Thoughts on Jim Koch`s (Sam Adams) Recent Article

Jim Koch, major domo of Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams beer, hard cider and other beverage alcohol, wrote an article in the New York Times which elicited a lot of comment. Blogger Bryan Roth made some interesting arguments in particular, here.

Regarding Koch’s comments that anti-trust enforcement viz. large U.S. brewers is lagging, he seems to raise valid questions especially for certain wholesaling practices and acquisitions of craft brewers.

On pricing, he suggested prices have risen in the macro market unreasonably following certain international mergers and takeovers. Even if so, if prices come closer to craft levels, isn’t that an incentive for consumers to buy more craft? Craft beer is more expensive than macro adjunct lager anyway, so I don’t follow that part of the argument.

The question of who is behind a craft-looking label elicits sympathy in most craft circles but is probably not an easy fix. First, there is the multi-jurisdictional nature of the market. Second, identifying ultimate control is not always easy and a one-size-fits-all solution may not exist. I’m not sure it’s practical or fair to require an ultimate-control disclosure for a beer label.

My view is, anyone who really wants to know can find out who owns, say, the Creemore brand. And if you don’t want to know, it’s down to the beer. The product IMO is primary, not the producer.

BBC is an influential pioneer in craft brewing and has made some good products. Assuming it wants to retain a focus on beer as against other types of alcohol, I believe it should focus more on the beer itself, the number of offerings, type, and especially quality.

I feel it could do much better with a trimmed and focused beer range. The affiliated Coney Island Brewery’s Mermaid Pilsner has tremendous potential that should be maximised. In simple gastronomical terms, it’s superior to Boston Lager – a better taste – indeed better than most lagers I’ve had almost anywhere. Nor is it “old hat” as a helles lager, even if that “matters”. The formulation contains malted rye, a novel element that gives the beer a certain something without creating a narrow, “connoisseur” profile.

I truly believe this beer could be what Budweiser was c. 1900, it is that good.

Sam Adams Boston Stock Ale is one of the best of its type anywhere, a stylish, flowery, English-style pale, but hard to find and seems to get little promotion. The Baltic porter of some years ago, Dark Depths (a Small Batch release), was superlative.

As for Rebel IPA: no doubt BBC sees it as a strong contender in the IPA wars but the initial formulation was just not great brewing. The company seemed to recognize that by reformulating the beer. I haven’t tried the current iteration which uses all-pale malt and a proprietary hop, hopefully it is a decided improvment – but the beer should have been a winner out of the gate.

The new Fresh As Helles Lager, flavoured with orange blossom, is just so-so. The Sam Adams seasonal beers always struck me as weak, I’d retire the series.

I’d focus on between five and seven beers and issue one-offs for market trends and the consumers always looking for a new flavour. The small batch series in other words should remain. The Jamaica Plain facility in Boston is a perfect incubator for such projects, but they should not detract from a strong focus on a small group of high quality beers.

Sierra Nevada and Anchor Brewing do well in the current market as old-established craft breweries. They didn’t expand their range until relatively late and in general have always released strong beers from a palate/gastronomy standpoint. BBC should return to its roots as its first few beers, especially Boston Lager, Stock Ale, and Doppelbock were top performers in this sense.

BBC may decide to focus more on non-beer alcohol going forward, if so that`s a valid choice. I don’t think it matters whether its beer side continues to merit the craft label for a brewing association`s or anyone’s particular purpose. If the beers still made taste great, that is their justification.

To wit, good beer is what matters, the taste, and a reasonable variety, but taste foremost. That is why Pilsner Urquell is still around after 175 years or so and is growing as a brand.

Taste is why craft brewing started. It is the criterion by which all brewers, no matter their size or history, will rise or fall for most enthusiasts of the brewing art.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the Samuel Adams website, hereAll intellectual property in or to the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user. Use is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.