The last time I interviewed Jim Koch, about a year and a half ago, he casually mentioned to me his secret for drinking all night yet never getting drunk. I was fascinated by his theory, so I scrapped the story I had originally planned on writing about the Boston Beer Company founder and instead decided to introduce the world to his ingenious binge-drinking hack.
Immediately, I learned other folks were just as fascinated by Koch’s sobering wisdom as I was. Within a day, his name was trending nationally on both Twitter and Facebook, and the world press began reporting on the piece, spanning from South America to China.
Although that interview was easily the most viral thing I wrote last year, I felt a bit bad about my part it in all. Jim Koch is a legend, and easily one of the most important figures in the history of modern craft beer. For beer geeks he’s our George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin all rolled into one perpetually smiling man in a denim shirt. He didn’t deserve to all of the sudden be seen as the kooky old dude who figured out a sly way to drink a ton of his own product.
Someone like Koch, who has put in as much time in the industry as anyone, deserves a serious look. A quick bio would tell of the man with three Harvard degrees (including a JD and MBA) who works in a Boston consulting firm (with coworkers like Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu) before deciding brewing beer is his life’s work. He takes an old family recipe, brews it in his kitchen, then starts hawking it door to door. It’s 1984 and Americans are most concerned with whether a certain beer tastes great or is less filling. Amazingly, though, Koch’s “odd” lager starts slowly but surely stealing tap handles in local bars from bigger breweries. Eventually, Koch is a cult hero, appearing in commercials and becoming craft beer’s first—and perhaps still biggest—celebrity.
The Samuel Adams website currently lists 86 beers in the brewery’s portfolio, while I count at least 225 different offerings the company has brewed over the years. But Koch’s beers haven’t just established his own career—they’ve inspired countless of others within the industry.
“There are many beers I admire,” he says, “but often it’s the brewers—or even a brewery—behind the beers that have helped Samuel Adams, and the craft-beer industry, become what it is today.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that a man to whom so many other brewers owe their livelihood too should continue to be the tide that raises all the other ships. Despite being a billionaire—the first craft brewer with, ahem, “f*ck you money”—Koch is clearly still a man that cares deeply about everyone in his industry.
“I picked these ten beers based upon my experiences with the people who brewed them,” he notes. “I truly believe good people make good beer.”
Louis Koch Lager (a.k.a., Boston Lager)
My great-great-great grandfather, Louis Koch, along with the five generations of Koch brewers before me, have paved the way for me as a brewer. When I told my father I wanted to quit my job as a consultant to be a brewer, first he told me I was crazy, but he then took me to our attic where the Koch family brewing recipes were kept. He gave me our family’s best recipe, Louis Koch Lager, which today drinkers know as Samuel Adams Boston Lager. His recipe was for an “all-malt” beer that adhered to the Reinheitsgebot, a German beer purity law dating to 1516. The Reinheitsgebot stipulates that beer can only contain four ingredients: water, yeast, hops, and malted barley or wheat. In 1984 virtually all American beers used corn, rice, and other adjuncts in addition to malt to make the body of the beer lighter and more “drinkable.” My goal was to make a better beer, one brewed with high-quality, flavorful ingredients, and introduce it to the American drinker. When I first brewed Boston Lager, I thought to myself, if I could just drink this every day, I would be a very happy man. More than 30 years later, I’m still brewing Boston Lager and couldn’t be happier. (Photo: lbco.com)
New Albion Ale
In the late 1970s, a home-brewer named Jack McAuliffe opened a small brewery in Sonoma, California and brewed New Albion Ale—a full-flavored pale ale made with the now-popular Cascade hops and a two-row pale malt blend. At the time, it was the only beer of its kind. New Albion Ale is recognized by beer experts as the original American craft beer. New Albion Ale was brewed when brewing was not easy. No one made small-scale brewing equipment (Jack built his by hand); no one wanted to invest in a craft brewery; and bars, wholesalers, and drinkers could not understand why Jack’s beer didn’t taste “normal.” New Albion Ale is a legend and Jack’s passion for craft beer has in a way inspired every craft brewer—not just me. His beer has influenced where we are today as a craft-beer industry. (Photo: newalbionbrewing.com)
Haffenreffer Private Stock Malt Liquor
Sold in 40 ounces and pretty potent, this beer was nicknamed the “Green Death” and “Haffenwrecker,” but if it were not for Haffenreffer Private Stock Malt Liquor, Samuel Adams would not have the brewery it has today in Boston. Haffenreffer Brewery was the last operating brewery in Boston, and I had the idea of making the former site of this historic brewery our home in 1984. At the time, it was in total disrepair—it had a collapsed roof, no windows, roosting pigeons, and vagrants—but eventually we got the job done and built a brewery on a shoestring. Today, visitors from nearly all over the world come to this hard-to-find and historic neighborhood to visit our brewery. (Photo: drinkingboston.toursphere.com)
It’s no surprise that I love a good lager, and to me Brooklyn Lager is a great example of the style. When I drink it, I think of how the brewery’s flagship beer helped to create the craft-beer movement we know today. It’s because of Steve Hindy—Brooklyn Brewery’s founder and a longtime friend—and his vision for brewing and selling great beers from what once was a dicey neighborhood that beers like Brooklyn Lager and Boston Lager are so popular today. (Photo: brooklynbrewery.com)
Magic Hat #9
When I think of Magic Hat #9, I think of a very creative friend of mine who’s also known for being fired from every job he’s ever had—Alan Newman. If it were not for Alan getting canned from Magic Hat, I would not be able to work so closely with a great entrepreneur who is way out on the edge of life with his ideas. Alan and I have known each other for almost 20 years and once, over a beer, we talked about how we could collaborate. Out of that conversation came Alchemy & Science, a craft-beer incubator spearheaded by Alan. In 2011 Alan was tasked with exploring the blank spaces of craft beer, whether it was geographical, styles, breweries, brewpubs, brewing techniques, or ingredients. His mission is to make great craft beer in any way, place, or style that he thought made sense, and his creative ideas have resulted in bringing back a historic brewery in L.A. called Angel City, which brews great beers and has helped bring life to a downtown area. He’s worked with Jeremy Cowan of Schmaltz Brewing to continue to bring life to Coney Island Brewing Company. Alan has also built a brewery in the Wynwood Art district of Miami called Concrete Beach to offer great craft beers to Miami drinkers. Over the years, and now under Alchemy & Science, he continues to influence me with his unorthodox thinking, big ideas, and passion for craft beer. (Photo: magichat.net)
[Allagash founder] Rob Tod is a guy who just wanted to share his love of drinking Belgian beers with the rest of this country. In fact, he was one of the first brewers to introduce American drinkers to Belgian-style brews with Allagash White. At the time in the 1990s, drinkers were just beginning to learn more about craft beer and were pretty unfamiliar with Belgian styles. Around 2000, Rob began introducing cork and cage-finished Belgian-style beers that were also bottle conditioned—which was relatively unheard of in the U.S. at that time. While we’ve been brewing Belgian beers for decades and have since introduced drinkers to our Belgian-inspired Barrel Room Collection, Allagash White really paved the way for Belgian beers in the U.S.
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
My friend and drinking buddy Sam Calagione’s drive and commitment to brewing great beers has helped the entire craft-brewing industry succeed. In fact, he was the first American brewer that I brewed a collaboration beer with (called SAVOR Flowers) that was released for SAVOR [the beer festival] in Washington D.C. Sam works his butt off and proves that it’s possible, and even admirable, to grow from being a tiny craft brewer to a much larger one while maintaining, and even improving, your quality. Many brewers have worked many long hours to get craft beer where it is today, and to me, Sam is one of those admirable brewers always looking to push the envelope, like he first did years ago with his great beer 60 Minute IPA. (Photo: archerliquors.com)
Russian River Pliny the Younger
Vinnie Cilurzo, a great brewer and great all around guy, is an expert when it comes to IPAs. He practically invented them when he first brewed Blind Pig IPA in the early 1990’s in Temecula, California on a brew kettle made from the heating elements of a dozen scrapped hot-water heaters. He then introduced another great IPA, Pliny the Elder. But was Pliny the Younger—a very hoppy triple IPA—that had beer experts consistently naming it one of the best IPAs in the country, and made hardcore craft-beer fans line up for days to get their hands on it. After Russian River introduced Pliny the Younger, they also decided to stop selling it in growlers, which were showing up on eBay and Craigslist. Freshness is critically important when it comes to hoppy beers like IPAs, and Russian River wanted to ensure drinkers experienced the best IPA possible. While we’ve been experimenting with hops for more than 30 years and made our first IPA almost 20 years ago, recently we began releasing much hoppier beers like our Rebel IPAs and Rebel Raw. I continue to admire brewers like Vinny who for years have worked to educate drinkers on hop flavor, aroma profiles, and freshness. (Photo: russianriverbrewing.com)
Revolver Blood & Honey Ale
Before founding Revolver in Texas, Grant Wood was a brewer at Sam Adams for many years. We worked closely together to develop many brews, including some of those extreme beer recipes we experimented with in the early 1990s, like Triple Bock. I saw firsthand how Grant has a genius for dreaming up a crazy recipe and then determining how it can actually be brewed. His Blood & Honey is an unfiltered golden ale finished with blood orange zest and local honey. It’s a damn good beer, from a former Sam Adams brewer who I’m happy made the leap to open his own brewery. (Photo: Facebook/Revolver Brewing)
Roc Brewing 390Bock
In 2008, the brewers at Roc Brewing Company in Rochester, New York and our brewers at Samuel Adams brewed a collaboration beer called 390Bock, which was a Maibock brewed with smoked barley and rye. What’s cool to me about this beer was working with Chris Spinelli and Jon Mervine, two young brewers who, after graduating from college, took the risk to pursue their passion for brewing. They were one of the first brewers in our Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Experienceship program, where we give breweries small loans but also mentoring and coaching to help start-up and grow their new breweries. When they came to Boston to brew with us, I saw a lot of myself in them and it brought me back to the days when I was just starting out and trying to navigate the ins and outs of starting a small business. They have a tremendous passion for their beer and are totally inspiring. (Photo: Yelp/Dipesh G.)