The year-end results are in from Boston Beer Co., America’s largest craft brewer. Core volume was 2.5 million barrels, putting the makers of the Samuel Adams line neck-and-neck with Yuengling for the title of the country’s largest domestically owned brewer.
It’s a friendly contest, emphasizes Boston Beer Co.’s founder and chairman, Jim Koch. “We are all growing despite the fact that we are competing against two brewing giants, hundreds of times our size,” he commented. “Like us, Dick Yuengling, his family and his team have worked very hard to turn more drinkers on to their brews, and I’m proud of what we’ve both achieved. I wish Yuengling more success.”
Boston Beer’s shipments were up 4 percent for the fourth quarter, and 7 percent for the year. The Brewers Association has yet to release overall craft beer growth, but if trends continue (craft beer sales soared over 11 percent in 2010), that would put Boston Beer Co. a little behind the curve.
Koch, however, was sanguine about the year’s efforts. “We had solid growth,” he reported. “The market was a little chaotic — we introduced a lot of new beers.”
Boston Beer made more than 50 Sam Adams brands in 2011, a company record, and Koch will be adding even more in 2012 to excite an increasingly fickle and novelty-seeking public. Already, the company has come out with two additional beers in its Single Batch series of 22-ounce bottles: Dark Depths, a hybrid Baltic porter/IPA, and Cinder Bock, a strong, dark, smoky lager. In the wings are two more entries: Norse Legend, a sahti (a juniper-flavored beer), and Verloren (German for “lost”), a gose. This once-obscure eastern German style of wheat beer is fermented with a lactobacillus and flavored with coriander and salt. The Sam Adams summer variety pack will also see a new addition: Belgian Session, a lower-alcohol Belgian-style pale ale.
This April, Boston Beer Co. is also preparing the national launch of a new line of hard ciders called Angry Orchard, which Koch describes as “a little crisper, little more fruit forward” than the HardCore brands the company has been making since the 1990s. The new cider will come in three types: crisp, dry and ginger apple. Koch test-marketed Angry Orchard in New England last fall, but plans for a wider rollout were thwarted when “we ran out of juice.” The ciders, says Koch, are made from traditional European cider apples like Orange Pippin and Roxbury Russet, rather than the ubiquitous eating apples like McIntosh and Golden Delicious.
Some of Boston Beer’s upcoming products are draft-only releases that we probably won’t see in Washington. That includes a crowd-sourced beer that Koch produced in partnership with Guy Kawasaki, Apple alumnus and managing director of the venture capital firm Garage Technology Ventures. Soliciting more than 3,500 responses by Facebook, the Sam Adams brew crew distilled these suggestions for the perfect beer into a medium-bodied amber ale, with notes of toffee and citrus and a hoppy finish. The beer (yet unnamed) was set to premiere mid-March in Boston and Austin, Texas.
Then there is Samuel Adams Boston 26.2 Brew, a commemorative beer to mark the 115th running of the Boston Marathon. Koch described it as a lower-alcohol variant (only about 4 percent alcohol by volume) of the salt-laced gose. “We wanted something refreshing that would also replace electrolytes,” he laughed.