Earlier this fall I was fortunate enough to be in the great city of Boston (great for food, beer and history to be sure) and it dawned on me that while I have visited more than 210 breweries in the last 23 years, I never made it to craft beer giant Boston Brewing Co. the home of Sam Adams. Seemed about time to check it out.
I made my first acquaintance with Sam Adams as everyone did when Boston Lager burst on the beer scene – my first experience in the late 80’s. But I was also fortunate to be around when the old Sam Adams Brew Pub in Phila opened in 1989 just a few blocks up from where I worked on Sansom street. It was soon joined by the Dock Street brew pub which opened a few months later on Market St. — kicking off the early Philly Craft beer scene.
Like the real Sam Adams being part of the birth of our nation – The Sam Adams brew pub had ties to some of the early leaders of the Phila Craft Beer Nation. The history includes beer scion William Reed — the now owner of the Standard Tap (he brewed the extract Sam Adams brews at the pub) to the legendary Tom Peters of Monks (who managed the Sam’s brew pub as it expanded to what is now the site of Nodding Head). It closed as Sam Adams in 1999 as the 10 year lease signed with the owner of the Oyster House (David Mink) expired.
During that 1980’s there was no actual Sam Adams production brewery – it was contract brewed in locations like the Pittsburgh Brewery – generating some criticism from other craft brewers and macro breweries alike. Eventually owner Jim Koch opened a small pilot brewery in Jamaica Plain Mass (just outside the Boston City limits) while the production brewing was done in other various Boston Brewing sites nationwide – the largest of which is in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley area.
I was highly entertained by the brewery tour at Jamaica Plain – it went well over an hour, asking only for donations to charity for compensation – and was chock full of real beer information, Sam Adams lore and fun. We crushed hops in our fingers and then “made it rain”. We tasted grain and checked out the brewing process. Our guide was appropriately hipster snarky without being offensive in any way.
We ended up in the huge tasting room where pitchers of four Sam Adams brews were passed down the long tables. As our guide Graham noted, there was some pretty horrendous beer pouring going on (a young lady to my left allowed her beer to foam all over the table), but on the other hand any beer left in the pitchers could be grabbed for refills. We sampled Boston Lager as well as some of the new one-off irish stouts and “Grumpy Monk” newer Belgian styles.
On the way out of the swag shop we were left at the beer garden, where a special “Long Shot” competition of home brews was in progress. What made this particularly interesting was that these were all brewed by non-brewing employees of the brewery. The peach saison got my vote.
These guys clearly know how to make very good beer, and put on a nice show for beer appreciators. They may not be as cool as the smaller newer breweries anymore, but they can still strut their stuff for craft beer fans anywhere. If you are in the Boston area and have the time, check out the tour – and maybe drink a few more at the venerable “Doyles Bar” after (take the party trolley!), and learn that you can still have a wicked good time with Sam Adams after 30 years.