows me to lager beer. Those are my splurges.
I really enjoy my time brewing and I don't mind making five gallons at a time - it allows me to brew more! Even with the hands-on basic system, I'm done with an all-grain batch in four hours. When I hear other people spending five or six or seven hours making an all-grain batch, I wonder how they do that. I suspect it's because they have a bigger system with more equipment, fancy equipment that takes maintenance and cleaning and sanitizing. I tend to keep things much simpler: I use gravity to move beer, a spoon to stir the mash, a pot to ladle grain from one vessel to another. I'm not spending much time cleaning a whole lot of sophisticated equipment.
Andrew: Do you still use the "Zapap" lautering bucket assembly? That's the buckets with the holes that you describe in your Complete Joy of Homebrewing.
Charlie: Yes, that's the highlight of my book, but now I actually use a Phil's Lauter System which is a bucket with a false, perforated bottom, a hose coming out, and a little sparge arm. It's pretty cool.
The name of the Zapap lauter tun that I described in my book is actually part of my name spelled backwards. I used to have friends call me that when they drank too much beer. [snickers]

Very cool. Tell me about National Pie Day?
Charlie: When I was a schoolteacher, as a fun thing to do with my students, I would proclaim my birthday as National Pie Day. It's January 23. I told them that their mothers should bring me a pie. It was a joke, but the joke got out of hand and got published in Chase's Calendar of Events, a resource for the media which existed before online calendars. So, a little joke I made to celebrate my birthday progressed into a local pie festival, which today is the Crisco Bake-off in Florida. It's gone way beyond what I could have envisioned back then, way beyond what I could be involved in now. It's other people having that fun now, not me. I have fun with the beer.
Andrew: Right, you are so busy with beer events coming up this spring and summer, you probably weren't thinking about coming to Florida last month for the pie bake-off.

I was thinking about it, but instead of traveling we just made pie at home.
Andrew: Do you use any really odd ingredients, maybe pie ingredients, in your beers?

Years ago I made a honey ale with apricots and coriander seed. It tasted so good and people really enjoyed it; I made it several times. Later, a friend of mine asked me if I had any ideas for pies, so I gave her this idea of making an apricot pie with honey and coriander. She thought that it was an unusual idea, putting ground coriander seed in a pie, but she made it anyway. She won Best of Show in the next pie competition she entered with that pie. She subsequently launched a pie business based on that win. So, there's a backwards answer to your question: a beer that inspired a pie. By the way, the recipe is in one of my books (for the beer, not the pie).
Andrew: Hmmm, beer ingredients in food. That's an interesting conversation. Have you seen hops used in any foods?

Sure! I had a cool experience in a Denmark brewpub once. They had infused ground hop dust into butter rather than chives. It worked really, really well. You know, I should have a container of hops in the kitchen where I could reach for it and sprinkle it in various things. I would think that it would go great in dry-hopped salad dressing, sauces, things like that. Just make sure you don't get it too bitter. [chuckles]
Andrew: Steven Dresler, the brewmaster at Sierra Nevada, said that if he was a brewer in Colorado, he'd consider brewing with marijuana. What do you think about that?

Well, of course, there are probably a whole lot of brewers considering it. I don't think anybody has done it - it would be pretty controversial. You'd get lots of headlines. I think if you want marijuana flavor in beer, you can do it with hops because there are a lot of similarities in the aromas and flavors. But if you're into marijuana, for medicinal reasons or enjoyment, you'd probably want to use it without putting it in your beer. It's easier to smoke it, it's easier to just eat it, rather than to put it in beer which might result in a strange brew indeed. Also, I don't know how stable it would be.
There would probably be laws that would emerge that would regulate that as well, and the last thing we need is more regulation in beer. But hey, it's easy enough for a homebrewer to try it, right?
Andrew: So, you've just released new editions of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and The Homebrewer's Companion?
Charlie: Yep, new editions of both - 4th edition of Complete Joy, and 2nd edition of Homebrewer's Companion. They were fully revised and updated over the last two years. There's new recipes, updated ingredients, and updated knowledge. I release a new version about every 10 years, and I have learned a lot in that time. I'm pretty pleased with how this edition has turned out - they are both very solid books.
Andrew: What improvements have been made that might prompt an owner of an old version to update their copy?
Charlie: I still stand by the fundamental information in the original edition: you're not going to be led astray by following that. For this new edition, I really worked on the format, and also the hops information. Just consider what's happened in the last 20 years with the use of hops in beer. That wasn't really happening when the Homebrewer's Companion was published. So, there's a lot of insight into the use and varieties of hops and their resulting character in beer.
The recipe format was changed and simplified to make their execution easier. In The Homebrewer's Companion, the bitterness units were re-calculated for those recipes. I didn't have the tools to do that when the book was first published. They are much more accurate now. Those recipes always made good beer, but now it's somewhat better.

Andrew: It seems that the craft beer movement has been centered around the expanded use of hops in beer. Has the role of hops in beer been played out?
Charlie: Nope, I don't think it's played out. Maximizing the amount of hops in beer is not a limit to what can be done with them. I develop recipes for a homebrew shop. They said they wanted something different. My recipe was as simple as making a brown ale dry-hopped with hops that you wouldn't think about using as a dry-hop in a dark beer. It was new, a new experience. There are so many hops out there that people rave about, but they are using many of them solely as bittering hops. The flavor from hops depends on when you use them in the late stages of brewing, or how you dry-hop with them, at what temperatures, with or without yeast, duration of the dry-hopping, the ABV of the beer - there are so many variables that can be changed to different character from the same hop. Try combining dry-hopping with styles that are not styles that traditionally get dry-hopped. For example, dry-hop an Irish-style stout with an Australian hop that gives a mango aroma/flavor to the beer. That's one that not many people have tried, but once they do they'll find that it's both unique and delicious. So, there's a lot of new directions brewers can go with hops.
I remember when Crystal hops came out. People loved them, but they were only using them for bittering. When I get a new hop, the first think I do is dry-hop with them to get a good idea of what character the hop brings to the beer. I found that dry-hopping with Crystal gives a completely different character than when it's used for bittering.
Andrew: Steven Dresler also said that that hops will give distinctly different flavors when dry-hopped at fermentation temperatures, with yeast present, and when added after the beer has been chilled to serving temperatures, when the yeast is no longer available. Thoughts?
Charlie: Yep, that's exactly right. They yeast actually digest hop compounds and changes it into something else.
Andrew: Have you tried making a tincture with hops first, then adding that to the fermentor?
Charlie: No, but I have experimented with hop oils (not hop extract). Two or three drops into a five gallon batch is more than enough to give you quite a character. I guess that's the same thing as a tincture. There's a beer that I reminisce over a lot, Brakspear's English Bitter, in England. They stopped brewing it themselves, and instead now have some contract brewer brews the brand, but it's just not what it used to be. I love that stuff and want to duplicate it, and as a homebrewer I can do that. I make it with Styrian Goldings hop oil, just three drops of it. That's usually what I'm doing with my homebrews, creating beers that have gone away, or are so far away that you have to make them at home in order to experience the fresh character that you had when you were travelling.
Andrew: We see an international interest in American-style beers. It seems that the experimentation with craft brewing is happening in the rest of the world, not just here in the U.S. Accompanying that, presumably, is an increased interest in homebrewing. Is your organization addressing the international community?
Charlie: The AHA is moving to make its services and publications and community more accessible to the international homebrewing community. American homebrewers can learn a lot from the creative spirit elsewhere in the world, and vice versa. I've seen it. When I travel, I meet homebrewers all over the world. The stuff they are doing is just as exciting as the stuff we're doing here in the U.S, but with their own twist on it. There's no end to the creativity and learning in homebrewing, even now, 36 years after I founded the AHA. It's happening everywhere: Europe, parts of Africa, throughout Asia, definitely throughout South America, Central America, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, etc. There is worldwide interest in homebrewing and what we, in the U.S., call craft brewing: small and independent breweries doing their thing. Beer drinkers are tasting something they're not experiencing with the large brewing corporation's limited offerings.

Andrew: One final question, Charlie. You signed my license plate several years ago with your name and "Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Homebrew". What's the oddest place you've been asked to sign your name?
Charlie: I'd love to tell you but I'm going to self-censor my reply. I'll leave it to the imagination of your readers.
Andrew: Charlie, on behalf of HomeBrewTalk, I really appreciate the time you've given us for this interview. Our members are going to enjoy it.
Charlie: You're welcome!
Charlie certainly embodies his iconic mantra of "Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Homebrew". He's super-chill, composed, and clearly a guy who still enjoys the passion of homebrewing. In our fast paced world of instant gratification, he continues to educate hobbyists in this form of "slow food", the art of fermentation and flavor. It was a great pleasure for me to speak with him.

Great article, Charlie helped me learn how to brew a few years ago. Right now I'm relaxing, not worrying, and having a home brew!
Awesome interview!! I've read "The Joy of Homebrewing" dozens and dozens of times! Still have my copy I bought in 1996.
(by the way, I'm the article author)
If you have an old copy of Complete Joy, as I do, then you've seen all the old B/W pics in the book. Charlie told me those AREN'T him and his wife as I had always assumed. They were students of his in Boulder. He said there is only one picture of him in each of the books, somewhere near the end of each.
Maybe I'm the only one who thought they were pics of Charlie. If not, now you know :)
Thank your Charlie for inspiring countless folks including myself to homebrewing! I do have the old copy of The Complete Joy - those pictures are awesome!
Thank you for the fantastic article. Charlie is my home brewing hero. I am grateful that a friend lent me his book back in the mid-90s which was my first introduction to home brewing. The way he infused his enthusiasm into the beer making process got me excited to try it and I have been hooked ever since.
I think it's cool that you still use the same old equipment to brew. I do basically the same thing. Stovetop with the SS kettle I started with, buckets,etc. It just goes to show that you don't need fancy equipment to brew good beer!
Thanks Charlie! Everything I brewed for the first dozen years was based solely off my 1991 edition of The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing. I still have that copy.
Thank you so much for sparking the love of homebrew!
Charlie, I hope you're reading this. Like many others, you're book was my introduction to brewing and great beer. I would not be where I am today if it weren't for you. Thank you. I hope to shake your hand and have a beer with you one day. Cheers!
Another AWESOME article. Thank you Charlie and Andrew for making it possible to get a little more insight into the obsession we all love.
Thanks for this.
My first several all grain batches were lautered using a zapap tun. Some of the best beer I've made yet.
This man is truely inspirational, to read this interview gave me a feel for what he is made of, and that inspires me to keep doing what I have strived to do when I first got started, to have fun, and to keep pushing the limits of what we know about great beer.
Now to see about some pie.....
Finally! I've really been hoping that there would be an interview with the man himself. Having a beer with him, preferably made by him, is towards the top of my bucket list. What an inspiration.
It's interesting that he hasn't put much into updating his process and equipment (not that I think he should), but it looks like he put a lot into fermentation temp control. A good lesson there for everyone.
Great interview Passedpawn!
Started with Charlie's book back in 92 or 3. Still have it on my book shelf. Things have changed considerably in the home brew arena since then. But still, in the end, it going to be beer when your done.
Andrew, thanks so much for picking this up and running with it. You turned the initial, brief response into something so much better!
Nice job Andrew! That's funny, I also thought that all those pics were Charlie without his beard. Great book, and excellent interview! He is a legend and his book got me started like so many others in this great hobby.