How Samuel Adams Grew Out of Home Brew

The folks from Samuel Adams are trekking down from Red Sox Land to New York City on Nov. 11 to host what they describe as a “small business speed coaching and national ‘Pitch Room’ competition” as part of the brewery’s Brewing the American Dream, a micro-lending and mentoring program for small business owners working in the food, beverage, craft brewing, and hospitality industries. The event, held at The Dumbo Loft in Brooklyn Monday evening, gives attendees the chance to take part in 20-minute coaching sessions with Sam Adams founder Jim Koch and representatives of the micro-lender Accion and several area businesses. Also on the bill, a Shark Tank–like Pitch Room competition, the winner of which gets a trip to Boston for the brewery’s year-end national finals. The big prize is a $10,000 business grant, further mentoring from Sam Adams, and an opportunity to pitch his or her idea to national retailers.[related]

Last month, Samuel Adams hosted an unrelated event that also gave non-professionals a chance to see their efforts realized: the brewery’s 10th LongShot American Homebrew Contest, conducted as part of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The first two iterations of the contest were held in 1996 and 1997, and it was resumed in 2006. Three winners are named, and their brews are produced commercially and sold in a variety six-pack for a limited time. This year’s laureates were Russ Brunner’s American Stout (Brunner brews in Tamarac, Fla.), Cesar Marron’s Grätzer, a Polish-style wheat beer (he’s from Evanston, Ill.), and Teresa Bury’s Pineapple IPA, created by a Samuel Adams employee. Their beers will be on the market in the spring of 2014.

The Daily Meal spoke to Jim Koch after the LongShot competition, about the contest and about home-brewing in general.

The Daily Meal: What was the genesis of the LongShot American Homebrew Contest?

Jim Koch: As someone whose brewing career began in his own kitchen, I understand the passion of home-brewers, as well as the challenges and rewards of brewing quality beer at home. We started the Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest to shine a light on those people who have a strong passion for brewing and give some exposure to their wonderful beers. Each year, LongShot winners’ beers are sold nationally in the Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest variety six-pack. I also know that home-brewing is a great hobby, but it can sometimes serve as a launching pad to a full-time career in brewing.

TDM: What got you interested in brewing?

JK: I come from a long line of brewers, so I guess you could say brewing is in my blood. For five generations before me, in both Germany and the United States, the men in the Koch family were brewers. Though I didn’t begin my brewing career until well after college, it was still something that interested me on a deeper level. I’m extremely passionate about creating beers that are of the highest quality and flavor.

TDM: Any secrets from that first batch you’re willing to share?

JK: The first batch of what eventually became Samuel Adams Boston Lager was brewed in my kitchen in 1984. I found the recipe tucked away in the attic of my parents’ house; it actually came from the 1870s and was written by my great-great-grandfather, Louis Koch. He was a brewmaster in his day, and when he brewed this beer it was called Louis Koch Lager. I’ve always brewed it according to the original recipe, using all natural ingredients — no adjuncts — and traditional brewing methods. And don’t forget sanitation!

TDM: What are some words of wisdom for hopeful home-brewers?

JK: For those who are either looking to get into home-brewing or who currently home-brew, I’d say that no matter how much time, effort, or stress might go into each batch, there’s no more rewarding feeling in the world than tasting delicious beer that you created yourself. There are plenty of frustrations that go along with home-brewing, but home-brewers are a tight-knit community of passionate individuals. The finished product makes all the hard work worth it.

TDM: What is the biggest challenge home-brewers face?

JK: Home-brewers face a number of challenges. Simply put, brewing good beer isn’t easy. In some cases, space is an issue. To brew high-quality beer, you need ample space, and oftentimes home-brewers don’t have that kind of space to spare in their homes. Home-brewing is also time-consuming and requires immense amounts of patience and attention to detail.

TDM: When did you first decide to actually start a brewery?

JK: There were a lot of factors that drove me to found Samuel Adams. I graduated from college and decided to take a hiatus as an instructor for Outward Bound. Years later, I eventually returned to school to earn advanced degrees, and landed at the Boston Consulting Group. Being around entrepreneurs and CEOs instilled the spirit of entrepreneurialism in me. That, coupled with my passion for full-flavored beer, led me to start brewing Samuel Adams. I was convinced I could find a niche in the competitive beer market. Once I brewed that first batch of Boston Lager in my kitchen, I was hooked. But it wasn’t until we won “Best Beer in America” at the Great American Beer Festival our first year, that I knew I was onto something.

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