Q+A: Charlie Papazian on Homebrewing

To celebrate two of our favorite summer pastimes—making and drinking beer—we chat with Charlie Papazian, author of the DIY beer bible, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

Ask anyone in the beer industry about Charlie Papazian, and prepare for an earful of praise. To wit: The founders of three of the most trailblazing craft brew companies—Sam Adams, Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada—all credit Papazian and his book as a major influence. We sit down with the author and tap into his role as the king of homebrewing.

Why did you begin homebrewing?
A guy named George Conner walked into my life. George was a beer drinker, and it wasn’t too long before he suggested that we go visit his beer-making neighbor. We had never heard of “homebrewing.” With little hesitation we found ourselves trying a neighborly brew. The novelty of making one’s own beer intrigued me much more than the taste. We found ourselves walking away buzzed, inspired and with a cryptic recipe written on a 3-by-5 inch card.

What are your favorite beers to brew?
I brew ordinary bitter, IPA, pale ale, Czech-style dark lager, Pilsners (both all malt and adjunct enhanced), German-style Helles and a swarthy yet mild true Irish-style stout.

Why do you think brewing at home has become so popular?
It’s a fun, rewarding and very accessible hobby. The social networking that arises from making and enjoying your own beer is a driving force—it always has been since the early days of the homebrewing renaissance in the early 1970s. 

It is growing now and will continue to grow because it transcends all age groups; both younger adults and older adults find their own “groove” in how they approach and enjoy the hobby. It’s both an art and science and the hobby is approachable from either or both a right or left brain perspective, i.e., creative, innovative or traditional and scientific. 

Do you know any pro brewer that didn’t begin as a homebrewer?
They do exist, but I can’t think of any. Ahhhh, wait…. There is Fritz Maytag, who gave us our modern-day Anchor Brewing Company and Anchor Steam.

Will you ever go pro?
If I were going pro I would have done so a long time ago. I love what I do. I love homebrewing. Being a professional brewers is another kind of intimate relationship with beer and brewing, but much different than hobby brewing. Now then if you set my family and I up for brewing in some of the world’s most beautiful places I might drop by to brew a guest beer. But being full time Prez of the Brewers Association doesn’t afford me much time to do that right now.

What is your favorite "original" recipe (and can we have it)?
There just plain isn’t one favorite recipe I have. Almost all of my recipes are original. Just like any homebrewer, you might get an idea or even a recipe from someone or somewhere, but inevitably I find myself adapting and tweaking to suit my brew system, availability of ingredients and my taste preference. If I had one I’d give it to you. But I have many.

The homebrews I most frequently make are the types of beer that very few American professional craft brewers make. Fresh true to on-site experience Czech-style dark lager, English Ordinary Bitter and German style Helles are but a few beers types rarely served at your local pub. And when I want to dry hop my cocoa-rich Irish-style stout with a hop that has a fruity mango aroma – I can.

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