Sam Calagione’s Off-Centered Tale of Woody Guthrie and Charlie Papazian

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Sam Calagione’s Off-Centered Tale of Woody Guthrie and Charlie Papazian

At Dogfish Head, founder Sam Calagione is often inspired by music. The brewery has brewed beers that pay homage to Miles Davis, Robert Johnson, Pearl Jam, Deltron 3030 and the Grateful Dead. Calagione himself is a member of that most esteemed hip-hop group, The Pain Relievaz.

And he was certainly inspired by the time that folk music hero Woody Guthrie and homebrew pioneer Charlie Papazian sat ‘round a campfire, talking about beer—even if that only happened in Calagione’s head after a couple 90 Minute IPAs.

Sam Calagione was approached by Tim Holt at Brewery History and asked to write about “the intersection of commercial brewing and homebrewing.” Though Calagione wrote the article back in 2011, the full text of that issue just now became available for free. If you’re not familiar with Brewery History, it’s the journal where you go to get a ridiculously deep knowledge of beer, both past and present. Want to know what beer was like in America in 1865? Or what the Japanese beer industry offered the world at the turn of the 20th century? You go to Brewery History.

Sam Calagione’s story is a bit of an anomaly in the journal, but it’s worth a read. In “Homebrew Rendezvous,” Calagione takes an off-centered approach in chronicling the confluence of the homebrewing and commercial brewing cultures by giving voice to two of his idols. Guthrie passed away in 1967, which was the same year Papazian graduated high school and first tried beer.

Coincidence? Calagione didn’t think so. His short story begins with a simple premise: “What if the father of the American protest song met the father of the American home-brewing movement somewhere along the railroad track between New York and Philly?”

In this alternate reality, Guthrie has stopped singing folk songs and instead “learned up on porters, and stouts and IPAs.” And though you can take the boy out of the music, you can’t take the music out of the boy. Guthrie introduces Papazian to the wide world of beer through song:

“Theeeres a brown one, and an amber one,
and a hoppy one, and a lambic one.
And they all get put in bottles,
Little bottles all the same.”

Guthrie toured breweries all over Europe and came back to the states to set up a network of breweries along the rail with his “most passionate hobo-poet brethren,” and it wasn’t long before “you had Little Guy Fly brewin’ Double Bocks in Omaha, Mobile Mac makin’ Hefeweisens in Acron, Poison Face Tim pumping out porters in Boston and Dick the Stabber doin’ Imperial Stouts down there in Dallas.”

This impassioned speech—as well as a few bottles of Guthrie’s homebrew—convinces Papazian to write his seminal work, The Joy of Brewing (the fourth edition of this book was released in September). But I’m not doing the story justice. Best that you grab a couple 90 Minute IPAs, as Calagione did while writing the story, and gather around the campfire with these two legends of their trade, penned by a legend in his own right.