Jim Koch: I was wrong about him.

Courtesy of the Boston Beer Company

My passion for Beer really did not start until after I was married over 20 years ago. When I first met my wife I was a seasoned Whiskey and/or Rum and Coke drinker. Sure I drank beer, but it was usually from mass produced breweries that were, well – just not that appetizing to me at the time

“Ice cold Bud Light on a hot day is Nectar of the Gods”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really not that much of a beer snob. I still maintain that on a 96 degree day with 80% humidity ice cold Bud Light that has been chilling in cold ice watered coolers for hours is “nectar of the gods” not so much when you are cold watching a football game. But I do strongly believe there is variety of beer for everyone, and anyone who says “I do not like beer” just has not found their beer yet.

Less than 20 years ago, my first Craft beer was none other than Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Woah! I thought: “wait, wait, wait! Beer can taste different? And good? Back the truck up!” It was true. And for years I bought a 12 pack of Sam Adams  for every outing, every party, and to have on hand for any friend and/or visitor.

Then it happened…. I took a trip to California…. First I had an Anchor Steam beer… Then I saw Sierra Nevada.  “OMG a different flavor?! What?!” it was at that moment I realized that Beer was more complex… Then I tried my hand at brewing and the real epiphany happened.

When I tried my hand at homebrewing, I stumbled upon a pale ale recipe. I made it in my basement and let if ferment for 2 weeks.. I bottled them and even made my labels based on a video game I loved to play. I brought it to parties and people loved it! It was good… I even liked it.. It was different.. Not so robust, with a nice malt beginning with the “just right” amount of Hop at the end…

Homebrewing Consistently? LOL
Homebrewing Consistently? LOL

So – I made it again…. Used the same labels… And my friends were like: “Wow this is good, what did you do different?” wait Huh?  What did I do different?  I used the same recipe! And indeed it was less malty and more hoppy because….. I rushed it and bottled it 3 days earlier than the last batch…. And thus I learned a lesson in consistency..

Within the coming years I slowly started to realize something about Samuel Adams and Boston Beer Company. It’s a criticism I have been very vocal about: Their consistency. I became very vocal about the fact  the Sam Adams Boston Lager is not the same Boston Lager I was drinking 10-16 years ago. And I thought (Past Tense) this was wrong. Or at least maybe I thought it for the wrong reasons.

Now, it’s at this point I should step back as I have to make a confession: I was extremely vocal about this issue with friends and family. I would say things like: “Why is this batch different than the batch I bought 3 weeks ago!” and add on: “how can Samuel Adams be proud of that?” and to be even more frank, I was even more vocal about it when I had “a few in me” after I failed an interview with them to work in their IT department, that also coincided with my visit to the Harpoon Brewery. But I talked about why I did not get the job here and I had this opinion before I interviewed with them and I secretly thought I could discuss the issue once I got in…  Yeah I’m an idiot sometimes…

And thus I digress: Say what you want about Bud Light or Budweiser. But what you have to respect is their consistency. No matter where it is brewed you are hard pressed to tell the difference. My old man claimed that in the 70’s he could tell the difference from Bud brewed in Milwaukie and bud brewed in Merrimack NH in almost our back yard.

Hmmm – In the 70’s? Maybe he could – but now? I don’t think so… As I said in my confession, I toured the brewery up in Vermont for Harpoon and what struck me is their pride that they take and put into their consistency. They really strive for it and to be honest I really think it shows. Harpoon IPA is my go to beer because I want the familiarity. I know I can grab a Harpoon from my fridge, my buddy’s fridge, or even at a restaurant, and be hard pressed to detect a hint of a difference.

The Early Years of Boston Beer.
The Early Years of Boston Beer.

But for a time this was not so with Boston Beer…  At first, I blamed this on them getting too big and quality going down, and then I listened to Jim on the radio once and he bragged about his striving for getting better hops and ingredients, and I went “AHAAAA!!!! I caught you!!!! You admit it!!!!! You change the recipe.” And it’s true… he did… and still does…. But not for the reasons I thought….

I thought it was to get larger quantity ingredients for better cost for better profit… I thought he was taking shortcuts… And maybe there is some truth to that but then again as I did research for this article, I found in his own blog here, he discusses how popularity furthered that perception… But what started me on my realization that I was: “wrong” was this article by CNBC that recently came out and inspired my article here. In it: he lists 5 reasons why his Craft Beer Empire is $2 Billion strong.

The article in my opinion, Not only explains his recipe for his company being a desirable place to work, but it also explained why “Boston Lager,“ today is not the same beer I drank 10-16 years ago in his reason number 5:

“Craft brewers adhere to tradition. “You understand why people have done things a certain way for 100 years,” said Koch. So in the early stages of product development, Koch — a fifth-generation brewmaster — set out to find the classic hops described in his family’s recipe, even though he wasn’t sure they were still being grown.”

It was then that I realized that Jim is tweaking his recipes to get back to his family standard. Because as we know the complexity of brewing, with all of its foibles, can create a diversity of brew that is at times impossible to replicate, or at the very least, very difficult, to replicate. As a home brewer I understand this complexity.

Thus, I misunderstood it. You see, I now think Jim wakes up every day cursed, knowing he can make a better beer. More than that he wakes up knowing he can make or find a better beer experience, and indeed it was Jim who proved to us all that the right glass for beer is important, and I even have a guide on this.

I think however, that possibly he and I can agree he’s not always successful at it, I mean , not “every beer” flavor is good, like I have also said: “not every beer is for everyone,” and as soon as I said it I realized Jim understands that as well. I mean he has to right? Why else would he have such a diverse selection of brews? But for every beer that he creates that I may not like but you like, or you like but I do not like, he’s doing it for the right reason:

“For the love of beer” I apologize Jim, for not “Getting it.” Because I think I “Get it” now..


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