Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company
(CNN) -- Jim Koch is the Founder of the Boston Beer company, the company behind the Samuel Adams brand. Koch is carrying on the family business with 4 generations of brewers before him. Before joining the brewing business, Koch was a mountaineering instructor.
CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Jim Koch, and welcome.
Jim Koch: Hi out there! I hope you are all having a beer.
CNN Moderator: How did you first become interested in brewing?
Jim Koch: I had my first beer when I was four years old because my father was a brew master. In fact, I'm a 6th generation brew master. So, I was pretty much born into brewing beer.
CNN Moderator: Do you ever fear you will get sick of beer?
Jim Koch: Well I've been drinking beer for 47 years, and I haven't gotten sick of it yet. In fact, every time I have a Sam Adams, I am always looking for new flavors and experiences in the same beer. So no, I haven't gotten tired of it yet.
Question from chat room: What is your favorite kind of beer?
Jim Koch: My favorite kind of beer is rich malty lager. My favorite beer in the world is still Samuel Adams Boston Lager. I've been drinking that beer almost every day of my life for the last 17 years, and I still haven't gotten tired of it.
Question from chat room: What effect will the market have on beer sales?
Jim Koch: Well, I think that the stock market might hurt the fancy wines, but something like Sam Adams is a very affordable indulgence. You might not be able to go out and buy an expensive bottle of wine, but for $12.00 you can get 12 bottles of great beer.
Question from chat room: How much has competition from micro-brews affected the "mainstream" breweries? Do you consider Sam Adams a micro-brew?
Jim Koch: Sam Adams has been the leader of the American Craft Brewing revolution. But our main competition is really with the imported beers. Mainstream beer drinkers aren't looking for beers with flavor and taste like Sam Adams. We get drinkers from the imported beers and we do it by selling better and fresher beer.
Question from chat room: I have seen in the news, and also heard Ben Affleck mention on Jay Leno recently, that Sam Adams is a sponsor of Project Greenlight. Why was partnering with the project a good fit for Sam Adams?
Jim Koch: Project Greenlight is an opportunity for an unknown screenwriter to submit a script. The winner will be able to direct his script and get a million-dollar budget, plus a distribution agreement with Miramax films. HBO is making a television show out of the whole process. The partnership came out of the shared values and experiences that I had with Samuel Adams and that Matt and Ben had with Good Will Hunting. When I started Sam Adams, I couldn't get any distributors to carry it even though the beer went on to create a brewing revolution and win awards all over the world. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck had the script for "Good Will Hunting" for years, but no one would allow them to make it into a movie the way they wanted to. When the movie was made, it went on to win an Oscar for the screenplay. So all of us believe that there are talented individuals out there who need a break, and all of us know that sometimes you have to break the rules to get unique wonderful things done. So, the partnership made a lot of sense, especially since both Ben and Matt grew up in Boston and enjoy Sam Adams.
Question from chat room: How has the increase in production size affected the quality of Sam Adams beer, in your opinion?
Jim Koch: I always considered it a challenge to "improve" the quality of my beer as I grew, and as we have been successful we now have more leverage with hop dealers and other suppliers and more consistency from batch to batch.
Question from chat room: What obligation do you feel you have to educate young people on alcohol abuse?
Jim Koch: I have four children of my own, and they have always had the same rule I had with my father, which was that they could have beer whenever they wanted as long as they drank it with me. So, I believe that parents need to teach responsible drinking to their children. I believe also that brewers need to be involved. With Sam Adams, I have always tried to educate people about drinking beer for its flavor and taste, not for its impact. A rich flavor beer like Sam Adams is much easier to enjoy than it is to chug down.
Question from chat room: I am in a local production of "Kiss Me Kate" in Perth, Scotland next week. What kind of beer would people have drunk in the U.S. in the 1950ís when the musical is set?
Jim Koch: In the 1950's, Americans were drinking local beers from medium size breweries. Those beers had approximately two times the hop content of today's beers and were more full bodied.
Question from chat room: What was the first store, or bar, to carry Sam Adams?
Jim Koch: The Dockside Bar on State Street in Boston was the first order that I ever got.
Question from chat room: Are you working on any new beers that you can tell us about?
Jim Koch: I'm always working on two or three new beers, but nothing that I've got in the tank right now is even close to release.
Question from chat room: Do you do anything special for your most loyal drinkers?
Jim Koch: First, we keep making great beer with every batch. Beyond that, we invite them all to our brewery in Boston where they can taste some of our special beers including Samuel Adams Millennium, the strongest beer ever made. It is 40 proof.
Question from chat room: What is the situation with the alcohol percentage laws on beer? Why is their such stringency in the law since wine is usually more potent, yet legal?
Jim Koch: Beer has historically been around 5 percent alcohol by volume. In many states, the sales of beer are regulated with respect to alcohol content. For example, my Sam Adams Millennium is illegal in about 12 states. Most of these laws are remnants of prohibition.
Question from chat room: As technology moves forward, I hear a lot about brewers experimenting with PET packaging. Do you ever see Sam Adams being sold in a plastic container?
Jim Koch: Not until I'm completely comfortable that the quality of the beer will be preserved. Right now, I don't even put Sam Adams in cans because I think they impart a metallic taste to the beer.
Question from chat room: Is Sam Adams Millennium available through general distribution?
Jim Koch: No. We made only 3,000 bottles of millennium and sold them all in the first week. They sold for $200.00 per bottle. The first bottle was auctioned off on Yahoo's auction site and went for almost $5000.00. To my knowledge, the only place that Millennium is available in on auction sites like Yahoo.
CNN Moderator: Would you want your children to carry on the business?
Jim Koch: It is their life, not mine. I just them to do what makes them happy. I happen to be happy making beer. I want them to make their own choices.
Question from chat room: What have been your biggest challenges in founding a brewery and building it into a world-class organization?
Jim Koch: Educating American beer drinkers to the fact that a small American brewer like Sam Adams can make some of the best beers in the world -- far better beers than the ordinary imports that Americans have often held in high esteem.
Question from chat room: What advice would you give to anyone trying to start a small business such as a brewery?
Jim Koch: Do what you love. The chances that any small business will make you wealthy are very small, but the chances that if you are doing what you love you will be happy are very large. Being rich is lifeís biggest booby prize. If you are not happy, who cares about all the rest?
CNN Moderator: Please tell us about the charity work you are involved in.
Jim Koch: We sponsor Camp experiences for the children in our neighborhood in Boston and also sponsor the Ford Hall Forum, the oldest public issues forum in the U.S. We also provide beer for several thousand charitable events across the country every year.
Question from chat room: Do you have to test every batch you make?
Jim Koch: Yes.
Question from chat room: Do you anticipate the specialty brew market will increasingly consolidate or fragment?
Jim Koch: I think it will consolidate, but very slowly. It took 60 years for the mainstream industrial beer market to consolidate to the three big brewers that dominate the market today.
Question from chat room: How often do you get a bad batch that you won't bottle?
Jim Koch: Several times a year.
Question from chat room: What do you predict for the future of America's microbrews?
Jim Koch: Microbrewers have become a permanent part of the American beer landscape. Today, America is the best place in the world to be a beer drinker. I don't think American beer drinkers will ever go back to the days of only the major brewers and imports. Once you've had a great fresh beer like Sam Adams it is impossible to go back.
Question from chat room: What is the best selling Sam Adams beer?
Jim Koch: Sam Adams lager, the original beer that I first made in 1984.
CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?
Jim Koch: Cheers.
CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.
Jim Koch: Thank you.
Jim Koch joined the chat room via telephone from
Boston and CNN.com provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Friday, March 23, 2001 at 2:30 p.m. EDT.
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