Byron Burch 1940 – August 20, 2015
Byron Burch left us a legacy of quality. It is a legacy that continues despite his passing on August 20, 2015. Grounded in Santa Rosa, Byron did not seek fame and the limelight, but whatever he did he commanded a passion for quality. It often manifested itself in the beer he made and the beer he instructed others how to brew. He also pursued excellence in mead and wine.
His store (along with his partner Jay Conner) The Beverage People (originally Great Fermentations) was ground zero for California homebrewing excellence. He helped lead the Santa Rosa homebrew club, The Sonoma Beerocrats, to winning the American Homebrewers Association’s coveted Homebrew Club of the Year for 10 years in a row 1986-1995. Bryon individually won the American Homebrewers Association Homebrewer of the Year 1986 and Mead Maker of the Year 1992, 1994, and 2001. Winning both Mead Maker and Homebrewer of the Year was feat only one other person has been able to duplicate.
Byron’s journey into wine and beer making emerged as he managed the legendary home wine and beer making shop Wine and the People in Berkley, California in the early 1970s. In 1974 Bryon helped change the paradigm for homebrewing with the publication of his quintessential book, Quality Brewing. It was a book written by an American for Americans. Along with Fred Eckhart’s A Treatise on Lager Beers, Byron’s Quality Brewing was on my early homebrewing book shelf front and center. Two brightly guiding lights that helped me and thousands of others pursue the path to quality beer and brewing.
Innovation was also his legacy. Byron with the help of his partner at Great Fermentations (The Beverage People) Jay Conner, championed quality ingredients in the early days of homebrewing. Before Byron, access to fresh quality hops was very limited and usually unknown. Brown and unknown varieties of hop “bricks” packaged simply in cheap pink paper was all that most homebrewers knew of hops. Most homebrewers in those early days didn’t know that hops were supposed to be green in color. I vividly recall Byron showing me his shop’s new innovation, freshly dried hops packaged in oxygen barrier and vacuum sealed plastic bags. Prior to their frontier breaking packaging it is my recollection that the world did not package hops in vacuum sealed bags. Fresh hops became a new frontier and enabled homebrewers to embark on hoppy journeys unknown until then. Soon other suppliers followed and craft brewers discovered hoppy beers from innovative homebrewers experimenting with new found hop freshness; the terms we already knew, “late hopping” and “finishing hops” took on a whole new meaning and changed the world of beer forever.
I first met Byron at the 1980 Home Wine & Beer Trade Association Conference. Thereafter we met regularly at these and many other American Homebrewers Association related conferences, competitions and events. I recall my first visit to his home in Santa Rosa. He showed me an extended full size box he added to his refrigerator enabling him to cold ferment. In it were wines, meads and beers. In the other room his wife, Nancy Vineyard (also the American Homebrewers Homebrewer of the Year 1983 and their young daughter Sierra were taking a journey on their newly acquired first edition of the Apple Computer.
Byron and those surrounding him seemed always on the frontier. His beer journey that he shared with so many of us we are all grateful for. This evening, I will find a bottle of Epicenter Imperial Stout homebrewed and bottled by Byron Burch & Nancy Vineyard to commemorate the 1990 American Homebrewers Association National Homebrewers Conference 1990. That was the year of the earthquake that shook the San Francisco Bay area. On the label Byron asks, “DID THE EARTH MOVE FOR YOU TOO?” Twenty-five years later I can assure you that it did. It was not the earthquake that shook our world. It was Bryon Burch.