Mixed Emotions

By Glenn DeLuca

For BeerNexus.com

Did you ever have the satisfaction of really nailing it? What a great feeling when
you have an idea, you plan it and it comes off like you’re hoping. Well I’m adding
another notch to my belt for this recent one. I’ve mentioned before my good
friend, who I’ve been tasting with for decades. He and I have seen a lot and it’s
tough to surprise each other, but then I spotted it…an ad for ”the beer holster.”
I’ve never seen it before and if he had I would have gotten it, so good chance he
hasn’t so boom, done, it’s ordered and now to wait for holidays when he’ll be

I have a good selection of bottled beers since we’ll be hoisting a few so load up
the holster. So we’re hanging out and I tell him there was an interesting present
under the tree this year that it took me awhile to figure out must be his. Asked him
to stand and close his eyes as I put it on from the back and my able bodied
assistant clipped the latch in front. So he doesn’t see anything but a belt, but he
can feel the weight in the back, as he reaches around and feels the bottles. The
rest of us are roaring, so we take it off so he can inspect. I’m right he hasn’t seen
it before and is duly impressed. I will say its much better suited for cans as that
lessens the weight considerably and the off chance that you might knock one out.
So if you’re trying to think of something for that beer aficionado who has
everything (but this of course), it could work…

That was the HIGH, now the low…
My friend sends me a link to an article which I get more distressed the more I
read. Jim Koch was having dinner last October with a group of brewers at one of
Boston’s top-rated beer bars. As he reviews the drink list he sees many
“interesting” options from hot new breweries throughout the country, as well as
offerings from abroad. He comes to the realization that this hub for beer nerds
carries 24 drafts and another 38 in bottles and cans, but doesn’t serve any Sam
Adams. Needless to say he is not happy. That’s the prelude to an article about
the dilemma for Jim and Boston Beer and us as craft beer drinkers; that less of us
are interested in drinking Sam Adams and fewer bars are carrying it. As I read on
bar owners are saying things like; “lost his edge”, “beers are middle of the road”,
“just never considered their beers to be world class”, “questionable quality”, “SA
is not cool” and not serving “something that is mediocre.”

Then there’s Tony Magee, founder of Lagunitas, who accused Boston Beer of
targeting their IPA with Rebel IPA and has accused Boston Beer of the illegal
practice of “paying for draft lines.” Jim’s response “You know, to me, one of the
fun things of being a craft brewer is that people are more colorful, and we don’t
have to be corporate. I can be who I am. That’s Boston Beer. And Tony gets to
do that, too.” I’ll drink to that.

So let’s step back; Jim Koch has an MBA and a JD and worked very successfully
in finance, but he wanted something more, so he left to do what many in his family
had done before and became a 6th generation brewer. In 1983 there were 51
brewers and the top 6 controlled 92% of production. The first microbrewery, New
Albion, had already closed in 1981 (more on that later), so he was entering a field
dominated by a few and in 1985 Sam Adams Boston Lager was released.

That was a time when a gazillion craft beers didn’t exist. I remember traveling and
being in bars seeing the standard B-M-C drafts (I’m guessing you can figure
which three I mean) and then there it was; Sam Adams on draft; yes I was going
to have a good beer that day.  What we take for granted now; bars with 20 or 30
or even 50 different drafts wasn’t the way it used it to be.

So was SA a craft beer like today, of course not, they would have never survived.
They didn’t have their own brewery, they contract brewed (which many startups
do today); they weren’t really from Boston, they had to peddle their wares from
bar to bar, they didn’t target the masses, but the up and coming foreign beers but
most importantly they used very smart marketing. So Jim should get a lot of credit
for doing what he did and not just surviving but being amazingly successful. And
yes you absolutely need to look at the quality of beer, and SABL is a good quality
lager. But that is not all they make; they have had a variety of styles for years
and are doing 4 seasonal 12 packs a year, not to mention Utopia, which I’ve been
lucky enough to taste. Clearly SA did not immediately jump into the IPA/hop craze
of today’s craft beer environment the way many newer brewers have, but I am not
disappointed when I drink their Rebel or Latitude 48 or their IPL; quite the
opposite I think they’re excellent.

They also show creativity that I haven’t seen from many others. Take their
“deconstructed” Latitude 48 IPA 12 pack, featuring the Latitude 48 brewed
individually with 5 different hops (Zeus, East Kent Goldings, Mosaic, Hallertau and
Simcoe) and then with the conglomeration of all 5. Our club, Draught Board 15,
decided to use this for a meeting. We had the actual hops so we could smell them
and brought out the 5 individually brewed to taste and try to match with the
correct hops, in addition to recording most and least favorite. Lastly trying the
Latitude brewed with all 5. As you make expect a few got 3 correct, but many only
got 1; and yes the most and least favorites were not unanimous. All in all an
enjoyable and educational meeting.

Let’s talk about what Jim and SA think about the craft beer industry.
•    Remember the hop shortage in 2008, when supply was short and prices high?
Boston Beer sold 20.000 pounds of their own supply to 108 craft brewers at their
cost, allowing them to continue brewing using hops without having to spend an
inordinate amount. And Boston Beer again sold hops to other brewers in 2012.
•    Ever hear of the American Dream loan fund? Also started in 2008, the intent
is to provide financing to those who need it; which amounts to >$3M to some 350
small food and beverage companies.
•    We can’t begin to count the scores of promising young brewers mentored or
the >4,000 who’ve benefited from the Boston Beer “Speed Coaching Events.”
•    Recently I read an article about the revived New Albion Brewing. Jack
McAuliffe, founder of New Albion (1976-1982) is credited as the first microbrewery
since Prohibition and brewing the first American Ale.

Although New Albion didn’t survive, his efforts provided a microbrewery blueprint
that many brewers, including Jim Koch, learned from. Turns out he had a
daughter (Renee DeLuca, no relation that I know of) he never knew about who
tracked him down and got him to come out of isolation and again associate with
his beer roots. They ran into Jim Koch at a festival, where Jim told them Boston
Beer had acquired the rights to New Albion prior to 2010. After some discussion,
in 2012 Boston Beer brewed New Albion and transferred all assets (rights and
profits!) to Jack, who then transferred the rights to his daughter who is now
brewing New Albion in Cleveland. I’m looking forward to trying it one day!

So all that proves is Jim understands history and is a nice guy. I would say they’
ve not only been a good craft brewery citizen, but have been brewing great beer
and pushing the limits of craft beer for decades. I’ve said it before and I’ll
continue to say it’s important to understand not just today’s environment, but also
the history, how we got to where we are.  Without a Jim Koch, we may well not
have gotten to where we are quite yet.

I appreciate Boston Beer and Sam Adams for what they’ve done and I will
continue to support them, not just because of their place in craft beer history, but
because they make some damn good beers…and I’ll think twice before I have
another Lagunitas…

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing webmaster@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
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