Sam Adams? Meh since about 1999

Excellent piece of journalism by Andy Crouch on the Boston magazine website about the Boston Beer Company, its founder Jim Koch and his struggle to keep the iconic Sam Adams brand of beer relevant in the new world of U.S. craft beer. Crouch does an excellent job painting a detailed picture of Koch and how he created the myth of Sam Adams beer.

To a large degree I wholeheartedly agree with Crouch’s assessment that Koch and Sam Adams have largely been left behind by the world of craft beer.

“So why does Koch get so upset when upscale bars such as Row 34 don’t serve his beer? It might be because he’s worried that those establishments could be the canary in the craft-beer coal mine. The tastes of today’s drinkers and brewers are changing—and, unexpectedly, Boston Beer Company has been forced to play catch-up in the industry it helped to create.”

While I think Fritz Maytag’s revitalization of Anchor Steam did more to energize beer culture in the United States, the impact of Koch and Sam Adams is indisputable. I definitely agree with the analysis of Crouch’s piece, I also think it’s more than 10 years too late, especially from the West Coast perspective. The beer never had as much relevance, even in the late 90s, when one could just as easily buy Sierra Nevada or Red Tail. To me Sam Adams has always just been a bridge for Bud Lite drinkers to try new beers. In the comments on Crouch’s article, Sam Adams is accurately described as the “bunny hill” of American craft beer.

There’s elements of the Great American Beer Revival that are somewhat troubling; too much hops, flawed beers that are rushed on to the market and this disturbing sour beer trend that I hope goes away sometime soon, but I personally see it as a positive sign that a mediocre beer like Sam Adams is no longer the standard bearer for good beer.