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Friday, March 22, 2013

Jim Koch Tries to Control the Past

"'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'"  
--George Orwell, 1984

In today's edition of revisionist history we have trailblazing craft brewer Jim Koch, who surely has a trove full of boasts he can dip into as the need arises.  So why does he fabricate others?
I wanted to create a beer revolution in the United States in the same way Samuel Adams created a political revolution. Our Boston Lager was the first time America had tasted rich, flavorful, fresh beer. 
Sam Adams was an early microbrewer, but it wasn't the first--not by a long shot.  People who had been enjoying Anchor and Sierra Nevada for a few years would have been surprised to learn that it wasn't rich, flavorful, and fresh.


  1. According to Larry Bell, Bell's in Michigan was born a year before Jim Koch started his brewery.

  2. You know, 26% of "craft" starts to have some power. Note that Boston Beer is buying up their own shares aggressively. They have big autonomous plans.

  3. Americans were drinking craft beer long before Sam Adams, Anchor and Sierra Nevada. They called it beer and it was made by artisan brewers before the dawn of the 20th century. Koch is just so much promotional hot air.

  4. The question is why. Why is the discourse of many a person involved in alternative beers so apparently full of such superiority complex (or whatever you want to call that). Do they really believe that, or is it just another part of their marketing package?

    On a side note, could we stop pretending that "craft" breweries with national, or even international, distribution are in the same segment of the industry as brewpubs, etc.? No offense, but I believe that SA, SN, etc. have more in common with ABIB or SAB-Miller than with a brewpub in Kentucky or a gypsy brewer from Ohio.

    PS: I'm also convinced that it's only a matter of time until some big craft starts buying smaller ones.

  5. Jon, there were a number of micros that beat Koch to the punch. He could and should claim to be one of the founders--isn't that enough?

    Alan, it is for that reason that this self-hagiography that airbrushes out Koch's historical antecedents so irritates. He was early, his beer was excellent, and he's wildly successful. That makes a great story.

    Max, it's totally marketing. Jim knows the history better than anyone (he was there!).

  6. I should add that I disagree about the segment thing. First of all, in 1985, SN was no titan. Second, I think it takes a certain kind of insidery view to see Sierra Nevada as closer to Bud Light than Double Mountain. Consumers do consider size, but they consider the beer a lot more. Poll 100 American beer drinkers about whether SN is more like Bud or a brewpub and 99 will say the brewpub. We shouldn't over-think it.

  7. And now I'll throw the guy a bone. This is a nice gesture, I think, though I don't know what the final verdict on the can itself will be.

  8. I gotta say, I think he's got a point. He says the first time "America" tasted craft beer. Sam Adams was certainly the most widespread craft brew in the early 90s, and the only one my dad had in the house when I was growing up. I don't think he's trying to say he's the first craft brewer, only that SA is the first craft brew most Americans tasted.

  9. Sure, but you could argue that Sam Adams is to craft beer as Apple is to smartphones. They aren't the first, but they are the first to be a major hit.