When was the last time you had a Sam Adams Boston Lager? It’s probably been a while.
An article published in Boston Magazine recently explores in depth how the American craft beer movement has left Sam Adams Boston Lager and Boston Brewing Company founder, Jim Koch, behind. When Koch introduced Sam Adams in 1985, it was one of the few craft beers on the market, and it stood out from the Budweiser that dominated the marketplace. Craft beer options are plentiful now, and Sam Adams no longer stands out.
The article begins with a story about how Koch got irate while eating at a restaurant renowned for its beer selection. The menu had all kinds of esoteric brews on the list, but no Sam Adams. “All of this is tough for Koch to swallow, as the undisputed king of the craft-beer industry suddenly finds himself presiding over shifting and unsteady ground,” the author writes.
Here’s the thing. I still remember vividly when the only good beer I could get at the bar was a Sam Adams. And by bar, I mean Applebee’s, because I grew up in a tiny ass town north of Atlanta that didn’t have a proper bar until long after I left home. Now, every tiny ass town in the country has its own brewpub/bottle shop/artisanal charcuterie. It’s a wonderful time to be alive, but you gotta respect the visionaries who got us here. Jim Koch is one of those visionaries.
Sam Adams, Newcastle Brown in a bottle…those were the only decent beers I could get my hands on, and I was happy to pay a dollar more a pint for the pleasure to drink them…at Applebee’s.
I get it. There are so many options out there now, and the American palate is more sophisticated than it was in 1996 when I was drinking the hell out of Boston Lager. Like the rest of the country, I don’t drink Sam Adams at the alarmingly high rate that I used to. But I do still drink Sam Adams. There’s half of a 12-pack in my beer fridge right now, even though there are a crap ton of options at my local beer store. Which is only a mile away from my other local beer store. And don’t get me started on the number of breweries that are literally, around the corner. It’s an embarrassment of riches. But sometimes, I don’t want a hop bomb or super tart Gose brewed with basil and monks tears. I love the Gose, and West Coast IPAs, but sometimes I want an easy drinking beer that doesn’t challenge my beer IQ. Sam Adams isn’t complex, but it does go well with all kinds of food and it is balanced and relatively light by today’s standards. Plus, it tastes like “home.” It’s a little piece of that Applebee’s bar where I decided to get the hell out of a town that only had an Applebee’s bar.
Should Boston Beer Company put more energy into innovation and experimentation? Yeah, they probably should. According to Boston Magazine, Koch has been reluctant to release even an IPA in the past. The company is slow to change, which is dangerous in the craft beer industry. I still think Boston lager is their best beer, and I don’t think that’s a good position for a brewery to be in in 2015.
Take a look at New Belgium and Fat Tire, which has the same broad market appeal as Sam Adams, but New Belgium works tirelessly to make sure they’re pushing the envelope with projects like their Lips of Faith series. Ditto Sierra Nevada.
The Boston Mag article brings up a lot of drama between Koch and Lagunitas founder Tony Magee. Check it out for all the details. There’s also some great Boston Beer Company history unveiled. Did you know Koch almost named Sam Adams Boston Lager “New World Boston Lager”?
Should you drink a beer strictly because of nostalgia? No. But look, there are a ton of craft lagers that have been hitting the market in the last couple of years. Breweries are trying to create a smooth, easy-drinking beer with a subtle malt backbone that craft beer lovers will turn to on occasion. Something that might lure macro-beer-lovers over to the Light Side of craft beer. Say what you will about Sam Adams Boston Lager, it’s been doing that very thing for 30 years.