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At the very yeast, home-brewers take their beer seriously


In 1970 when Charlie Papazian was a student at the University of Virginia, he drank a beer. It wasn't just any old beer. It was a home-brewed beer. Papazian liked the flavor so much that he soon began brewing beer himself.

In the ensuing years, Papazian taught classes on home-brewing, wrote two books on the subject, "The Complete Joy of Home Brewing," and "The Home Brewer's Companion," and founded the American Homebrewers Association, based in Boulder, Colo.

Today Papazian, 46, will gather with some 600 home-brewers from around the country in Baltimore for "Planet Beer," a four-day celebration of home-brewed beer at the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel. From now until Saturday, these amateur brewers will attend a variety of sessions trying to figure out how to brew better beers in their spare time. The conference is sold out.

Papazian and fellow conference organizer Karen Barela told me they were surprised that a home-brewing conference held on the East Coast has generated such an enthusiastic response. In previous years, they said, most of the group's annual meetings were held in the western part of the United States, the region regarded as the hotbed of home-brewing. Registration for the Baltimore conference surpassed the total of 450 home-brewers who signed up for last year's meeting in Denver.

"I guess that shows there is a growing interest in home-brewing on the East Coast," Papazian said. "And that people out there appreciate good beer."

During a telephone conversation, Papazian outlined some of the reasons for the surge of interest in home-brewing. And, he touched on some of the highlights of the Baltimore conference.

One reason home-brewing is on the rise is that brewers are getting younger, he said. Twenty years ago the ranks of home-brewers were composed primarily of people who had traveled to Europe and had developed a taste for full-flavored beers. This group, he said, tended to be in their late 30s and older.

In recent years, the older brewers have been joined by brewers in their 20s. This younger group began drinking beer right about the time that many full-flavored specialty beers came on the American market. "The young guys learned to appreciate the flavor variety of specialty beers and some wanted to try brewing them," he said.

Most home-brewers are men, Papazian said. "It has been pretty slim for women," Papazian told me. "But we are coming around. We have women on the convention program."

A glance at that program showed Los Angeles area brewer Maribeth Raines is conducting a seminar on "Yeast Maintenance and General Principles of Yeast." A luncheon panel, "The Beer Enthusiast Who Lives in All of Us," featuring big names in the microbrew business, includes Carol Stoudt who makes beer and runs a well-regarded beer garden in Adamstown, Pa. Others on the panel are Jim Koch, whose Boston brewery makes the popular Samuel Adams line of beers, and California's Pete Slosberg who makes the nationally known Pete's Wicked Ale.

I also noted that one local brewer, Baltimore Brewing Company's Theo de Groen, is conducting a workshop on making Pilsener.

Today, Papazian will run a seminar on how to taste beer. While most every wise guy perched on a bar stool thinks he is qualified to judge suds, the home-brewers take their tasting sessions seriously. They give awards for the best home-brews in something like 30 categories. They give an award to the brewer of the best overall beer. They give an award to the home-brew club that has accumulated the most points in all categories. And they give an award to the single brewer who, like a top bowler, has rung up the most cumulative points.

In his seminar, Papazian teaches beginning judges "what should be going on," when they rate various styles of beer. A beer, he said, should be judged on its appearance, its aroma, its flavor, its "mouth feel," and the overall impression it leaves with the beer drinker.

That last point, the overall impression a beer makes, is sometimes forgotten by rookie jurists who are too anxious to ring up points on technicalities, Papazian said. When this happens, Charlie Papazian, former U.Va. beer drinker and now home-brew guru, reminds his jurists of an age-old truth. He tells them the most important point to remember "is that beer is meant to be enjoyed."

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