The phenomenal beer writer Andy Crouch penned this interesting (and if you’re of the TL;DR generation, long) piece about Boston Beer Company, its founder Jim Koch, and their overall place in The Craft Beer Movement™. If you’re interested in beer – and since you’re reading some shithead’s homebrewing blog, I’m gonna assume you are – you should take the time to read the whole article. But the long-and-short (or TL;DR) of the piece is that despite being the founder of the Craft Beer Movement™, Sam Adams is being “left behind” by the shifting tastes of craft beer drinkers and the changing marketplace.
Crouch talks to a lot of respected industry folks and gathers a lot of perspectives and opinions for this piece and presents them fairly and evenly. The article starts with Koch essentially pitching a shit-fit in a Boston bar called Row 34 (full disclosure: never been. It’s an oyster bar and I don’t like seafood) because they don’t have his beloved Sam Adams Boston Lager available (or any other Boston Beer Company products, I’d assume). It doesn’t paint Koch in a particular nice light, but it is what it is. Crouch then gets the co-owner of Deep Ellum and the owner of Lord Hobo to essentially say Boston Lager is a mediocre product.
And that pissed me right the fuck off.
The reason that bars like Deep Ellum, Lord Hobo, and Row 34 don’t serve Sam Adam isn’t because it is a mediocre product – though they’ll swear to that, up and down – it’s because they can make an extra $3 a pint on a truly mediocre product (from say, Night Shift) and that in turn makes them more money. That business decision, that doesn’t upset me, and I’d assume if the owner of Row 34 – who apparently sat quietly by while Koch berated his staff (nice) – had simply said that to Harvard MBA Koch, that would’ve been the end of the discussion.
And that’s the crux of what upset me. Jim Koch is an excellent businessman who became a disruptive force in an industry with a high barrier to entry, fought tough and nail for three decades to establish his brand, and created a niche market and then WILLINGLY HELPED other people get in on his market share (which ultimately boosted his own profits, so it wasn’t purely altruistic). And now Boston Beer is “too big for craft.” People get upset that the Brewers’ Association definition of what is “craft beer” has been extended to continuously include Boston Beer, while casually forgetting that Jim Koch helped found not just the Craft Beer Movement™, but also the Brewers’ Association. And then they point to the fact that he sits on the board as to why the definition shifts with his company, ignoring the fact that there would be no association, no market, and none of them if it weren’t for him.
It’s this dis-ingenuousness that is infuriating. Koch, a businessman who helped found a market, is being disrespected for being too good at making money, by the people making money off the market he created. And for any and all of Koch’s downsides, he’s passionate about his product, and he’s honest about it (save for the marketing fluff that Crouch touches upon in his piece). So I totally understand his frustration when people call his product “mediocre” or “middle of the road” and claim that is why they won’t serve it, when what it really comes down to is that they can swindle Johnny Ironic-Mustache out of an extra $3 for a truly inferior product.
A side tangent on Boston Lager’s “mediocrity”: fuck you if you think you’re too good for Boston Lager. Your palate isn’t “sophisticated,” it’s scorched earth from the ridiculous hop-bomb West Coast IPAs. Most of the IPAs that people love: they’re garbage. Beer snobs – the hipsters with the fedoras who want to know if this beer is vegan – confuse scarcity with quality and ubiquity with mediocrity. Even Dann Paquette of Pretty Things, who is essentially King Hipster, had this to say:
“annoying young hipster attitude toward beer. It’s the same sort of attitude that you find in music. ‘Oh, that brewery was so last year.’ People want to try new stuff all the time, [and] there are two sides to the coin on that for Boston Beer. They’re so big nationally, but I’m sure they’d love to be back on the scene in these beer bars.”
(Another side note: Pretty Things makes some excellent beers, and every time I’ve met Dann and his wife Martha they’ve been super-cool people)
And Dann’s absolutely right. And he’s echoed by my friend Jamie, who is also quoted in the article: “Right now, it’s about what is shiny and new.” Which is true, but it’s also fucking bullshit and it’s why Koch is so pissed off. Here’s a quote from a friend of mine/fellow homebrewer/beer retailer on Facebook (emphasis is mine):
My biggest complaint with all of “you” (“you” being consumers) is that no one cares, at all, for beer that they can pull off the shelf every day. GI sits, unless it’s BCBS or a variant, Wormtown Hopulence, or MassWhole, or Sweet Tats sits for weeks, while Be Hoppy causes fist fights, even MBC isn’t immune: with Mo and Peeper and even Red Wheelbarrow becoming “shelf turds” because it isn’t Lunch, Nightshift started with a bang, now only Morph draws customers in. I see people in the store everyday who buy no beer, unless it’s tough to get. The “I’ve never had Founders, give me four 4-packs of KBS…” customers. I call them “beer poachers”, and they were created by the breweries, in conjunction with guys like me (beer sales), and their killing the industry.
Hipsters. I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them!
My favorite (read: most infuriating) quote is this gem:
“Authenticity is extremely important to millennials, more so than any other generation that we’ve seen before,” says Michelle Snodgrass of Vizeum, a strategic marketing agency that works with global brands such as Anheuser-Busch. “Millennials can see right through insincerity, and they’re actually looking for it.”
Authenticity might be important to millennials because they have absolutely none of it themselves. They may actually be looking for it, but they wouldn’t know what it was if it latched onto their balls like an angry wolverine. My generation, sadly, was raised on instant gratification, participation trophies, garbage food, mind-numbing media and a constant feedback loop that your opinion is totally relevant and important regardless of how little you actually fucking know about it. Millennials are leaving, breathing manifestations of Holden Caulfield that lack the sort of self-awareness to realize their own irony.
Stop giving power to these trolls. They know nothing, they do nothing, and pretty soon they won’t be able to buy your shit anymore when the trust fund runs out. The best part of Jamie’s quote from above is “Right now, it’s about what is shiny and new.” Right now. That’s the key insight here: all of this is temporary. That doesn’t make it any less annoying or infuriating when I’m stuck sitting next to five dude-bros at a bar who ordered a flight and can’t figure out which is the IPA and which is the stout but are still totally beer geeks, bro. It doesn’t make it any less annoying to see an eyeroll when I send a beer back for having an off-flavor that fuck you, yes I can detect, because I’m not so fuckhead 21-year-old from Emerson having his first brown ale.
Craft beer – including Sam Adams – is amazing, it’s everything else about the Craft Beer Movement™ that fucking sucks.
Post-Script: I couldn’t fit it into the screed above but I want to just say that I think Tony Magee from Lagunitas is a pompous whiny douchebag and he’s an ungrateful shit.
EDIT: Hi, folks. So this got a lot more attention that I ever expected. Thanks to everyone who shared and commented. I appreciate all the discussion, opinions, feedback, and insults about my appearance (okay, less so on this one). I just wanted to drop a quick note to say I have to stop responding to all the comments because they’re coming in quicker than I can keep up. I will try to check in periodically to make sure they get posted/approved. Cheers.