The godfather of craft beer talks to 5280 about his 40-year legacy.
For four decades, Charlie Papazian has been a fixture in the ever-changing craft beer industry. But yesterday, on Papazian’s 69th birthday, the founder of the Association of Brewers (now the Brewers Association), the American Homebrewers Association, and the Great American Beer Festival surprised the brew community by announcing his forthcoming retirement. His exit will be effective on the day he turns 70.
Often referred to as the godfather of craft beer, Papazian is credited with creating and fostering an environment in which craft brewers could succeed. And if the current explosion of craft breweries is any indication, Papazian’s efforts have been hugely successful.
In 1978, Papazian emerged as a leader in the relatively unknown American craft beer movement when he founded the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) in Boulder, Colorado—an organization that currently boasts more than 46,000 members. The AHA provides educational opportunities for home brewers, a faction of the brewing community that Papazian has felt passionate about throughout his career.
Papazian founded the Association of Brewers in 1979; it merged with the Brewers Association of America in 2005, spawning the modern-day Brewers Association. In addition to serving as president of the Brewers Association until 2016, Papazian also founded Zymurgy magazine and penned seven books on brewing, including the cult classic, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.
Despite a long list of accomplishments and accolades, Papazian says that his biggest takeaway from his time in the craft beer industry is the people. “The people that I’ve met and made friends with through this life of beer has been extraordinarily rewarding,” Papazian says.
Looking back at his monumental career, Papazian says he’s most proud of his work putting beer consumers first, and leveling the playing field for breweries of all scales. “I take pride in the fact that while supporting the larger breweries, I also went out of my way visit and spend time with the smallest of breweries, including home brewers,” he says. “I’ve certainly worked to create more access and opportunity for the smaller breweries, and to create an environment within a network in the organization that provided resources—whether it was friendships or information, networking, or other opportunities—so that people had an opportunity to succeed.”
What’s next for the godfather? Papazian doesn’t have the answer to that just yet, but he’s not ruling out future collaborations with the Brewers Association, or anyone else for that matter.
“My life has been full of unanticipated and unexpected opportunities. I’ve done everything here at the Brewers Association,” he says. “I’ve pasted up magazines; I’ve copyedited; I have been the marketing person; I’ve made phone calls to members; I’ve been the sales person; I’ve swept the floors; I’ve turned off the lights. If there’s value for the Brewers Association or any other entity that I can contribute to, and if it’s within my life/work balance going forward, I would consider it.” We bet the craft brew community will keep Papazian plenty busy in the years to come.