Jim Koch is an American beer industry legend. As the founder of one of the first-ever craft brewing companies and beer brands in the country, the Boston Beer Company and its famous Samuel Adams, Koch’s company has grown from a small startup to the leading craft brewer in the world.
“I started Sam Adams in 1984, before there was even craft beer or anything like that,” Koch said in an interview in January. “I think it’s an industry that thrives on innovation and creativity, and that’s just part of the DNA of Sam Adams. We’ve always been at the forefront of innovation, of trying new things, from the very beginning, whether it was with the first seasonal program for craft beer, or the first to age beer in spirits barrels, [which] we started doing in 1993.”
Cutting-edge tactics and a craft brewer’s perseverance (not to mention business savvy, a six-figure salary in consulting, and five generations of brewers before him) kept Boston Beer afloat, and today the company boasts a beer brand with countless seasonal SKUs; a cider company, Angry Orchard; spiked sparkling water, Truly Spiked & Sparkling; and its newest subsidiary, a brewery incubator in Vermont, A&S Brewing.
Despite Boston Beer’s many products, one beer holds the key to Koch’s heart: Boston Lager. No, seriously. He really loves Boston Lager.
We sat down with Koch on a recent trip he took to NYC (to promote Samuel Adams Sam ’76, a new, co-fermented ale-lager hybrid that happened to be one of VinePair’s 50 Best Beers for 2017), and heard him out on why Boston Lager is his favorite beer, why his pick for pretty much any scenario in life is Boston Lager, and what he would do if, God forbid, all the Boston Lager ran dry.
1. What’s your desert-island beer?
That’s a stupid question. Everybody always asks that. The quick answer would be Boston Lager. That’s the original. Put it this way: If you go to my house and open my refrigerator, or open the kegerator, that’s what you’ll find. I drink a lot of beer, and I love to try new beers, but when I go home, I’m done with that. I don’t want new, or interesting, I want a reliably rewarding glass of beer. That would be Boston Lager.
2. What’s the beer that made you fall in love with beer?
My dad was a brewmaster, and my grandfather was a brewmaster, so I grew up around beer. I homebrewed with my dad before it was legal. We got some cans of Blue Ribbon Malt Extract, which was sold as a sweetener, and my dad brought some yeast and some hops home, and we made some homebrew. I thought that was really cool. What I liked about it was it just coming to life. All of a sudden, man, it was like it was simmering, there was so much CO2 being produced. It was like a simmering soup. The idea that millions, maybe billions of these yeast cells were producing all that CO2, molecule by molecule, I thought that was so cool.
3. FMK three beer types: IPA, pilsner, sour?
Oh, gosh. Remember the joke about the young bull and the old bull? It’s in the spirit of your question. There’s this old bull and young bull at the top of the hill, and they’re looking down at a pasture, and it’s full of cows. The young bull says, “Oh, my God, let’s run down the hill and fuck one of them cows.” And the old bull says, “No, let’s walk down the hill and fuck ‘em all.” So maybe that’s it. They all fall into that category. It’s hard to be monogamous around one style of beer, and cervezacide seems like a crime.
4. You’re on death row. What’s your last supper beer?
Boston Lager. When my dad passed away — you go to a funeral, and there’s a coffin — I went up there to say goodbye to him, and to my surprise, he was holding a bottle of Boston Lager. True story.
5. You can only drink one beer for the rest of your life. What is it?
Yeah, I mean, that would be Boston Lager. I still taste a bottle of every batch that we make of everything, and I set aside the Boston Lagers because that’s my reward. No two taste the same to me. I don’t know why. Partly because there’s so much complexity to it, partly because I’ve tasted it so many times, and I’m looking for nuances.
6. What’s the best and worst beer in your fridge right now?
Actually, come to think of it, I’ve got a homebrew from a neighbor. I haven’t opened his beer, but I don’t think it’s going to be as good as Boston Lager.
7. If you could no longer drink beer, what would be your beverage of choice?
My tears, collected in my empty beer glass.