Beer Town: Homebrewers unite for historic Big Brew

In honor of National Homebrew Day, the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) celebrates with its annual “Big Brew” on the first Saturday in May.

That date is May 5 this year, and throughout the day, bars, breweries, homebrew shops and homebrew clubs will host brew-on-site and homebrewing education events keyed to official Big Brew recipes.

For 2018, recipes for Rocky Raccoon’s Honey Lager and Dusty Mud Irish-style Stout were picked by AHA founder and legendary homebrewer Charlie Papazian for the Big Brew.

What’s more auspicious, though, is that the AHA is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. And at noon CDT (1 p.m. EDT), homebrewers and beer lovers are encouraged to raise a glass in a worldwide toast to that bit of history.

If you aren’t a homebrewer, all the hoopla might seem more like hype. But if you’re a craft beer lover, it’s not a stretch to point out that the beverage you enjoy would probably not exist but for a few pioneering American homebrewers.

First among them is Ken Grossman, who in 1976 opened a homebrew supply store in downtown Chico, Calif., called the Home Brew Shop.

Grossman launched Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in 1980, and soon after, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was born. Nowadays, the company rightly describes Pale Ale as a craft beer milestone that “began as a homebrewer’s dream, grew into an icon, and inspired countless brewers to follow a passion of their own.”

One of those passionate ones is Sam Calagione, who reports in his book, “Extreme Brewing” (Quarry, $24.99), that he brewed his first batch of beer “in 1993 on the stovetop of a friend’s apartment in New York City.”

Calagione went on to found Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in 1995, with the motto “off-centered ales for off-centered people.” And his penchant for rediscovering ancient brewing methods and exploring gonzo beer styles inspired another generation of homebrewers, who in turn opened their own breweries.

When I started writing about beer and brewing in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution nearly two decades ago, I used my first Beer Town column to introduce myself as the son of a homebrewer.

I hoped that fact would give me some credibility among the sometimes tough homebrew crowd. But, honestly, I was proud of that history. And I still like to say, “My dad was a homebrewer long before Jimmy Carter made it legal.”

One of the biggest changes I’ve witnessed in the Atlanta homebrew scene over the years is the quality and sophistication of the beers being produced.

In truth, I once dreaded homebrewers who would sidle up and ask me to try their latest creation. Some would even tell me they were planning to open a brewery someday, which seemed unlikely, given what I’d just sipped from a bruised plastic soda bottle.

But guess what? Some years ago, that all began to change. The beers got way better. And to my surprise, the breweries really did open up.

Among some of my current favorites, David Stein and Adam Beauchamp of Athens’ Creature Comforts are both homebrewers-turned-pro brewers. And their Tropicalia IPA is without a doubt one of the great success stories in Georgia craft beer history.

Similarly, Brian Purcell, the founder and president of Three Taverns in Decatur , developed many of the recipes for his brewery’s core of popular Belgian-style beers while he was still a homebrewer.

In a twist to the usual story, Travis Herman had a brewing science degree and gigs at two of California’s most esteemed breweries, Lost Abbey and Russian River, on his résumé. But he went back to his homebrewing roots when he moved to Atlanta to co-found Scofflaw Brewing, and create its wildly popular Basement IPA.

And the rest, you might say, is a homebrewing history that’s still being written.

VIDEO: The ones to watch -- Scofflaw Brewing Co.


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