Jim Koch On Starting The Craft Beer Revolution And Sam Adams’ Partnership With The Boston Red Sox

From humble beginnings in Ohio to becoming a proud founding father of the American craft beer revolution which started here in Boston in 1984, Jim Koch has grown his Samuel Adams brand in a multimillion dollar industry.

Today, the Boston Beer Company brews more than 60 different types of beer using the traditional four-vessel brewing process while taking extra steps like dry-hopping, barrel-aging and a secondary fermentation known as krausening. Some big news here in Boston – Sam Adams just became the official beer of the Boston Red Sox.

The brewery continues to produce year round favorites, including their popular Summer Ale and Oktoberfest. Keep and eye out for limited edition pop-up beers like Big Hapi, which was released a couple of years ago in honor of retired Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (aka Big Papi), and the returning 26.2 brewed especially for the Boston Marathon.

Jim KochPhoto Credit: Samuel Adams

We caught up recently with Koch to talk about his thoughts on starting the craft beer revolution, becoming the official beer of the Boston Red Sox and what he foresees for the future of the craft beer industry.

You’ve been compared to the Steve Jobs of the beer industry. What do you think it was about Sam Adams beer that sparked the craft brewing industry into what it is today?

Ha, I thought that was quite the compliment! When I started Sam Adams, I wanted to make a great American beer. At that time, there were about 50 breweries in the U.S., and I knew I could make a better tasting, full flavored beer that people would appreciate. Boston Lager was shocking to some people who were used to drinking light, watered down beer.  It was daunting for sure to go up against big beer in the 80’s, but I was passionate about not just brewing beer, but brewing better beer. For me, Samuel Adams means innovation, confidence, passion and optimism. I think our success over the years sparked a lot of innovation that helped create the craft beer industry we know today. It’s been amazing to see this revolution. 

Back in the day, you had difficulty getting distributors to take your beer. Tell us a little about that experience and when you made the decision to market it yourself.

You see this sort of hesitation with any product or idea that disrupts the norm. I created a beer that tasted different than the pale yellow beers of those days with an odd name, so distributors viewed Sam Adams as more of a risk than a game-changer. I knew I had something special with Boston Lager though, and if no one else was going to take a chance on me, I had to take that leap myself. That’s when I decided to distribute the beer myself and take my beer from bar to bar in Boston.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager DraftPhoto Credit: Samuel Adams

Boston Beer Company continues to release new styles and brands. What is your favorite go-to Sam Adams beer?

Boston Lager. That’s the original from a family recipe (my great-great grandfather’s) and is still my favorite. When I want a reliably rewarding glass of beer. I’ll always reach for Boston Lager.

The beauty of being a brewer is that you can brew any beer that you can imagine. Sam ’76 and New England IPA are two of our newest beers, so I encourage everyone to go out and try them.

How important is it to you for Sam Adams to remain a craft brew?

As the founder, it’s been important for me to remain independent. We’ve been an American craft brewer and remained independent for 34 years. We’re so proud of that, we’ve adopted the Brewers Associations independent craft beer seal Brewers Association’s Independent Craft Brewer Seal and have been incorporating it onto our bottles of beer.

You remain the top craft brewer in the country now and have been so for more than 30 years. What do you think has been the secret to your success?

To be successful, you have to start with a great product, so I’d have to say the beer!  Some other factors I attribute to our success has been our desire to continue to push the boundaries in brewing, experimentation, innovation and passion for what we do.

While we’ve seen success, we’ve also worked to ensure success for the craft beer industry overall. Craft brewing makes up 13% of total beer, so the more drinkers we bring in, the better we all do. To support the industry, we help provide loans and business coaching to fellow brewers through our Brewing the American Dream program (including 44 loans to nearly 40 small craft breweries totaling $1.3 million), have shared hops during shortages and we even support homebrewers through our LongShot American Homebrew Competition.

Samuel Adams UtopiasPhoto Credit: Samuel Adams

What changes to you see coming to the craft beer industry in the future?

It’s the greatest time in history to be a craft beer drinker, and it’s just keeps getting better. I think we will continue to see the industry grow, ongoing innovation and even more great beers available to drinkers.

How does it feel to now be the official beer of the Boston Red Sox?

Are you kidding?! It’s my personal impossible dream come true. We got our start here in Boston, and for the past three decades we’ve stayed independent and worked our butts off to brew great beer. As the official beer of the Red Sox, we get to celebrate our New England roots with millions of other fans. I’ll drink to that.