Throwback Thursday: Happy 30th, Sam Adams

It was a different world of beer when Jim Koch brewed his first batch of Boston lager.


In 1985, James Koch spoke to Boston magazine about his unnamed new brew.

It was 30 years ago, in 1984, that Jim Koch brewed his first batch of an old family beer recipe.

At the time, he worked for the Boston Consulting Group, but he came from a family of brewers. Soon after, he’d left the lucrative job to start the Boston Beer Company. “I figure, ‘Why not?'” he told this magazine in a 1985 interview, when the beer was still unnamed and the company was operating out of a briefcase. “If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, why not do something you want to do?” A few months later, he brought the beer to market as Sam Adams Boston Lager.

On the one hand, the name implied some grand ambitions. This was long before the craft beer movement, when the market was dominated by pale, mass-produced lagers. “I wanted to start a beer revolution,” he remembers. “Sam Adams started a political revolution, and we wanted to start a beer revolution.”

On the other hand, he had some modest goals. At the time, he saw his beer as appealing to a niche market. In his interview, the magazine reported “Koch likens his copper-colored, full bodied beer to the original Löwenbräu and the European versions of Spaten Münchener, Helles, and Ipsner Urquell and he’s hoping there are enough beer aficionados in Boston […] to know what he’s talking about.” He introduced the beer into about 30 bars and restaurants in Boston on Patriot’s Day of 1985, about 29 years ago.

“I’ll never make as much money at this as I did at BCG,” Koch told the Boston Globe in 1985. “But I saw that it was the time for microbreweries and hand-crafted beers, and it seemed a tragedy that I was ending a line of five generations of brewers.”

Luckily, the 30 years since that first batch of lager have seen a shift in beer culture unlike anything Koch expected. His brewery now accounts for nearly 1 percent of the U.S. beer market, he says. “If you would have told me we would be at 1 percent 30 years ago, I would have said no freaking way.” As for that salary he left behind at BCG, Bloomberg reported in 2013 that Koch is now a billionaire, so it seems the brewing business worked out just fine.

Christopher Hughes contributed reporting.