Monday, 27 February 2012

"Boston" Lager


Sam Adam's Boston Lager is one of those beers that a lot of people associate with the term "craft", though it is of course brewed in its millions of barrels in the US. It is very widely available in the US and elsewhere in the world, including the UK. I learn though that Sam Adam's lager, for the first time ever, is to be brewed abroad under licence and the UK will claim that honour. Shepherd Neame will brew and package all UK Sam Adams lager under licence at Faversham, replacing imported stuff and substituting European size 33 and 50cl bottles for the American 35.5cl ones.

The reasons given are interesting: "The primary aim is to improve the freshness of the Sam Adams we’re offering to British beer drinkers," said Boston Beer's founder, Jim Koch. Now I have often wondered about the freshness of imported beers as I watch people hand over infeasibly large amounts of money for them and there you seem to have it - there is in the industry a doubt raised about the freshness of beers such as these, to the extent that brewing under licence is being undertaken. There is another aspect to this too. Graeme Craig, Shepherd Neame’s sales and marketing director, said "We’re seeing growing interest in the US craft beer scene and we both felt this was a better way of doing things rather than an elongated supply chain."

So. The best way to provide drinkers with craft beer from abroad is to brew it here? Really?  Or is Boston Lager a craft beer at all? Was it ever? When did it cease to be? Or when will it cease to be? One thing is for sure. The term "craft beer" is one that the big brewers and marketers see has some legs. But in exploiting it, will they devalue it, rendering an undefined term even more vague than it is already? It also seems to this writer at least, that conflating US and UK definitions may make an already rocky road a touch rockier.

Time will tell, but is this really a good move? Is Samuel Adams no longer craft, but just a brand? Questions, questions.

Clearly this is a move for a "craft" beer that is in effect little more than a commodity beer, but as a believer in the thin end of the wedge.......

20 comments:

Pete said...

I know that in many ways "craft beer" is a self-selecting label, but I can't really see how any brewer - big or small - can seriously try to claim the "craft beer" label if they're just licensing someone else to make it.

Surely the craft comes from making the stuff, not renting out the recipe.

Curmudgeon said...

Cuts down immensely on beer miles - CAMRA should be applauding this move ;-)

Erlangernick said...

AFAIK Jim Koch coined the term, specifically so that contract brewers like himself could join in on the microbrewery/brewpub explosion fun in the early 90's. So if anyone should be allowed to apply this relatively meaningless label to a beer that's brewed under contract at various megabreweries around the world, I guess it should be him.

Hell, SABL varies rather widely in the US, depending on which factory it's pumped out of. Back when I used to bother with it, east coast stuff was usually better than west coast stuff, ironically.

Tyson said...

I think most people expect foreign beer to be, er, foreign. So whether it's still "craft" or not, it's going to lose some kudos. And now it's joined the ranks of Stella etc, will CAMRA still be stocking it on the foreign beer bar?

As to will it still be craft? Well, one is tempted to point out that it will be brewed by SN...

Cooking Lager said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth-share_matrix

I guess the brand is considered a star.

When its cheaper than Stella, in the cash cow phase, I might buy some

Anonymous said...

How long before the same thing happens with goose island, blue moon and Brooklyn?

Mark Dredge said...

Sam Adams was set up as a beer company, not a brewery. Boston Lager was brewed under license away from a brewery associated to Sam Adams, so this is really just an extension of how the brand started in the first place and the model it was built upon. And if the beer is fresher and still tastes good then it's good news.

Why does brewing somewhere else change if it's 'craft' or not? See BrewDog or look at breweries expanding to new locations in the US - Sierra Nevada and New Belgium.

Tandleman said...

Mark: "Why does brewing somewhere else change if it's 'craft' or not?"

I'd pose this as a question (among others), but there are also wider considerations and implications I'd venture.

Cooking Lager said...

and you are right to ask, Tand.

is it still craft when it is popular enough to warrant industrial scale production on multiple continents?

All beers were therefore "crafted" at some point.

Ian Garrett said...

to answer Tyson, we've not stocked Sam Adams for quite a few years and see no reason to start again, furthermore if we did it would come from USA.
Of course there are other brewers looking to brew this side of the pond, Stone have supposedly been looking for somewhere to brew if the money is right. I know of at least one other US brewer actively investigating brewing in the UK.
Brewing under licence may mean fresher beer, but not necessarily the same beer even if they replicate the liquor and use the same yeast.

Saga Of Nails said...

In my opinion, Goose Isle has already gone down in quality a little. The last two boxes that I have bought have both had a distinct chill haze, and do not taste as good as it did 18 months ago. And the yeast doesn't stay in the bottom of the bottle as well as it used to.
Blue moon has been pretty average for a while now, at least three or four years.
Not many beers can survive the change to being completely mass produced and remain outstanding.
Take Bath Ales, for instance. The only one of their beers that still attains the high quality of say eight years ago is Barnstormer, which is sold in much lower quantities than SPA and Gem.
Craft beer is as meaningless a term as Real Ale is. They are both just made up terms.

Velky Al said...

"I can't really see how any brewer - big or small - can seriously try to claim the "craft beer" label if they're just licensing someone else to make it."

I guess then that BrewDog are not really a craft brewery either given they get Meantime to brew some of their beer.

I like Boston Lager in general, it's consistently a better lager than many others available over here, whether mega or craft brands.

RedNev said...

Struggling to be bothered about this in the slightest.

scissorkicks said...

The saddest thing about this is that it'll be brewed by Shepherd Neame :(

Bailey said...

Personally, if I really believed that they'd made this decision because they wanted to improve the beer as consumed by British drinkers, I'd probably think of Sam Adams as being as 'craft' as I do currently, i.e. sort of, borderline, marginal, an odd case.

But I don't. I think they're doing it mostly because there's a commercial advantage -- dodging import duties and reducing shipping costs?

Nothing wrong with that, but I guess, whether the British brewed beer is good or not, I won't be inclined to think of it as craft beer.

Others might move production here but do it in a way which *increases* their credibility, e.g. by brewing unique UK-only recipes, and contracting UK breweries that are more exciting than Shepherd Neame. We'll have to wait and see.

Owen said...

First thing I thought was that it's a way to brew for the UK market while staying under the US craft limit.

I'm a cynic, though.

Anonymous said...

If it [b]is[/b] identical to the original, will it be the best lager brewed in the UK? I think so, but I'm interested to hear from others...

Ron Pattinson said...

Boston Beer is what makes the whole "craft" beer thing bollocks to me.

Erlangernick said...

"I can't really see how any brewer - big or small - can seriously try to claim the "craft beer" label if they're just licensing someone else to make it."

I guess then that BrewDog are not really a craft brewery either given they get Meantime to brew some of their beer.


Again, the term "craft beer" was first coined by exactly these kinds of people --Jim Koch, Pete Slosberg-- to romanticise their brewing under licence!

Tandleman said...

Very good points about Koch and particularly Slosberg. Of course he has long since sold out.

And yes you have a wooden palate.