Jim Koch started Samuel Adams Brewery in his kitchen in 1984 and has grown the brand into one of the leading names in craft beer. His Boston Beer Co., the publicly traded parent of Sam Adams, also includes Angry Orchard hard cider and Twisted Tea hard iced tea. Forbes magazine estimated Koch’s fortune at $1 billion. Globe reporter Callum Borchers recently spoke with Koch. Here’s what he found out:
1No tour of the Sam Adams brewery is complete without a trolley ride to Doyle’s Café, which is not only the nearest bar, but also the first to put Koch’s beer on tap.
“[Former co-owner] Billy Burke agreed to talk to me, which was half the battle back then. He said, ‘Leave a bottle,’ and I said, ‘No, I actually have cold beer right here in cups.’ So the moment of truth came. Billy poured it in a glass. He liked the head on it. He liked the color. And I remember it to this day: He took a sip, paused, and said, ‘Delicious.’ ”
2Koch still agonizes over new brews. His team has spent six months working on a honey-lemon ginger beer, and after a recent taste test, he said there’s still a long way to go. When it’s right, Koch will know.
What I know is when it’s what I envisioned. It’s like listening to a symphony. I can’t speak to being just right for everybody else. But my palate has been pretty good.
3Koch is such a beer nut that he still brews at home in his spare time. At his daughter’s behest this spring, he experimented with a genetically modified yeast that produces vitamin A, and is sometimes added to rice in developing countries to combat blindness caused by vitamin deficiency. The result was a radiant orange brew.
“The job is very time consuming, so you don’t pick up many other hobbies. My hobby is doing homework with my children.”
4Koch has been known to subject himself to a lager-filled dunking booth and has a generally zany persona. But don’t be fooled by the antics: He also has a law degree and an MBA from Harvard.
“I never took the bar. I said, ‘I can either take the bar, or I can take the summer off. And this is going to be the last summer for a long time when I don’t have to do anything.’ So I took the whole summer off and got my wife pregnant. So I got a kid out of it. Then she took the bar, and she passed. So vicariously I passed the bar.”
5Koch did put his MBA to use, working at Boston Consulting Group for six years before devoting himself to Sam Adams. But even with all that business education and experience, he still felt unprepared to start his own company.
“I realized I don’t know anything about all the nuts and bolts. I have no idea how to negotiate a real estate lease, how to design a label, how to hire people, how to make a sales call, how to set up payroll — on and on.”
6Now that he’s mastered the finer points of running a business, Koch mentors food and beverage entrepreneurs and makes small loans though his company’s Brewing the American Dream program. His advice can be sobering.
“People ask me, ‘How do you get work-life balance?’ I say, ‘Don’t expect that. It just doesn’t work out that way.’ ”
7Koch’s business has grown much larger than he ever imagined, requiring him to spend most of his time on the road. Part of him wishes it didn’t get so big.
“My original business plan was to be a small local brewery in Boston and probably not sell much out of the area, so that I wouldn’t have to travel. Didn’t work out that way. If it had stayed a small local business, I think I’d be just as happy.”