I recently had the opportunity to engage American Homebrewers Association Director Gary Glass in a telephone interview. I scrapped a small handful of moderately unknowable questions that were based on the off chance that the BA possessed any idea of the size of Pre-Prohibition breweries and a few questions that were probably better addressed to BA Director Paul Gatza. On those issues, this conversation has been edited. Beyond that, we discussed the future of homebrewing in the US, nanobreweries (but not as much as I’d planned), style guidelines, litigation, GABF registration and a new award the AHA is rolling out in 2014. Enjoy!
Brewvana: Homebrewing is now legal in all fifty states. What do you see for the future of homebrewing in the US?
GG: Legally speaking, there are still a number of states where there are issues that can be resolved on the legislative front. Just this past year, Iowa passed a law allowing for transport of homebrew outside of the home. Previously it was technically not legal to remove homebrew from your home. And that’s not uncommon for many states to pass homebrew laws in the wake of the repeal of Prohibition. Those laws tend to be much more restrictive or narrow, simply because of the timing in which they were passed. In 1933, there were no homebrew clubs or homebrew competitions, and so there wasn’t a need to write [these issues] into those laws. We’re finding situations where homebrewers are wanting to participate in entering homebrew competitions and other activities that require removal of homebrew from the home and so in those states where it is not yet legal to do that, we’ve been working to change those laws.
Brewvana: Are you tracking what would be in the nano realm of production size?
GG: We have over 1,600 breweries-in-planning in our database right now, but until they are open and operating, we’re not asking how big their equipment is or what their annual production is.
Brewvana: Economy of scale is likely a barrier to profit for a nanobrewery. How sustainable do you see the nanobrewery movement?
GG: I wouldn’t want to speak to that from a Brewers Association perspective, but from my personal perspective, I’d say that it’s very difficult to make nanobrewing, as a long-term business model, work if you don’t have some other source of income. In a lot of cases, it’s a means of launching a brand, and then establishing a viable business that can get bank loans to expand. If expansion is a part of the goal and brewing on a small scale is a means of establishing a brand, then I think it’s a workable business model. But I think a lot of brewers that launch a nano discount the cost of their time. When you’re brewing on a very small scale, you’re brewing an awful lot. It takes about the same amount of time whether you’re brewing a barrel and a half or 20 barrels.
Brewvana: I’ve heard a few folks ask why it is that the Brewers Association style guidelines and the BJCP style guidelines for competitions aren’t more aligned. One, why not? And two, are there any discussions to bring those two sets of style guidelines into one document?
GG: We do work with the BJCP for homebrew competitions, but for the commercial competitions, those style guidelines really need to be more representative of what’s being brewed at the commercial level in the country. The competitions we use those for, the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, have the capacity to judge a lot more categories than your typical homebrew competition. So I don’t think it would necessarily make sense for the BJCP to adopt the Brewers Association guidelines. At the homebrewing level, it would be very difficult to judge in 84 different categories. Twenty-eight categories is much more manageable for a homebrew competition.
Brewvana: Legal action is on the rise in an industry that is known for its “brotherhood,” so to speak. What do you anticipate on this front as the industry continues to mature? Are there preemptive actions that the BA is considering to offer support or to mediate conflicts within the industry at all?
GG: This question might be better directed toward Paul Gatz, but I do know that there’s more information being published on brewersassociation.org along the lines of dealing with things like trademarks, registered labels and those kinds of things to help avoid situations where legal action might come up.
Brewvana: In light of the GABF growth and the difficulty of breweries to register this year, is there any plan to structure registration in a different way such that judging takes place on a regional front rather than all at once on GABF week?
GG: Yes, the plan for next year is a pre-registration and then base the number of total entries that any one brewery can enter on the number of breweries that are attempting to enter. The goal is to get every brewery that wants to participate to have entry into the competition. That is going to mean that some breweries are going to have to enter fewer entries than they would like.
Brewvana: What are some of the projects or initiative in the works for the Brewers Association or the American Homerbrewers Association?
GG: For the AHA, something that’s new for 2014, we’ll be awarding our first Radegast Club of the Year Award, an award based on the community involvement of homebrew clubs. There’s no specific criteria. We’ll be looking at things like the kinds of educational programs for their members, what kind of community service projects they may be doing within their local communities and the kinds of charity fundraisers that clubs are doing to highlight some of the really cool things that homebrew clubs do besides just win awards in competitions. Radegast is the Slavic god of hospitality who was credited by Eastern Europeans as the inventor of beer, the naming of this award coincides with the names of other awards we give out, the Ninkasi Award and the Gambrinus Award.
A big brewvana thanks to Gary for taking the time out of his day to talk with us. Follow him on Twitter @homebrewassoc.