samuel adams boston lager

Samuel Adams Boston Lager, often simply shortened to “Sam Adams”, is the flagship beer of the Boston Brewing Company, a popular, highly awarded beer that has enjoyed a solid reputation both in its home city and abroad for almost half a century. This popular beer is well-established in the American market, but few know the entire Sam Adams story. Here’s our abridged version of the story:

Samuel Adams Boston Lager was first introduced in 1984. It was named for the American revolutionary and patriot Samuel Adams and was first brewed in founder Jim Koch’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was brewed in response to the commercial macrobrew offerings then available to American drinkers, and is today available nationwide. 

That’s the brief answer to when Sam Adams came out and why, but there is plenty more detail on offer. In this article, we’ll take a close look at why Samuel Adams came out, where it was first brewed, and how the beer has fared since its humble beginnings in Jim Koch’s home.

Why Did Samuel Adams Come Out?

Samuel Adams was the first beer produced by the Boston Brewing Company. Company founder Jim Koch claims that this amber Vienna lager is based on an old family recipe, brewed his first ever batch of Samuel Adams in the kitchen of his home. 

At the time, Koch was working for the Boston Consulting Group and developed a plan to sell quality beer to local drinkers. In the early 1980s, the American beer market was dominated largely by easy-drinking brewing giants like Budweiser and Coors. Koch wanted to offer a higher quality beer to local drinkers and leaned heavily on his proud Boston heritage to do so, naming the beer after Samuel Adams. Samuel Adams – the man – was an American patriot and revolutionary who, like Jim Koch, inherited the brewing tradition from his father.

Koch sold the beer originally as the “Louis Koch Lager” in reverence of his brewing ancestors, but changed the name to “Samuel Adams” in celebration of the Patriots’ Day weekend, the anniversary of the first battle of the American Revolution. Within two months, the beer was voted “Best Beer in America”.

Changing Beer Trends And Preferences

In the early 1980s, American drinkers were leaning overwhelmingly in favor of light beers. Miller Lite made its debut in 1975, and light beers became a popular, profitable endeavor for America’s brewing companies. Lower calorie counts, lower carbs, and easy drinkability were the name of the game.

Jim Koch, who was taught beer brewing by his father, disagreed. Koch believed that American beer drinkers deserved a better beer than was available in the early 80s, and furthermore believed that his family recipe was exactly the beer to do it. To this day, Jim Koch personally tastes every batch of Sam Adams to ensure that it meets his own exacting standards.

Meeting Demand

Jim Koch first brewed Sam Adams in his own kitchen, but demand for his beer quickly outgrew his capacity to make it. 

At first, Koch rented excess capacity at the Pittsburgh Brewing Company in order to meet the vast quantities of Sam Adams that Boston’s beer fans were demanding. Koch’s sales simply kept on increasing, leading him to pursue similar agreements with other brewing companies. This approach saw Sam Adams becoming decentralized, despite its steadfast reputation as a Boston lager. This widespread manufacturing allowed Jim Koch to sell his beer outside of Massachusetts quite early in the piece, including brewing facilities in Portland, Cincinnati, and a smaller facility open to the public at home in Jamaica Plain, Boston.

While the major American brewers were pursuing ever lighter beers, Jim Koch doubled down on his family recipe, and American drinkers responded enthusiastically. The company continued to expand throughout the 1980s, eventually going public in the mid-1990s as the Boston Brewing Company started buying out the facilities it had once rented out for excess space.

The American Craft Beer Boom

Although Sam Adams is not considered a craft beer anymore, it was once a prime example of American craft brewing. It’s worth noting that the idea of “craft beer” (or microbrewing) is not necessarily embraced worldwide. In an American context, it refers largely to the art and process of brewing beer. Early microbrewing in the US began in the 1970s, although people have brewed their own beer for far longer. In Europe, for example, small regional breweries have endured for centuries without the “craft” label: it’s more relevant to American drinkers because the American beer-drinking landscape was dominated for so long by “macrobrewers”, the large, multinational corporations behind the major American beers like Coors, Bud, and Busch.

Sam Adams was one of the first American craft beers to find widespread success. This was largely in spite of the major American brewers who ruled the roost. Jim Koch named his beer after a revolutionary because he, too, aspired to revolutionize the beer market for the better. 

Where Was Samuel Adams Boston Lager First Brewed?

Sam Adams, as we know it, was first brewed by founder Jim Koch in his own kitchen. However, Koch inherited the recipe for what became Samuel Adams from his great-great-grandfather, Louis Koch. Louis Koch’s recipe was for an amber-colored Vienna lager that he called the “best beer”.

Vienna lagers have a rich and storied history in Europe, dating back to the early 19th century. Vienna lager is typically richer in flavor and color than pale lagers, although not quite as dark or heavy as a dark lager. 

Although Samuel Adams is called “Boston Lager,” it was not initially brewed in Boston, although it was first available in Jamaica Plains, an area of the city. Early brewing efforts took place in Pittsburgh, Portland, and even Cincinnati, the city that Jim Koch originally called home. 

Today, Sam Adams is brewed in a variety of Boston Brewing-owned breweries throughout the United States. Key to the brand’s identity is its sense of American pride. Jim Koch brews his beer in the United States for American drinkers, defying the foreign-owned brewers that makeup 85% of the American beer market. 

From Jim’s House to the White House

It’s no coincidence that today, Jim Koch is known as the founding father of American craft beer. When he started out, Koch, armed only with a briefcase, a family recipe, and his litany of Harvard business degrees, went door to door all over Boston. The proposition was simple: Koch asked bar owners if they thought his beer was good enough to offer to customers. At the time, his goal was thirty bars in the city of Boston, getting one new customer a day. It wasn’t long before, thanks to his Boston Consulting connections, Jim Koch found himself selling twenty-five cases of Boston Lager to the White House. The Secret Service insisted on picking up the beer to try it before the President could, supposedly to test whether it was safe.

Since Patriots’ Day weekend in 1985, the Boston Brewing Company has gone from Jim Koch and his long walks through Boston to an 850-employee company with $560 million in annual revenue. Boston Brewing’s one percent of the American beer market might not seem like much, but it’s a remarkable feat for a business that started in a kitchen and wound up in the White House.