Five Questions with Julia Herz on Her Return to The Brewers Association
When running through a list of craft beer luminaries who have had the most significant impact on the industry, names like Charlie Papazian, Michael Jackson, Garrett Oliver, Kim Jordan, Ken Grossman, Sam Calagione, Natalie and Vinny Cilurzo are often quick to roll off the tongue. However, to the common beer drinker, Julia Herz is a name that may not be as commercially recognizable as the rest but continues to have the most enduring impact on the current craft beer landscape.
Herz has served as a life-long beer educator and marketer including two stints with the Brewers Association (BA). In her most recent role, she served as Craft Beer Program Director for 13 years, before falling victim to the BA’s sweeping layoffs in the midst of the pandemic in June 2020. During her time at the BA, Herz was also instrumental as the publisher of CraftBeer.com and also helped co-author Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros and CraftBeer.com’s Beer & Food Course.
This past year and a half, she launched HerzMuses Enterprises, which offered brewery consulting services to breweries across the country. But now it all comes full circle as it was announced two weeks ago that Herz has been brought back as the executive director of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA).
We caught up with Julia to find out a bit more about her decision to return to the BA, what that decision means for her consulting gig, as well as what she has planned for the organization after a year away.
PorchDrinking: You’ve been a staunch advocate for the Brewers Association even through your departure. So what led to the decision to return for this role?
Julia Herz: An opportunity like this comes around once in a lifetime. Also, I’ve always been a firm believer in the power and genuine need for the national association. The Brewers Association, parent organization to the American Homebrewers Association, has helped grow independent craft breweries to 8K plus in the U.S., which is now a business community of more than $20 billion in sales annually. Also, the commitment to grow homebrewing directly led to the craft beer movement. I am honored to again work at my former employer. This is my third tour of duty too. I was the Association of Brewers Sales Manger from 1998-2001 and then Craft Beer Program Director from 2007-2020.
Would you mind sharing a bit about your relationship with homebrewing, when you first started homebrewing, what role it played in your life, and what styles you like brewing the most?
My first batch of homebrew was in 1991. Yes, I’m 53 years old and have been brewing since my 20s. It was a Scotch ale. I always joke that we added way too much corn sugar, but it still rocked. I had homebrewing on my mind from when I was little as my brother had a beer can collection. My parents would take us to the Brickskeller in Washington DC to help add to his collection. They drank beer and paired it with food, and those were always happy family outings. So I was not even ten years old and was already looking at beer in different packages with various labels and stories.
Homebrewing is such a rewarding hobby, and I somehow just knew that once I was 21, I would start making beer. Now I have numerous awards under my belt, including a medal from the National Homebrew Competition for an old ale that I brewed with my husband. I encourage everyone to make a batch of beer and enter this competition. It’s the biggest one to bag a medal in for sure.
I genuinely love tinkering in the kitchen and making beer on the patio too. I don’t have one specific style that I like to brew the most. I switch it up a lot. In December, I’m gearing up to brew in honor of Charlie Papazian, who founded the American Homebrewers Association, along with Charlie Mattson and many other amazing people. Charlie also picked my name out of a top hat at a beer festival in 1995 and awarded me a free membership to the American Homebrewers Association. How’s that for fate?
So back to the beer… in December, I’ll make a recipe from Charlie. It’s a Hoppy Lager. I’m also looking to make the Brave Noise batch of beer to commemorate the refreshing reckoning that we now are in, talking about discrimination and bias in our culture and beverage alcohol. I’d also like to make a beer from any recipe of Gary Glass, who was the former leader of the AHA before me. Gary knows beer and now is happily a lead brewer at Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, CO. I’m so fortunate to have him and Charlie P. as friends and coaches for this new role.
What do you hope to accomplish in this role as the new Executive Director of the AHA?
I look to take what is already available via world-class benefits for AHA members and help bring those to a broader audience. Taking the intimidation factor out of ‘brewing’ is key. If you can make soup, you can make beer. I also look to help showcase not just ‘how to homebrew’ resources but also ‘why we brew’. There are so many incredible stories from homebrewers to share.
Additionally, encouraging all walks of life to prioritize brewing is top of the list. Beer has no gender, and if anyone wants to make beer, they can and should feel welcome to do so. From the executive who works at a craft brewery to a newbie 21-year old person who wants a new hobby or even a new career. Each time you brew we expand our horizons, knowledge, and community.
The BA as an organization has experienced some growing pains in recent years in dealing with breweries that have not properly addressed diversity and inclusion and Brienne Allan’s spotlight on sexism and harassment in the industry. However, I’m sure it’ll continue to weather changes as more major breweries like Bell’s no longer remain fully independent.
While I know your role will focus more on the AHA, what changes are needed as a whole for the BA and will you be able to help take part in that change, and do you feel your time away from the BA has helped in providing an outsider’s view on those issues?
The time I spent after my layoff in July 2020 was incredibly enlightening. Yes, it was a time filled with grief and loss, but also a time to see what would trickle up. I learned to relax more and see the bigger picture. It was a time of growth and gain in terms of new perspectives, new ways of looking at things. Without having a post-layoff plan, I took a ‘vision quest’ (COVID-cautious style) while in my pop-up camper. I visited 12 states in almost two months and, yes, went to many breweries. As a result, today, I’m more grounded than ever.
My true hope is to get more people joining the American Homebrewers Association and also giving the gift of homebewing to others. That way the community grows even stronger and flourishes further. Today 37,000 people are estimated to be members and that says a lot.
What does this mean for the future of your consulting firm?
My advisory firm, HerzMuses Enterprises, will take a back burner, and most projects that I had going will no longer be fueled. However, I will undoubtedly emphasize my grassroots campaign Gray For Good – For All Womanhood. This is a campaign to divert some of the $20.6 billion women spend a year disguising our gray hair to instead go to causes focused on eradicating the gender equity gap.