It’s been a while since I’ve penned a Hopinions piece with my fellow craft beer blogger Mario, from Brewed for Thought. I think I found a topic that I think many of our readers will enjoy, and hopefully foster some healthy discussion. Without any further delay, it’s the Hopinions Craft Beer Hall of Fame!
There was some baseball writer on the radio who was being interviewed by a couple of guys asking about why he voted some steroid taking ball player into the HOF, or why he didn’t vote some other player into the HOF. Then they spoke about the baseball writers guild (or group, I’m not sure what they call themselves), and how they’re responsible for just the awards they dole out but the baseball HOF is responsible for their stuff.
Obviously, I am not a baseball fan. But I knew you were and would probably get a kick talking about this topic. So, with craft beer being in existence for over 40 years now, do you think the time is right to put together a craft beer “Hall of Fame”?
I can’t even wrap my head around the idea, really. Would the Craft Beer Hall of Fame (CBHOF) be virtual or would there be a physical location/museum someplace? If so, where would the most appropriate place be? Who would get to decide who would be in it? What would qualify someone to be in the CBHOF? Do we open the CBHOF to beers as well as people? Do we stick to craft beer or should the CBHOF be expanded to include all beer and breweries, thus making AB, and other super breweries, eligible? Having never been to Canton, Ohio (or any Hall of Fame for that matter), I wouldn’t know where to begin.
What I do feel is that craft beer pioneers like Fritz Maytag and Jack McAuliffe are no brainers. Afterwards, who else?
So now I guess the ball is in your court. What are your thoughts about the idea, how to organize it, and any first nominees?
First things first, as baseball started this conversation, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, football is in Canton. With that clarified, let’s talk about the Craft Beer Hall of Fame.
Logistics of a Hall of Fame sound like we’re making a business plan, I just want to talk about the inductees. When founded, the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted 5 players with a plan to eventually induct 15 (10 from the 20th century, 5 from the 19th century). To me, the first 5 are significant. In 1936, there was Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Let’s find those figures of the craft brewing world.
The easiest pick is Fritz Maytag. He was craft brewing before there was craft brewing. Anchor Brewing has done so much for the craft beer world that many modern drinkers don’t understand. Liberty Ale was an IPA before Sierra Nevada brewed their Pale Ale. The styles of Porter and Barleywine would likely have disappeared had Anchor Brewing not saved them. Seasonal releases were unheard of when Anchor began brewing Our Special Ale. Lastly, Fritz made the decision to maintain a museum and brewery with the beautiful Potrero Hill facility.
Second I’d have to take Ken Grossman. Sierra Nevada is iconic. Who hasn’t had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale? For many of us it was a measuring stick. When we first began drinking, Pale Ale was too hoppy. Then it began our staple. Finally, we started complaining that the recipe had changed. Like a street junkie needing the bigger fix, our hop demands would only grow from there. How many kids are mainlining Pliny the Elder thanks to Ken Grossman and his green-labeled classic.
The next two are kind of a package deal: Vinnie Cilurzo and Sam Calagione. These Leaders of the New School taught us that it’s not just another case of that old IPA. A new sense of creativity was brought to the craft beer world with the “extreme brewing” techniques exemplified by these two brewers. From Cilurzo’s barrel-aging and hop proficiency to Calagione’s creativity, the world of craft beer will never be the same again.
My last nomination is actually a two-for-one, but I find it hard to separate the two and their impact on the craft beer world. Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield don’t brew their own beer, at least not today, but have influenced the tastes of beer drinkers in the United States for over 3 decades via their import company Vanberg & DeWulf. Vanberg & DeWulf introduced beers like Duvel, Rodenbach and Affligem to the United States. In 1996, Feinberg and Littlefield (Don’s wife who joined the company officially in 1990) helped found Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY (coincidentally the same town as the National Baseball Hall of Fame). Today, the still import beer to the United States, mostly from Belgium, and their portfolio includes such classics as Saison Dupont, Scaldis and Castelain.
What’s your nomination ballot look like?
Narrowing the focus to who the first round of inductees should be is a great idea. Since this is all hypothetical anyway, it would do us no good to dive into the logistics in the first place.
I had to think long about who I would nominate for induction into the CBHoF. There are a lot of worthy candidates that span every aspect of the craft beer industry from people, to breweries, and even beers. Luckily for me, my sisters took their time to pick me up this morning after dropping my car off to have some work done. That said, here are my 5 nominees:
- Michael “The Beer Hunter” Jackson - Jackson was a pioneer in defining what craft beer is. His landmark book, The World Guide to Beer, formed the basis of beer style theory. Beer writers everywhere owe him a debt of gratitude, I think.
- Charlie Papazian - I think Papazian warrants inclusion in the CBHoF for several reasons. Papazian is probably the most influencial person in homebrewing today. His book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, is known as the “go-to” resource for homebrewers and arguably helped to inspire many of the professional brewers whose beers we love to imbibe today. Factor in his leadership roles in the Brewers Association, and the American Homebrewers Association, and I think he would be difficult to leave out.
- Judy Ashworth - Ashworth is an infamous figure in the craft beer world. Former owner of the bar Lyons Brewery Depot, Ashworth was one of the original publicans to wholeheartedly support craft beer.
- “Electric” Dave Harvan - There are some really great stories in the nascent stage of craft beer history and at the center of many of those stories is “Electric” Dave. Harvan was the first to be granted a micro brewing license in the state of Arizona and was influential in helping establish the craft brewers of today, like Vinnie Cilurzo. I wouldn’t even know about Harvan if Cilurzo himself didn’t pay the man homage during his keynote speech at the National Homebrewers Conference in San Diego a few years ago.
- New Albion Brewing Company - My original thought was to induct New Albion Brewing Company brewmaster/owner Jack McAuliffe into the CBHoF but I think New Albion’s legacy as “the most important failed brewery in the industry’s history” surpasses McAuliffe himself. It was McAuliffe’s idea, embodied by New Albion Brewing, that helped to inspire the microbreweries we love today, like Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Regardless of who/what gets nominated, McAuliffe or New Albion, I think it would be gross oversight to leave this out of the CBHoF.
Under the assumption we would mirror the original intent of the Baseball Hall of Fame and limit the first inductees to just 5, who would we keep and who would we have to table until the next voting opportunity? Controversy often follows subjective discussions such as who should, or shouldn’t be, in any Hall of Fame.
Let me be the first to fan the flames of controversy by saying your nominations of brewers Ken Grossman, Vinnie Cilurzo, Sam Calagione, and importer Vanberg & DeWulf should be tabled until next year. While I wholeheartedly agree with you that their influence on the industry is wide reaching, nominees like Harvan and McAuliffe not only precede several of your nominations but were significant influences to them.
I am curious to hear what our readers think about our nominations as well as who they think should be on the shortlist that we didn’t already mention.
Speaking of nominations, what should the criteria for nominations be? Should the CBHoF only be relegated to people or are breweries, beers, distributors, and bars eligible? What about institutions such as the fermentation sciences program at U.C. Davis? Also, are super breweries out of the question? Mammoth breweries such as Anheuser Busch warrant inclusion in the overall history of beer but should their influence on craft beer be ignored?
For example, I’d like to think Charlie Bamforth warrants inclusion into the CBHoF but is he automatically eliminated from contention simply because he is the “Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science”? Likewise, Stone Brewing Company brewmaster Mitch Steele got his start working for Anheuser-Busch. I’m sure the things he learned while working for A-B has benefitted Stone Brewing immensely. But does his time at A-B overshadow his contributions to craft brewing via his time at Stone? To me, the obvious answer is “no” but where do we draw the line?
For the Baseball Writers of America to vote on a player, the player only needs 10 years of playing time and to have been retired 5 years. After that, you must maintain 5% of the vote or you’re dropped from the ballot. Players then have 15 years to reach the 75% threshold to be elected into the Hall of Fame.
I think the issue could be best put to the public and to fellow beer writers. Shall we open the debate to 10 just like a baseball ballot for fun? All are welcome to be nominated.
Just like Ichiro, Mitch may have done some work in another league, but he’s also performed well in his second career in craft beer. For Dr Bamforth, he’s likely taught more craft brewers than any other person given the UC Davis program. I can’t see how he could be left off.
With the expansion to 10, I’d like to include New Albion as well, Jim Koch, Charlie Papazian, Micheal Jackson and Pierre Celis.
Readers, fans, friends, let’s hear your 10 nominations. Please include them in the comments below, or email them to Peter or myself, or leave them on our Facebook pages. We’ll announce the Hopinions Hall of Fame when we’ve tired of counting nominations (edit: Or until January 16th, which ever comes first – Peter).