Jim Koch on Samuel Adams Boston Lager
Jim Koch on Samuel Adams Boston Lager
Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Co. answers our ten questions about their flagship beer, “Samuel Adams Boston Lager.”
1. What is your flagship beer and when did you begin brewing it?
Samuel Adams Boston Lager, my first and favorite brew. Since I first found my great-great-grandfather’s recipe in my family attic over 35 years ago, what is now known as Boston Lager has been a storied beer. As the flagship of Samuel Adams, it represents the craft beer revolution and is the heartbeat of everything we do.
I brewed the first batch in my kitchen in 1984 and we started sharing it with drinkers in Boston the following year. If I hadn’t unearthed it from the attic, I’m not sure where I’d be today.
2. Who wrote the recipe and how did that come about? What was the inspiration for it?
I come from a long line of brewers in my family. I’m the sixth generation and the recipe was first written by my great-great-grandfather. Of course, decades later I had to make a couple of minor modern adjustments while still maintaining the original process and recipe.
3. Did you go through several tests or were you happy with it right away?
I went through several batches of homebrew, scaled it up in the pilot lab at UC Davis and then did a full-scale production batch which still required some tweaks and was thrown out. The whole process took about 6 months.
4. Has it changed at all over the years, or is it still the same as when you first brewed it?
In craft brewing, a recipe can never stand completely still. Each year’s crop of ingredients, like barley, hops, wheat, or fruit can vary slightly. It’s a bit ironic, but I find that you have to keep making the tiniest, incremental changes to maintain consistency. And after 36 years, today’s Boston Lager is the best yet because it’s the culmination of dozens of minuscule adjustments here and there. And now we have the benefit of decades of long relationships with our growers, making our access to the best ingredients better and better.
Brewing technology is another interesting place to play when tweaking recipes. In fact, we’re testing what we’re calling a “remastered” version of Boston Lager in New York this winter to match the modern drinker profile. The reformulated brew still uses the original 1984 recipe from my great-great-grandfather, but we’ve evolved our brewing technology and processes to improve the sessionability of this beloved beer. The remastered version is simply an enhanced, crisper version of the original – like hearing a classic song on new speakers.
5. Did you think it was going to be your most popular beer or did that take you by surprise?
We knew we had a great recipe on our hands, because the beer was delicious. I knew people would agree with me, so I went bar-to-bar with the beer in my briefcase to sample bar owners. It was when we got to the Great American Beer Festival in 1985 that my vision for bringing real beer to beer drinkers was realized and validated. When we were recognized with the “Best Beer In America” award at the festival in 1985, I knew we were onto something great.
6. When did you realize it was your flagship beer?
From the get-go we knew that Boston Lager would be the heart of Samuel Adams, even before we knew what other beers we’d brew and release. It was our sole focus at first. We took time to source premium ingredients from Bavaria and then finesse the brewing process because there are extra steps that take time. All these years, we’ve refused to cut corners and maintained the same quality and commitment to the original recipe as part of our relentless pursuit for better beer.
7. What do you like best about it and what is unique about your flagship compared to other similar beers (assuming there are any similar ones).
I always say that when we release a beer, it’s like your child. So in a sense, Boston Lager is my first born. What I like best is how complex the final beer is, in terms of the flavors and aromas that dance together, but yet the beer is still refreshing. Our goal was to set the bar as high as possible and brew a beer domestically that could really compete on the world beer stage.
Everyone looked to Europe as the preeminent brewers of premium lagers. Boston Lager stands apart because we adopted a traditional, painstaking brewing process to create a German style, traditional, multi-step beer aged in lager tanks. We didn’t rush the process and we refused to cut corners. We were the underdog, but then it was like as if Tom Brady went to Europe and played European football at a championship level.
8. How much of your early success do you attribute to your flagship beer?
All of it. Boston Lager made people think differently about what good beer could taste like, about appreciating the art of brewing beer, and ultimately it helped start the craft beer revolution.
9. What is your favorite story involving your flagship beer?
My Dad passed away 10 years ago on our family farm in Georgetown, Ohio. The ambulance took him away and my three siblings and I put a case of Sam Adams Boston Lager on the picnic table on the back porch and finished most of it as the sun was setting, then grabbed the last four bottles and headed to the only restaurant in town, a Gold Star Chili parlor. The owner let us drink those beers with our 5-Way Chili.
10. What else would you want people to know about your flagship beer?
Samuel Adams has been a source of innovative and exceptional brews since day one – our brewers are constantly pushing the limits and challenging expectations in the relentless pursuit of better beer. The Boston Beer Company you know today, makers of Samuel Adams, Truly Hard Seltzer, Twisted Tea, Angry Orchard Hard Cider, and Dogfish Head beer, was built on our passion for brewing the very Boston Lager that started it all and today we continue to push ourselves and our creativity by putting that same passion into other categories ‘beyond beer’. Everything we touch or create is related to fermentation, whether it’s hard seltzer, hard cider or beer. Trying new things and constantly experimenting is what keeps our brewers connected to our mission.
I think the other thing is that Boston Lager is still and will always be the beating heart of our brewing program. No matter where someone enjoys a pint, whether on a tour of our Boston Brewery, or poured on draft at our Boston or Cincinnati tap rooms, we strive for excellence and I think that comes through when you take a sip. To this day, I proudly sample each batch of Boston Lager that comes out of our breweries to ensure taste and quality is on par with the original recipe and delivers the excellence our drinkers have come to expect.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.