Samuel Adams – Microbrewer Patriot

Everybody knows Al Gore invented the Internet, but did you know the Boston Beer Company (BBC) invented American microbrew? Well I didn’t – at least not until I read the stuff on their website while researching one of my other blog posts.

According to BBC, the microbrew revolution started in 1984 when they introduced Samuel Adams Boston Lager, at least that’s how they make it sound to me. With statements like…

“Fortunately for beer lovers a second Revolution started in Boston in the mid-1980s. Samuel Adams Boston Lager led a charge heard round the world.”

“In 1984 better beer did not exist.”

“American craft beers were virtually non-existent, or still in the basements and kitchens of a few spirited brewers.”

I’ll admit I’ve never been a great fan of the Samuel Adams lines of beers; to me they more closely resemble the mega-brewers’ products than the craft segment they would have us believe they represent. Basically chasing market share at the expense of product quality is how I see them. As for the assertion about 1984, it simply doesn’t hold up…

  • 1971 – Anchor Steam re-launches in San Francisco.
  • 1976 – New Albion Brewing starts up in Sonoma, CA.
  • 1980 – Sierra Nevada Brewing starts up in Chico, CA.
  • 1981 – Redhook Brewery starts up in Seattle, WA.
  • 1982 – Yakima Brewing starts up in Yakima, WA.
  • 1983 – Mendocino Brewing starts up as successor to New Albion.
  • 1983 – Hales Ales starts up in Colville, WA.
  • 1984 – Pyramid starts up as Hart Brewing in Kalama, WA.
  • 1984 – Bridgeport Brewing starts up in Portland, OR.
  • 1984 – Widmer Brothers starts up in Portland, OR.

All of these brewers, with the exception of New Albion, are still in business today, and the NW remains the predominant region for the production and consumption of craft beer.

OK, perhaps the craft brewing renaissance had not yet reached Boston in 1984, but it clearly was well underway on the west coast. Samuel Adams beers therefore followed the trend, they did not lead it. What I see is that a slick Harvard suit saw a huge money-making opportunity and he went for it. Kinda like another slick Harvard suit who had ‘invented’ the software business a few years earlier.

I am pleased that in the guise of Samuel Adams, a long forgotten old-country beer has been reborn, but let’s cut out all the BS about Boston, brewer patriots and the like. Fact is BBC founder Jim Koch’s family heritage is Bavarian, not English; his home town Cincinnati not Boston; his family’s brewing background St. Louis not Burton on Trent. Jim’s only connection to Boston that I can see is Harvard Business School.

What Jim did have was a proven recipe from his family’s long-defunct brewery – Louis Koch Brewing Co of St Louis – a recipe that had been brewed successfully from the 1870s until prohibition, a beer of the same type as that produced by another St Louis German immigrant Adolphus Busch. Jim took his recipe to Pittsburgh Brewing (Iron City Beer) and had them brew his “Boston Lager” for him. That’s how it really started. In fairness BBC has since acquired their own breweries; almost all of their beer is now brewed in-house.

And finally, if the real Samuel Adams had ever been a brewer in Boston in the 1770s, his beer would certainly have been an ale, not a lager. He would have brewed in the traditional English style using top fermenting yeast, not bottom fermenting, and his fermentation tank would be open, not closed.

Just had to get that off my chest.

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