There. I said it. I’m out of the closet. I have Sam Adams Pride. Where’s the parade? I wanna march in it. Yahoo for Boston Beer Company. Gawd, that feels good to finally say it. Oh ya. The required disclosure. Boston Beer Company gave me some free beer and food and semi-private access to founder Jim Koch for an evening. But I had to buy the t-shirt and Grumpy Monk wall plaque – that surprisingly made it through the transcontinental flight from Boston to Seattle. But they gave the same thing to 149 other US beer bloggers at the same time. Still, I felt special. At every turn. From every employee with whom I interacted. It was a Sam Adams Open House.
I was very skeptical about what I would see, learn, discover at the Sam Adams Brewery. We’ve seen the commercials. We know that the Boston Beer Company is not your local craft brewer. They are the largest wholly American-owned brewery in the country. I never did buy the spiel, “Oh we may be big, but we are homebrewers at heart” or some such thing they had in one of their commercials.
Well, I was wrong. In the Northwest, we do not see a lot of Sam Adams beers. Boston Lager for sure and Old Fezziwig at Christmas, and now the Summer Ale since Sam Adams discovered Washington. But we do not see any of the really interesting, really good stuff that they make. Blame that on the marketplace, the bean counters. Not the brewers.
Sam Adams Brewery hosted not only the party, but the welcome message for the conference. Brewers Association Craft Beer Program Director Julia Herz delivered another inspiring presentation on the growth of the craft beer industry and the importance of bloggers getting the word out to their various niches. The keynote address was made by none other than the founder of the Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams Brewery, Jim Koch.
Jim told stories about the early days of the brewery and the colorful characters in the neighborhood (homeless folk and gangs) with whom the brewery had to co-exist. He spoke about the community outreach done by the brewery and the cooperation needed between craft brewers rather than competition to keep the small brewery revolution on the rise. It was the “United we stand, divided we fall.” theme. He also gave perspective that the rise in craft brewmanship is seen as a new thing when it really is about bringing things back to the way they used to be.
The 1980’s was marked more by bringing back European styles that had fallen by the wayside in the numerous takeovers and forced closures by Big Beer and its mass-produced corn/rice based beverages. There were two kinds of beer you could buy; pilsner or lager. Using barley and Belgian yeasts was considered novel in innovative. Also, the small, local brewery began to find its market and are the foundation for continued industry growth – like it used to be years ago.
“For the Love of Beer”
In fact the Brewers Association posted an interesting graph on the number of craft breweries in the United States. It is hard to imagine the United States of 1890 having more breweries than were around just a couple of years ago.
Both Jim and Julia echoed a common mantra about trying new things, or doing something different. It is the power behind innovation.
“Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
After Jim finished, we headed to the buffet and tap-room for some great grub and about a dozen different Sam Adams beers. I grew to love the Grumpy Monk. That was very odd to me, because I generally do not like Belgians, and dislike IPAs even more.
We continued to expand our Sam Adams experience with even more beers from their exceptional portfolio. Tetravis, Stoney Brook Red and American Kriek became available for tasting. Then it was time for the small group brewery tour. This would be, without a doubt, the most unique brewery tour I have even been on.
Rather than slogging through rows of fermentation tanks, stacks of grains, mashing equipment, hoses and pipes, we were led into a relatively small room with huge oak barrels and an impressive wooden table with stools all around. A series of empty glasses were set out around the table. Jim Koch was the tour guide for all these small group sessions – and proudly explained the brewery’s adventures into creating high alcohol beers. Out came the bottles of Utopias, a 24% ABV brew that is more flavorful and complex than it is alcoholic. Squeals of delight emanated from even the heartiest of bloggers after the initial shock and more than a few, “Are you kidding me?” exchanges of glances. Once again, I am not a fan of the bourbon, rum and whiskey barrel aged beers. But this was so smooth, so full of flavors. I wanted to sneak into another tour, but decided it would be better if I left the place vertical rather than horizontal.
I love this place. Have I said that before?