It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill - hate to say this but from what I see it seems that more and more serious craft beer
drinkers don’t want Sam Adams, and in turn, an increasing number of bars aren’t selling that
famous amber lager that brought good beer to the mainstream. In a way I agree with a lot of
craft connoisseurs that Jim Koch’s Boston Beer Company has lost their edge. To tell the truth,
their beers are kind of middle of the road. Sadly, I think their main focus is to make beer that is
more flavorful than the fizzy yellow lager but that's about all. Their beer, to put it simply, is no
To be clear, it’s not like you can’t find a pint of Sam Adams just about anywhere here in NYC.
Interesting, some of the trendy pubs tell me it's that ubiquity that causes them not to serve it.
Look, I realize that Sam Adams’s Boston Lager is a fixture at the Irish pubs, sports bars, and
hotel lounges in every city. After all, Koch’s company is America’s number one craft brewery—
by a pretty large margin (even if the definition of such was changed to fit them.).
There’s no disputing that America is experiencing a craft-beer revolution—and that Koch’s
Boston Beer Company birthed it. The nation had fewer than 50 breweries in the late 1970s;we
now have more than 3,200! These breweries are targeting a younger demographic that have
never known a world in which Sam Adams did not exist. This is the first generation to regard
Sam as their father’s (or, God forbid, their grandfather’s) beer. Ouch, where does that us,
Bill? Anyway, the fact is that today’s beer lover engages in an unprecedented display of beer
promiscuity—a lack of inhibition that places little value on loyalty to any single brand. This new
breed of millennial craves beer that is organic, local, small-batch, authentic, cool, and new.
And perhaps most significantly, they and the rest of us, have developed an insatiable lust for
bold-flavored American hops and India pale ales—not the sorts of beers for hich Sam Adams
As drinkers increasingly look beyond Sam Adams for their craft-beer, my question to you is
whether Jim Koch is about to get left behind?
I know he's one smart guy. He didn’t step straight from a humble upbringing into the family
business. He earned three degrees at Harvard University, including an MBA and a JD, and first
chose to enter the world of high finance where he was very successful. When he went full time
into beer he was smart enough not to go head-to-head with the mega-breweries. Instead, he
tackled the higher-priced imported beers. To compete he needed name recognition. So he
stole a page from the corporate giants and devised a brilliant advertising plan—one that would
soon place him in the pantheon of all-time marketing geniuses. But this is a what have you
done lately business and Sam Adams is slipping.
By the way Bill, knowing your rascally side you might appreciate the fact that Koch called his
beer Samuel Adams—not that Koch, an Ohioan, had any special connection to the founding
father. He picked the name from a list of nearly 800 possibilities, deciding to swaddle his brand
in the nostalgia and history of Boston by capitalizing on the name of a revolutionary who fought
for American independence. And it turns out that may not even be a picture of Sam Adams on
the logo, which bears far more resemblance to the famous 1768 John Singleton Copley portrait
that hangs at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts—of Paul Revere. Ha!
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hey Gina, I agree that Jim Koch is a genius marketer. Here's what I mean. He released his
flagship beer, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, in April 1985 in only two dozen bars and
restaurants. By 2014, the company grew to the point where it brewed some 2 million barrels of
beer, employed 1,200 workers, and distributed beer to all 50 states and to more than 20 foreign
countries. That one time small-batch brewery, Boston Beer Company is now the fifth-largest
brewery in the nation. With his company valued at more than $3 billion, Koch himself is worth
more than $1 billion,
While it's foolish to think such a huge business is "struggling", you're right in sensing some
troubled waters ahead. Look Gina, until recently, the idea of Koch downing a hop-heavy Sam
Adams IPA would have been unthinkable. For more than a generation, he's steered clear of craft-
beer trends—particularly West Coast IPA. Now he making the likes of Rebel IPA and Rouser
Double IPA.. They are, in essence, a Hail Mary attempt to bounce back into the craft scene,
where drinkers’ interest in his flagship Boston Lager is declining big time.
Now if you're really worried, relax. Since 2011, in response to slowing beer sales, Koch’s
company has been selling other beverages on the sly, namely alcoholic cider and flavored malt
beverages under the brand names Angry Orchard and Twisted Tea. These products have been
so successful—Angry Orchard now controls more than 50 percent of the American cider market—
and make up such a large portion of Boston Beer’s business that some joke it should be
renamed the Boston Cider Company.
From what I've seen Koch is a bit sensitive to his craft competition. Tony Magee of Lagunitas
recently accused Boston Beer of specifically targeting Lagunitas’s IPA in its marketing strategy.
He went one step further by accusing them of engaging in the illegal practice of paying bars for
draft lines. It is a charge that Koch flatly denies the so-called pay-to-play arrangements—where a
brewer or distributor pays a bar owner money, gives them a secret discount, or installs
equipment for them in return for serving their beer. That practice is illegal in most states,
By the way to show you how crazy the beer industry is becoming, Magee himself was about to
take Sierra Nevada to court over a weak resemblance to his trademark IPA font. Even more,
some say his big selling DayTime IPA is a blant ripoff of Founders All Day IPA.
Okay, to answer your question is he will not be left behind, but the comeback won't be easy.
Koch already many new beers in development. In the short run he could bring back the sales
numbers of Boston Lager by simply making it more affordable at bars. How about 4 or 5 dollars a
pint of Sam's Lager? It's light years better than Bud, Coors and PBR so beat them on price and
Now that I think of it, Sam's Boston Ale (not the lager) was one of my first beer favorites.
However that was a while ago. Right now I do not have one Sam Adams product in my
refrigerator. Sorry, Jim..
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.