Supporting Our BostonStrong Community

SAM_BAA_Marathon_Banner_skyline[2]The Boston Marathon has been a cherished tradition in our hometown for more than 100 years. It is a unique athletic event. There is no winning or losing team. It is open to athletes from all countries, backgrounds genders and beliefs. Hundreds of thousands of greater Bostonians line the race route to cheer for the commitment and stamina of all the runners. It is also a celebration of the city of Boston, personal achievement and communal philanthropy.

Samuel Adams is a proud sponsor of the Boston Marathon.  The race is a part of what it means to be a Bostonian and the holiday, Patriot’s Day, is a uniquely Massachusetts holiday which holds special meaning for us as Americans, Massachusetts residents, brewers of Samuel Adams and me personally.  Patriot’s Day commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution led by Samuel Adams our namesake, a defender of liberty and revolutionary leader.  It was also on this holiday in 1985 that I first delivered Samuel Adams to bars throughout Boston from my station wagon.  I have always thought of Patriots Day as our holiday here at The Boston Beer Company. Read More

Samuel Adams in a Can

Sam Can_SketchCraft brewers have debated putting beer in bottles vs. cans for years.  On one side of the aisle, you have purists who think that cans are meant to carry mass domestic beer. On the other side, brewers who see the benefits – a can is lighter weight, blocks out sunlight and enables you to take beer places where glass bottles aren’t allowed.  There’s even a website dedicated to “news and reviews for the canned beer revolution.”

I’m the first one to admit that I’ve been a purist about putting Sam Adams in a can.  I wasn’t convinced that the beer would taste as good as it does from a bottle.  I had flavor concerns based on my own experiences. 

The debate has moved from brewers to our drinkers, and we threw wood on the fire a few weeks ago when word got out that we’ve decided to put Boston Lager in cans.  We saw comments posted to beer forums, mainly from craft beer drinkers who welcome the change.  The feedback on Facebook was mixed and fans repeatedly asked the same question: why?

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to address some of those concerns and explain why we’re making a change.

Why now?

My friends, Dale Katechis and Marty Jones at Oskar Blues, pioneered the process of canning craft beers, and I’m grateful for their early ingenuity. They took a chance when many brewers, including myself, stuck to using good ole’ glass bottles.  Over the years, as can technologies continued to improve, more and more craft brewers decided to offer their beer in cans.

I knew that when I took this leap of faith, I wanted to do it in a way that would be true to Sam Adams.  So two years ago we put together a team including our brewers and an industrial design firm to see if there was any way to improve the standard beverage can for the taste of a full flavored beer like Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

To me, the standard beverage can is sort of like the standard pint glass. It works just fine and is familiar and reliable. But, as the generic option, it may not be the best choice for a more flavorful beer. Eventually, we brought in sensory experts to validate our new can design. The goal: to develop a new can design that would give our drinkers the best tasting Sam Adams in a can. The result of several years of research and testing is a new design, which we’re calling the Sam Can.

What’s the benefit of a can?

Ask any craft brewer that puts their beer in cans and they’ll tell you the same thing.  First and foremost, you can take cans to places where bottles can’t go like the beach, hiking, golfing, boating and BBQs.  Cans also protect the liquid from sunlight and oxidation which can compromise the flavor of the beer.

What’s different about this can?

The new can design aims to provide a drinking experience that is a little closer to the taste and comfort of drinking beer from a glass. What you’ll notice:

  • The larger, wider lid helps open your mouth allowing for more air flow during the drinking experience.
  • The can opening is located slightly farther away from the edge of the lid, placing it closer to the drinker’s nose to help accentuate the hop aromas.
  • The hourglass ridge creates turbulence (like our patented Perfect Pint glass) which “pushes flavor out of the beer” and the extended lip places the beer at the front of your palate to maximize enjoyment of the sweetness from the malt.
The larger, wider lid helps open your mouth allowing for more air flow during the drinking experience.

The larger, wider lid helps open your mouth allowing for more air flow during the drinking experience.

All of these aspects of the new can work in concert to allow more airflow – and most importantly aroma – which enhances the flavor of the beer (have you ever tried tasting food when you’re stuffed up and can’t smell it?).

Our new can design required a million dollar investment in special equipment tooling along with time, research and testing.  We think that the difference will be a subtle but noticeably better drinking experience than the standard beverage can.  The Sam Can Is probably less of an improvement over the standard beverage can then our Perfect Pint glass is over the standard pint glass. It may seem a little crazy to make that kind of investment, but we felt the small improvement in the drinking experience was worth the expense.  We make decisions based on the beer, not on the bottom line.

Why are so many people down on cans?

There are a lot of myths out there about putting craft beer in cans.  We’re not the only ones that have faced it.  Other brewers, like our neighbor down the street, Harpoon Brewery, also took to their blog and ably addressed some of the top myths that drinkers raised when they announced they were installing a canning line.

But at the end of the day, the choice is up to you and your personal preference.  And as brewers, we work hard to bring you options.  Don’t get me wrong, if I had the choice, I’d always opt for drinking craft beer out of a glass.  But sometimes that isn’t an option – like when you’re backpacking, playing golf, or on a boat.  For those occasions, the Sam Can is an option.

When will we see the new can?

We’re currently in the process of installing a new canning and hope to conduct a test run within the next couple of weeks.  If all goes well, the plan is to release Boston Lager and Summer Ale in cans early this summer.  Our fingers are crossed.

The Paradox of Popularity…

Unless you’re a brewer you probably missed the “Beer Advocate” thread last week bashing several craft breweries for being over-rated. Seemed to me the criticism was really about popularity not quality. Today’s craft beer lovers are on a hunt to discover the next new thing and, as brewers, most of us are trying to create interesting new beers.  That’s great – we all love making new beers – but that doesn’t mean that an established and successful beer is any less great because it’s been around for a while and has attracted a big following.

My friend Sam Calagione was one of the targets. I’ve known Sam a long time, and I’ve brewed beside him, so I know how innovative he is, and how committed he is to quality brewing. Dogfish Head beers are terrific. Period.  The sales of Dogfish Head have grown because the beer is crazy good.  Period.  No true lover of craft beer should have a problem with his success, in my honest opinion.Someone else dissed him because he had a TV show about his brewing adventures and his brewery.   Hey, Sam happens to be a very interesting and engaging guy.  And he works his ass off.  Because he has the energy and drive to get himself and DFH on the Discovery Channel, he has done all craft brewers a service. He was also promoting all craft beer through his efforts.  I thank him for doing that.  And if that means he was taking craft beer to the masses, more power to him. 

I remember, and survived, the years when craft beer was this odd little corner of the beer cooler visited only by homebrewers and crazy beer geeks that everyone else ignored.  That might sound cool and romantic.  Actually, it sucked.  It was hard to stay in business and many of the early craft brewers didn’t make it.  I think it’s great that craft beer has entered the beer drinker mainstream.  Craft beer has become popular today because craft brewers are making great beer.  I don’t know of any craft brewer who succeeded by selling out and making crappy beer.  I can think of some who failed by neglecting to make great beer.  Can I offer you a Pig Pounder?  Or a Brewski?

I took some offense myself from one lengthy post saying that Sam Adams used to be a great beer until they grew and started using cheaper ingredients and the quality slipped.  That pissed me off because it couldn’t be further from the truth.  I should know since I still select those ingredients.  Let me give you one example.  When we were much smaller, we selected our hops after the larger brewers had already made their selection, we accepted the same growing practices that everyone else did; we processed the hops in an industry standard procedure, etc.  Today, we’re the largest buyer of noble hops in the world.  So we select our hops first.  We’re important enough to our farmers to ask them to keep those hops on the vines longer to maximize the aromatic oils we want for Boston Lager.  We have a proprietary pelletizing process that requires freezing the hops down to forty degrees below zero to preserve the integrity of the lupulin glands. We couldn’t do those things when we were tiny.  Things like these may not be cool and cute but they do make better beer. I could go on and that’s just the hops.  And the same thing goes for other craft brewers.  Ask any craft brewer if his or her quality has improved or has declined as he or she got bigger or more established.  I know what the answer will be.

Brewing Savor Flowers in 2011

The fact is that it’s possible, even admirable, to grow beyond tiny while improving your quality. Sam Calagione did it, and I believe Sam Adams has done it. I think Samuel Adams Boston Lager is better today than it was in 1984 or 1995. And I think 60 Minute is better today than ever.  Thanks, Sam.

I remember losing a high profile Boston restaurant account in 1985. The chef/owner was upset because we had gotten “too big”.  At that point we were in eighty places in the entire world.  To him, that was too big. I realized that some people will judge you primarily on your size and availability, not on whether you make great beer.  So I decided to ignore people like that and grow anyway.  To me, great beer comes from the quality of the ingredients and the recipe, and the skill, passion and commitment of the brewer.  When I lose that passion and commitment, I’ll stop making beer.  It hasn’t happened yet.

We’re lucky to be in the middle of a big growth curve for craft beer and I’m glad to see the growth. Many brewers have worked very long hours for many years to get us to this place. Let’s appreciate the category’s growth instead of taking aim at honorable, independent brewers just because their beers have become well known or widely admired.