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After 25 Years, Sam Adams Is Still A Boston Brand02:44
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Each of the above barrels contains 53 gallons of Samuel Adams Utopias, an "extreme" brew with an alcohol content of 27 percent by volume. (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)
Each of the above barrels contains 53 gallons of Samuel Adams Utopias, an "extreme" brew with an alcohol content of 27 percent by volume. (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)

Monday is Patriots' Day in Massachusetts, a holiday commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

Monday is also the anniversary of Samuel Adams beer, which was founded 25 years ago in Boston. Since then, the company has grown to become the largest American-owned brewery in the country.

The brewery is still headquartered in Jamaica Plain, and it's still run by its founder, Jim Koch.

Founder and CEO Jim Koch says he tries a sample of every single batch that leaves the brewery. (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)
Founder and CEO Jim Koch says he tries a sample of every single batch that leaves the brewery. (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)

Standing on the floor of his vast JP brewery, Koch laughs, remembering the operation's roots.

"I started making Sam Adams in my kitchen, and the whole company was two people," Koch said. "We never thought that this would happen."

Koch comes from a family of brewers. He is, in fact, a sixth-generation brew master. And 25 years ago, he says he looked at the beer landscape in the United States and didn't like what he saw.

"I saw big domestic brewers making enormous quantities of beer for the mass market," Koch said. "And then people who wanted a little more flavorful beer had to turn to imports, which were often stale."

To Koch, it would be something of a "revolution" in beer — complex, flavorful beer available fresh in the United States. That brought him to the beer's namesake, Samuel Adams.

He jokes that his mission lined up with Adams' work to create an independent United States of America.

"Now, somebody has declared beer independence. We don't need beer from the Old World. We can make it here," Koch says.

Two and a half decades after founding Samuel Adams, Koch still samples every batch of beer produced by the brewery.

"I'm still deeply involved in the brewing, the new ingredients, the new beers," Koch said.

One of the "benefits" of working at a brewery is the expectation to drink on the job. And the beer is always on tap. (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)
One of the "benefits" of working at a brewery is the expectation to drink on the job. And the beer is always on tap. (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)

So what does Koch look for in a beer? He lifts the glass of Boston Lager in his hand. Before he can even take a sip, he considers the beer's color, smell, and head — the bubbles at its top.

Then it's time to drink. "I should get first body, then sweetness from the malt, followed by spiciness, and then a clean, smooth bitterness," Koch said.

But with 100 different brews in his repertoire, Koch admits there have been duds. Sometimes, the brew didn't work. Other times, a brew hasn't made it to market simply because Koch didn't like it.

"At Samuel Adams, the customer is not always right. The brewer is always right," Koch proclaimed.

This program aired on April 19, 2010.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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