This past weekend, on a tiny island off the coast of Maine, there was a small group of passionate, dedicated folks ‘relaxing’, exploring and soaking up inspiration with the inimitable Charlie Papazian. They signed on for 5 days of visiting local breweries, tasting unique beers including some from Charlie’s private stash, toasting the past and looking excitedly towards the future during. With specialties on offer at the event from titans like Stone and Dogfish Head and hand-picked beers from many great small breweries, we at Calusa were honored to be asked by Charlie himself to provide a few beers for the occasion. After more than 5 decades of writing, traveling, and inspiring generations of beer fans and brewers, it seems Charlie is taking to retirement with all the zeal we all knew he would. (Get all the details to the retreat here.)
The story of a young man from Virginia graduating in 1972 with a degree in Nuclear Engineering finding his way to Colorado, beginning to teach homebrew classes before it was even legal (Thank YOU, Jimmy Carter 1978), the founding of the American Homebrewer’s Association (AHA), creating what has become the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), and authoring the eternally seminal Complete Joy of Homebrewing (1984) is well-known, appreciated and documented.
Along with and alongside the late, great British writer Michael Jackson (no, not THAT one, as he was keen to point out) the influence of his journalism led to a greater importation of characterful continental brews and burgeoning homebrew culture. As Americans tasted, traveled, and brewed themselves a new business model began to emerge - the American craft brewery. And yet, something deeper began to emerge; while committed to the reclamation of flavor, he even more so reminded us of the reclamation of the EXPERIENCE of beer. Indeed, the JOY of homebrew, the civic and social function of a pint, the pride of sharing something you’ve created.
Most, let’s be honest, ALL, of the world's brewers, beer enthusiasts and those in the industry all have a story and connection to Charlie - whether through our first whiff of homebrewed beer boiling (or boiling over), our first wide-smiled taste of a beer with a real story, or firsthand from his enthusiastic presence and friendship.
For us at Calusa and for me personally, years of appreciation and influence became real with his visit in January. That morning we were all immediately inspired and brought into his energy - curious wise, enthusiastic, an amazing storyteller. Charlie is a humble and welcoming listener, someone who has heard every tale but treats each new one with respect as if hearing it for the first time. He immediately dove into our Saphir Dry-Hopped Pilsner, we cheers’d to his “first beer of 2019”, and was intrigued by the clean flavors of the light lager and Totemic, a foeder-fermented table Saison. A real honor was seeing his mile-wide smile as he personally tossed hops into that morning’s batch of our Citronious IPA.
Appropriately, those lucky enough to be in Maine with Charlie this past weekend are in one of the great cradles of the American craft brewing, imbued with the spirit of movement and industry that Charlie helped to nurture and create. To those there, all of us who have been lucky enough to spend time with him and be inspired by him - relax, don’t worry and have a (home) brew.