Boston Beer ventures beyond US
Samuel Adams will be brewed at Shepherd Neame
America’s leading craft brewer, Boston Beer, is to have its flagship brand brewed and packaged by its long-standing British importer.
Regional brewer Shepherd Neame is undertaking trials of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, with the beer to be packaged in both bottle and keg. The partners say that Sheps-brewed draught Boston Lager could be available to Britain’s on-trade as early as mid-April.
Boston Beer and Shepherd Neame have a long-standing commercial relationship, with Sheps acting as Boston’s importer for more than a decade.
Jim Koch, Boston Beer’s founder and chairman, told Brewers’ Guardian, “The volume has grown steadily in the UK and Europe. There was a point where we thought that it would make sense to brew it in Kent.”
Koch adds that the decision to brew outside the US has been driven by Boston’s commitment to freshness and quality, with shipping product across the Atlantic not conducive to either. “It’s hard on the beer because it ages more quickly on the ocean. You’re basically sloshing the bottles around so you get more oxidation.”
Getting the beer matched has taken almost a year of hard work between the two teams, but Koch says he is no stranger to brewing in different plants.
“Since I first started we have regularly used host breweries; one of the skills we’ve developed is brewing consistent Samuel Adams in different places.
“We started in a very small brewery in Boston and have brewed our beer in several other breweries as we’ve grown. To me, as a brewer, I think you only fully understand your beer when you’ve made it in another brewery.”
The Samuel Adams recipe will be recreated exactly at Shepherd Neame. The yeast strain is Boston Beer’s own; the hop varieties Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Tettnang Tettnanger will continue to be purchased from Bavarian growers. (While Shepherd Neame’s brewery is slap bang in the middle of Kent hop country, English varieties will not get a look-in.) Some UK malt will be used, as it is already at Boston Beer’s US breweries.
Shepherd Neame has made some minor modifications to allow it to follow the Samuel Adams brewing process. “The brewing process for Samuel Adams Boston Lager is very demanding,” says Koch. “There are some unusual steps in it, like a decoction mash, like kraüsening, like dry hopping. We have to bring those things along with the beer or else it’s not Boston Lager.”
This is not the first time that Boston Beer has brewed outside of its home country. An earlier venture in Germany was pulled because volumes weren’t high enough for the beer to be produced successfully. But Koch believes there is enough demand for US craft beer in the UK to make his latest venture a success.
“I think there is, among the more discerning beer drinkers in the UK, a growing appreciation of American craft beer,” he says. “England gave the craft brewing movement many of the foundational styles of beer; pale ales, IPAs, porters, stouts and mild. Now, American craft brewers have created some wonderful and unique beers. Drinkers of good beer in the UK are now realising that small, independent brewers like Sam Adams do some pretty interesting beers.”
Inevitably, some in the beer community will question whether Kent-brewed Samuel Adams can ever be the same as the US original. Koch says the Shepherd Neame batches will be regularly checked against brews from Boston’s American breweries for consistency.
Koch also has a message for any doubters: “Taste it. Unless you’ve become wedded to slight oxidation it’ll be better. It will be a better Samuel Adams than you’ve been getting because it’ll be fresher.”
Jim Koch was one of the pioneers of US craft brewing. In 1984, he made the first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in his kitchen. In 2010, his company had grown to become the fifth largest in the United States, with production topping two million barrels, or roughly one per cent of domestic sales. Other American brewers are bound to be watching with interest. Could Boston Beer’s latest venture set a trend? “We’ve always been a leader,” says Koch. “If you look at what we’re doing, there’s a good chance that someone will follow us.”