On June 1, 2019, we celebrated Canadian Homebrew Day for the first time, and we look forward to celebrating homebrewing in Canada in many more first Saturdays of June in the future to come. But before the CHA, there was the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association (CABA), and the minimal footprint it has left on the interwebs really belies the amount of history behind the organization. Paul Dickey, a Grand Master I BJCP judge, was the first president for CABA when it was officially formed in 1991. But even that isn’t the real origin of CABA.
Fuggles and Goldings was a homebrewing supply store in Scarborough in the 80s and 90s, and Martin Sewall was the owner of it. “He had organized himself a Canadian homebrew competition for several years and also a conference each year,” explained Dickey. “And he had a little publication that he put out called the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association. There wasn’t an association at that time. It was just his outlet for advertising.” So Dickey asked Sewall if they could incorporate Canadian Amateur Brewers Association as a non-profit organization and have the artwork and necessary branding turned over to them, the homebrewers, and Sewall agreed. “In ’91, we applied and got incorporation as a federal non-profit organization, and I was the first president.” Besides a bimonthly newsletter for their members, CABA also ran events, like Meet the Brewers, and had homebrew conferences.
While the conferences were generally just a day long, they had some visits from some pretty big names in the beer world. “Charlie Papazian was here. In fact we had Michael Jackson come to our conference twice. And the second time he came, he was actually a house guest of mine. He stayed with me,” reminisced Dickey. Commercial beers were often served at the conferences and were often donated, though it wasn’t always a good thing. “In the early days, the craft brewers weren’t all that sophisticated and they would send something to the conference and…it would just be horrible and infected and they wouldn’t know. So a lot of our work, was doing flavour perception and try to get that out there and get people more involved and interested in that and quality control.”
CABA also organized homebrew competitions. “We had an annual event in Montreal—March of Montreal, and there was also a competition in conjuction with that. And then I think we had a couple of competitions each year that were centred in Toronto ”
Referring to the medal he brought, “They were the prizes—gold, silver and bronze medals. I won the look-alike in ’91.” Dickey explained that for the look-alike category, a commercial brewery would sponsor it. “It was Labatt’s Blue that time. So Labatt brewers judged which came closest to their beer. People would enter and they were judged by the brewery. In the case of smaller breweries like Wellington and McAuslan Brewing, the prize was to go to brew at their brewery with their brewer. And I won both of those. I won the Labatt’s one [too], but all I got was paraphernalia. I got a clock with Labatt on it,” chuckles Dickey. Besides medals, they had ceramic mugs that were used as prizes as well. “We had ceremic mugs with little seals on the front of them, the year [of the competition] and 1st, 2nd, 3rd. And I have a bunch of them. I think the year that Jackson was here, I picked up best of show, and it was a double handled mug, which got dropped on the way home. I put it back together I think. “
Like their membership, there were some competition entries from out west like Calgary or BC, but most of them were from Toronto. “There’s always been this question of ‘who can in fact represent all of Canada?’ There were homebrew clubs out here and out west. We were named the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association, but we felt that we didn’t reach out enough. We did the best we could. It was quite a while ago. It just sort of ran out of steam. We had a number of meet the brewer night, where a brewer would come in and talk to the membership. Unfortunately it was almost always Toronto centred.”
Compairing homebrewing when he got started in the late 80s to homebrewing now, he agrees that it has changed. “The motivations for brewing has changed quite a bit. In the early days, economics was part of it,” explained Dickey. The year that he started homebrewing was in 1986. There was a beer strike that year. “We had to go out of province to buy beer, or there was [only] one brewery selling. Brick Brewing or something like that. Anyways, major breweries were all in strike position. So my father in law and I decided to start brewing ourselves.” Dickey said that homebrewers back then were interested in exploring new beer styles or recreate something they had on a trip. “[They] would just do it based on a book, regardless of whether they’ve tasted it or not. Now, there’s so much available that it’s more [about] the craft I think now. And the social thing too. I think maybe more so now than it was in my day.”
CABA eventually went into default in 2015.
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