I grew up in a brewing family. My father was a brewmaster, as were all my grandfathers for five generations before me in the U.S. When I would go see my dad at work as a little kid, it was in a brewery. But the brewing industry was changing. When my father finished brewmaster school in 1948, there were 1000 thriving U.S. breweries. Over the next 35 years that number dwindled to about 40 because the big national breweries selling mass-produced lighter beer had the marketing, production and advertising to slowly drive out the smaller, local guys. My father had to leave the brewing business so to me brewing beer didn't seem like an opportunity I could pursue. As the beer industry consolidated into a few mega-giants, beer production became less a craft and more an automated factory job. The allure of brewing wasn't there for me, so I went to college, then law and business school at Harvard. (Some people get Harvard right the first time, but it took me three tries to get out of there.) I became a manufacturing consultant at Boston Consulting Group. After six years, I started to get restless. I had seen a lot of big companies and I didn't want to work for one.
One day a light went on. I realized that as a beer drinker in the U.S. in 1984 I could not get a really good glass of beer. I could get a mass produced beer, which was designed to be refreshing, but it didn't have a lot of taste. If I wanted a beer with real taste I had to turn to an import. Coming from a beer background, I knew beer is supposed to be fresh and you can't really get that with an import shipped from overseas. What if I make a great flavorful beer here in the U.S. and give it to American beer drinkers fresh?
I knew a lot about beer and brewing from my family, especially my Dad. I told him I was going to leave my nicely paid consulting job and make beer. He said: "Jim, you've done a lot of stupid things in your life, but this is just about the stupidest thing you have ever done." To him big guys always devoured the little guys. It took him awhile to understand that I wasn't trying to compete with the mega-brewers. I was going to make beer for that very small set of beer drinkers who could appreciate the taste of a really great beer. We went up to the attic and started looking through recipes. We settled on one from my great-great grandfather's brewery, Louis Koch Lager, that was producing in St. Louis in the last half of the 19th century. It became Samuel Adams Boston Lager. We chose that recipe because it was classic and was the best example of the full range and complexity of flavor you could get in a great beer. I wanted something malty and hoppy, big and balanced. I used the same hops and malt that brewers used 150 years ago.
At that time, our entire company consisted of two people. My partner, Rhonda Kallman, had worked with me at BCG. She had also been a bartender and was this resourceful, energetic woman. She knew bars and I knew beers. Sam Adams was this complete anomaly. It didn't look, smell or taste like any beer people had drank for almost a century. It had no marketing. It was named after an American brewer and patriot whom most people thought was a U.S. President. We couldn't even get distributors. Every morning I would put two blue cold packs in my briefcase with seven beers and a bunch of cups and go from bar to bar trying to get bartenders to taste my beer so they would carry it. Most turned me down. They would tell me it didn't taste like an American beer or my customers only drink imports.
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