B&WB Exclusive: Jim Koch and Tony Magee Respond to the Rebel IPA Conflict

Tony-Jim

There’s a disturbance in the happy force that envelops the craft beer world, one that should have beer geeks thinking about the future of this little industry we love.

Last month, Tony Magee took to twitter, claiming that Samuel Adams, who recently developed a West Coast India Pale Ale called Rebel IPA, were targeting the barroom tap handles of Lagunitas and other west coast brewers for take over. 

Magee more recently took to a forum on BeerAdvocate under the username “DogTown” to provide specifics about his claims, saying this isn’t the way craft brewers play in the sandbox – this was a “big beer” tactic and something new to the craft beer world, where brewers compete on merit, not subterfuge.  A typically eloquent response from Jim Koch eventually followed, where he denied any wrongdoing by his Boston Beer Company.

I’m writing a TODAY.com piece on the issue, and I reached out to Tony Magee and Jim Koch for comment.  Both men were gracious enough to respond, Magee with his trademark candor and Koch with his Harvard-polished prose.  I couldn’t use the entirety of their answers for TODAY, so I figured I’d post them here unedited for all to read.

Both men were sent the same set of questions, as I wanted to see what I’d get from each when provided with identical inquiries.  Magee answered the questions, while Koch provided a statement through Boston Beer Company’s PR firm.

I’ve posted both below, starting with Magee’s so you can see the questions that were posed to the brewers:

Tony Magee’s Response:

What would you say to people who cling to the idea that America’s craft brewers are one big happy family?
You mentioned to me that you were waiting for an answer from the other brewer’s PR firm. There is no PR company responding for Lagunitas here and that in and of itself might tell you something about the nature of things. We really are very friendly with a whole lot of our peers in our little industry, and that’s a great thing.

Can we expect to see less cooperation between craft brewers as the industry matures? This seems inevitable as the segment grows and begins to stabilize.
Craft brewing is a very cooperative place right now and most all brewers sell right alongside each other even as we all fish in the same pond.

Let me ask directly so we have it clearly from the source – were the tap handles of Lagunitas and other West Coast IPAs specifically targeted by the BBC sales force?
I believe so.

How does Rebel differ from other West Coast style IPAs? Where does it fit in the style?
I don’t know if it was intended to differ at all.

What kind of feedback have you heard about the Lagunitas/Rebel issue? Do you think BBC’s reputation has taken a hit with beer geeks?
I hope no one did not ‘take any hits’ over it, but I do hope the other brewer has reevaluated their respect for the business platforms built over the last twenty years by us and other hard working brewers.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for asking about this. We still see Craft brewing as a shining city on the hill.

Jim Koch’s Response:

What’s unique about the craft beer industry is that it truly is a brother- and sister-hood. We’re a fairly close knit group of passionate brewers who operate as much like colleagues as competitors. With more than 2,500 brewers in the US and a limited number of tap handles in bars and restaurants, naturally there’s competition involved, because we’re all trying to brew and sell our beers.

In terms of our selling priorities, I want to be clear: We don’t target other craft brewers.  At Boston Beer, we compete against ourselves and our own ideal – to brew the best beer we can. I want to put the best possible glass of beer in front of the American beer drinker. To me, great beer comes from the quality of the ingredients, the elegance of the recipe, and the skill, passion and commitment of the brewer. Many brewers have worked long hours for many years to get craft  where it is today. Let’s appreciate the category’s growth instead of taking aim at each other.

As craft brewers, collectively we’re just over 6 percent of the beer market, so there’s plenty of room to grow. In fact, craft brewing is in the middle of a big growth curve, and I’m glad to see the growth. As the leading craft brewer in the U.S., I’ve always felt a lot of responsibility to our brewing community. There’s a tangible sense that we succeed together or not at all. This is true for many industry sectors that have a core of small, entrepreneurial players, but it’s especially true when those small companies compete with giants, the way craft brewers have to compete with multi-national breweries. Craft beer has become popular today because craft brewers are making great beer.

The newest addition to our IPA line-up is Rebel IPA.  It’s a West Coast style IPA brewed with five varieties of West Coast hops – Cascade, Simcoe, Centennial, Chinook and Amarillo.  What sets this beer apart is that we’ve packed in a ton of hop character and aroma, but without the accompanying bitterness.  I love the flavor and character of hops but it is easy to overdue the bitterness.  I know because we’ve made some 100+IBU beers over the years.  Rebel IPA is plenty bitter but yet, it’s still balanced.  To get the big hop character without an over-the-top bitterness we played around for a few years with several hop varieties, ratios of late kettle hops to dry hops, different dry hopping regimens, etc. We finally created the  recipe and method for this hop flavor profile that we wanted.  So far, the feedback from drinks has been really positive.

So there you have it. Without concrete evidence or corroboration, we’ll never know what happened here for sure, but it certainly points to a more complicated and potentially cutthroat future for America’s craft brewers.

What do you think?  Does any of this change your thoughts about Samuel Adams?  Are they in a no-win situation here?  Is all fair in love and beer sales?  Is taste the only thing that matters?

So many questions!

As always, let us know your thoughts below!

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Author:Jim Galligan

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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98 Comments on “B&WB Exclusive: Jim Koch and Tony Magee Respond to the Rebel IPA Conflict”

  1. Greg H.
    January 16, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    Both Lagunitas and SA are available to me at numerous retailers, but SA is not, and will never be a ‘go to’ beer for me. I have enjoyed some Lagunitas beers over the years, and would certainly pick them over SA, any day. SA is a ‘last resort’ for me at restaurants that have no selection.

    That said, Rebel could be a gateway beer to some of the true West Coast style IPAs out there, much like they are a gateway beer to craft in general. If I see it on tap I may try it, but doubt I will pick up a sixer. It took me forever to drink the 12 pack of deconstructed IPAs a few years ago. I had been continually letdown by SA and not falling for it anymore. There are too many amazing beers for me to waste time with SA.

    • January 16, 2014 at 10:44 am #

      I agree about the gateway thing, and that’s exactly my conclusion for the Today article. My wife liked Rebel IPA over Lagunitas (I did a comparo for the piece) because it lacked the hop bite of the Lagunitas. I bet I could get her into West Coast IPAs if I started her with SA.

      >

    • January 17, 2014 at 11:50 am #

      Some beers from SA are just gateway brews (Boston\winter lager, summer ale, blackberry wit, etc are all easy to drink and easy beers for macro lovers to get into), If that is the only SA beers that are offered at a restaurant, I don’t blame you for viewing them as a last resort.

      But I’ve found their hoppy brews to actually be very very good. As good or better than any regional craft brewery, craft brewery, or small brewpubs offerings, and I do not think that they should just be overlooked calling them ‘boring” without even giving them a shot. If you approach them wanting them to be amazing (as all beers should be approached), youl be surprised by how many of their beers are actually pretty damn good.

      • January 17, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

        I see most of Sam’s stuff as “solid.” It’s always well made, precisely crafted, and just a little bit conservative.

        As a guy who enjoys bigger flavors and lots of character in my beers, I find their stuff reliably good, but just a little tame for my tastes. There’s Utopias and some of the other funky stuff they’ve done that’s pretty out there too, but you don’t find that at the taps.

  2. January 16, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    I believe the fact that Koch responded through a PR department speaks volumes. BBC has lost sight of its roots. Its a sad comment but not entirely unexpected as it continues to move up into the world of big corporations.

    As to the question of whether they should be able to brew a West Coast style of IPA? Of course, its supposed to be a free market. Should they call it a West Coast IPA? No, that should be reserved for beers that are conceived and brewed on the Left Coast. But hey, there’d be nothing wrong w/ posing it in the form of a West Coast vs. East Coat contest (though I would expect an East Coast IPA to have some standard but unique characteristic(s) from its Left Coast counterparts.) Such a competition could only benefit craft brewing as a whole. As usual, let the best beer (and we craft brew drinkers of course) win.

    • Chris Slaby
      January 16, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      I was thinking the exact same thing. It seems like such a minor detail, but it speaks volumes and really says something to many of us who care about the nature of a beer brewing enterprise. In my view, once a brewery starts responding to questions through a PR firm it’s time to stop considering it a producer of craft beer.

      • brian
        January 16, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

        Seriously? ” In my view, once a brewery starts responding to questions through a PR firm it’s time to stop considering it a producer of craft beer.”

        Many small craft breweries have PR firms. Most larger craft breweries have PR firms.

        BBC is big and they are a publicly traded company with investors and shareholders, and it would be irresponsible of them to send out a response without their PR people at least looking over it for grammar and typos.

        • January 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

          I should also note that their PR company is helpful and pretty straight forward. The guys and gals on the account seem to know and care about beer. They’re a huge company, so a PR company makes sense. Most breweries have a person or team that helps with PR – being media savvy shouldn’t be a ding against any brewer.

        • January 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

          and this is where we find the folks that believe that peace and love are the main factors in craft brewing. Screw a business plan. Screw attempting to grow the biz. It shoudl ONLY be about pouring your soul into the beer. Holy christ.

          Yes, you want your brewers to be passionate and all, but if you want your favorite brewery, brew pub, nanobrew, whatever… if you want them to survive, they better have someone with some business understanding, a good accountant, and at the size of a brewery like Lagunitas, a damn PR dept.

        • January 17, 2014 at 12:51 am #

          But so many small brewers now have PR firms. Even brand new startups. This is simply the reality of a growing industry. “craft” beer isn’t a rebellious adolescent anymore. It’s an adult. It’s a real industry. With that will come all the trappings of industry. It’s the 1870s all over again. Get used to it.

        • Dan
          January 17, 2014 at 2:02 am #

          ” but it is easy to overdue the bitterness.”

          They missed one.

        • January 17, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

          :)

        • Astro
          January 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

          Absolutely correct. It would be irresponsible for the CEO to speak without one if he represents other people’s investment $$.

        • January 17, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

          With all due respect? B.S. It doesn’t matter whether BBC has a PR firm, but it does matter that in this instance, in the spirit of craft brewing, Koch didn’t respond in person. That is the crux of it. Its what differentiates a business from a corporation–w/ all the negative baggage that term carries along w/ it. A corporation is faceless, a PR firm is faceless, Tony Magee, was there, up front & center. No mistake about who was talking & why. We might not agree w/ what he had to say but we knew it was him saying it.

        • Astro
          January 17, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

          Responding through a PR firm doesn’t make it faceless. Al the PR firm does is smooth out the message and make sure it don’t contain libel and that it conforms to the company line. It still represents Jim Koch’s view.

      • January 17, 2014 at 11:54 am #

        When a brewery stops making good beer, then they are no longer a craft brewery in my eyes. Boston brewing Still makes great beer and until the majority of their beer varieties suck, they will still be a craft brewery (to me anyway,The brewers association can make any kind of “definition” that they want to define craft by factors other than beer quality)

        • January 17, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

          “If the beer is good, it’s all good” is something I’ve written here many times.

    • brian
      January 16, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

      “Should they call it a West Coast IPA? No, that should be reserved for beers that are conceived and brewed on the Left Coast.”

      Do you drink Belgian-style ales crafted here in the US? Do you complain about them too? BBC’s beer is listed as a West Coast STYLE ipa on their website, meaning it’s made in the style of that beer but isn’t necessarily a West Coast IPA because they aren’t on the west coast.

      • January 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

        brian, exactly. West Coast IPA is just a description of a type of IPA. Yes, it seemed to come form teh left coast, hence the name, but after that, it has NOTHING to do with geography. It has to do with ingredients and process.

        • January 16, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

          At this point it’s a widely popular style that came out of the West Coast, but it shouldn’t be exclusive to geography. I’m okay with folks peddling Chicago-style pizza wherever they like, and the Black IPA was almost dubbed Cascadian Dark Ale, referring to that lovely spot in the Pacific Northwest. Folks are brewing great Black IPA’s all over the country.

        • Greg
          January 16, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

          And I believe the beloved Black IPA was actually conceived in VT by Greg Noonan, so even the Cascadian Dark IPA moniker is off.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      I’m not sure it’s a “roots” thing with them – I think BBC was built to be big from the outset, and that involves being aggressive with media and PR. In a lot of ways (and for better or worse) I see them as a trailblazer for many craft brewers, and I think many larger craft brewers will have PR firms before long (if they don’t already).

    • January 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

      “Should they call it a West Coast IPA? No, that should be reserved for beers that are conceived and brewed on the Left Coast.”

      By the same logic, American brewers should stop making “Belgian” saisons and “German” hefeweizens. Why not consider it a compliment that brewers across the country and around the world want to brew the “West Coast” IPA?

      • January 16, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

        I think you can brew whatever you want, just use the “-style” monicker, as in Belgian-style, English-style, Gangnam-style, etc.

      • January 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

        The key word is “style.”

  3. January 16, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    I feel like most beer nerds treat BBC as a stepping stone that they only return to when it’s the only option available at a crappy bar or something. So it makes sense to me that they’d try to spice things up with something popular like a West Coast IPA style beer (especially since they’ve never really put together a very popular IPA). Because of the size of BBC, I’m sure that will push some other IPA off a tap handle at one time or another, but unless their distinct goal is to harm the likes of Lagunitas, I don’t see it as an issue.

    It comes down to a matter of context and connotation. Tony Magee is saying that BBC sales reps are targeting specific bars and saying something like, “Hey, take down that Lagunitas IPA and put up this Rebel IPA in its place.” If that’s the case, that would be a major issue. But if the sales rep is saying “Hey, we’ve got this new Rebel IPA and it’s great and people love it, want some?”, there’s no issue at all.

    Not being a bar owner, I wouldn’t know, but I could see a company like BBC wanting to compete in the IPA market (something they have never really done before) and because of their size, smaller brewers feeling a bit trampled. But “competing” is not the same as payola or Macro-like efforts to scam bars into removing tap handles. If that’s happening, it’s a big deal and I’d expect at least some bar owners to come forward and reveal shady tactics like that. Ultimately, I don’t expect that BBC will be super successful here, but unless they really are engaging in shady tactics (and I don’t think that’s been confirmed), I can’t begrudge them the attempt.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

      The Sam Adams TV spots featuring beer geeks surprised that they are drinking (and enjoying) a Boston Lager speaks volumes. Beer drinkers tastes are evolving to wonderful new places, and Sam Adams wants to show folks that they can go there with them. Rebel IPA is another step in that direction, especially when you look at the label – clearly trying to show that they are “craft.”

      Also, Tony says that competition is a good thing – put your beer next to my beer and let’s see who wins. His allegation was indeed that SA was telling distributors to target the tap lines of Lagunitas and other West Coast brewers for replacement with Rebel IPA. If it’s true, I agree it’s a major issue.

    • Brett
      January 16, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

      Have we considered that it was just a sharky sales rep who was pushing his new product a little too hard? Even if it happened, it wasn’t necessarily a mandate from Koch or another BBC overlord.

      • January 16, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

        That could very well be the case. I think Magee is pointing at BBC, not Koch. In any case, his goal is to shame them into pulling the plug on the plan.

        • Astro
          January 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

          And you know this how? Shaming, maybe, but we can’t really determine his intent. His comment don’t represent that position. Sounds to me like he doesn’t like the idea of the name. Remember, Magee’s brewery claims to be the first heavily hopped brew on the west coast. As an aside, he apparently didn’t spend much time in Oregon in the 80s.

        • January 17, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

          I know it because he wrote it on the BeerAdvocate thread and reaffirmed it this morning when I spoke to him on the phone, calling this the “nugget” of his intent – to push them off the kill.

        • Astro
          January 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

          Fair enough. But that is worse for Magee. I might accuse him of doing the same claiming to be the first hoppy IPA. Sorry, can’t quote source on that one, but he said it several times.

        • January 17, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

          I’ve read that too, in context to the local Nor. Cal market, back when Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was considered to be hoppy. I’m not sure about his claims to be the first in the world, etc., but that might be a stretch for sure!

        • Astro
          January 17, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

          If I had to choose between Lagunitas or Sam Adams, I’d go with Lagunitas almost every time. It is, in my book, still truer to the spirit of craft brewing. But, when compared to the full range of micros all across the country, especially those close to me in the Pacific Northwest, or even closer, in my neighborhood just down the street, neither SA of Lagunitas share that authenticity. Lagunitas is now brewing in two different geographic locations. The water is completely different. There is such as thing as terroir in brewing. Cascade hops direct from the Willamette Valley are different from those grown elsewhere, and that is the beauty of micro brewing. It is place specific, so SA claiming a west coast IPA is just marketing with no relevance to the brew itself. I find Lagunitas’s claiming of being a micro/craft brewer just as odious. These are just big companies with huge market share that have little to do with craft brewing anymore. All in all, their public argument just smacks of corporatism and scrapping over market share, nothing more.

        • January 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

          I love beer geeks from Oregon and Washington – you’re so fiercely local! It’s really cool to see such a deeply rooted craft beer scene continue to support and defend your small brewers. Makes me jealous!

  4. Rick M
    January 16, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Second Greg’s comment. I guess I had some boston lager when we lived in Indiana, but zero desire for SA since moving to Oregon 2 years ago. Too many great beers here to waste time on national brands.

    I’m not an IPA fan, so I’ll probably never try the SA IPA. But now I will have to try some Langunitas, I like Magee’s way of thinking.

    While it lasted on the shelves, I drank all the Full Sail Extra Special Bitter (ESB) I could. A Brit style ale, it was part of their Full Sail “Pub Series” last year.

    Love the concept of a gateway beer. Especially when it leads to harder stuff!

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

      Yup, and Rebel is a great gateway IPA. It’s more reserved than the true West Coast offerings, and my wife (not a hophead) preferred it over Lagunitas. I think I could convert her after a few sessions with Rebel to fall in love with Sculpin, Stone, and Lagunitas.

  5. tonyB
    January 16, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    I don’t feel Koch addressed the subject very much and used about 35% of his reply to plug his new product. seems shitty to me.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      I think seeing both responses unedited allows people to gain insights on who’s brewing the beers. What you take away from each is up to you. But I will say I asked about Rebel IPA in my questions, so it makes sense that it was addressed in the statement.

  6. January 16, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    I agree that BBC brews gateway beers. They’re good, solid, drinkable beers. And I agree, BBC beers are the ones you look for in an airport where Shock Top is listed as a craft beer.

    If I’m the owner of a place with taps where the customers think that trying Bud Black Crown is daring, I don’t make money on niche beers. So, yeah, if I’m familiar with BBC I’m more amenable to trying it over Lagunitas, a brand known for coloring outside the lines by brewing beers that don’t fit into style categories. I love their Hop Stoopid and IPA but they’re not for everybody.

    We can’t have it both ways. If we want people to drink “good” beer, then we have to give the Joe and Josephine Sixpacks of the world a place to start. A little Rebel might do the trick.

    Drink what you like.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

      Well said, Norm. I just want to live in a world where folks have the opportunity to try stuff they might like so they can drink what they like.

  7. Chris Slaby
    January 16, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    I feel like there have been some really good posts/discussions about what craft beer is/can be/should be here on Beer and Whiskey Brothers. Of course it’s a very complicated subject. I think we all want beer that tastes good. But after that, we all probably have different reasons for drinking the specific beers that we drink. When I think of craft brewing, I think of reduced scale. I’m sure some people are reluctant to talk about (or criticize) profit, and I recognize the need for an enterprise to have some degree of success, but I worry when a brewery starts to look more like a company. I see the smaller scale and regionalism of craft beer as a good thing. The U.S. is a huge country and when one brewery reaches every corner of every state, the beer loses both its character and its meaning. I actually like a number of Sam Adams beers and certainly don’t mind drinking them. But I think they’ve just become too big. I recently lived in Boston for two years and my go-to beer producer there was Harpoon. Both Sam and Harpoon were everywhere in Boston, but I liked drinking something local. Now I live in Wisconsin and the number two beer producer in our state (New Glarus) does not sell beer outside of the state! I really admire that. I don’t mean to suggest that breweries should avoid financial success, but at a certain point of growth they change into something different, or at least a different type of beer producer. I don’t begrudge anyone the success they desire, but as a beer drinker, as someone patronizing both a business and a larger, dare I say, cultural entity, I’m inclined, so long as the beer’s good, to spend my money on the stuff that’s being made and sold down the street, rather than the stuff that I can get at any airport bar in the nation.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

      I’d prefer local too if I lived in Wisconsin! ;)

  8. January 16, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    I doubt Jim Koch personally authorized a bounty on Lagunitas tap handles. I suppose it’s possible a regional sales rep for BBC wanted it done. I have dealt with a few of those guys in my life. Most of these kind of bounties I’ve seen/heard about are usually authorized at the distributor level. Whichever salesman takes the most competitive tap handles gets a prize of some sort. It’s generally not aimed at a brewery, but a competing disributor.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      Magee is saying pressure was being applied to distributors by SA – that’s his claim. If that’s the case, then this gets a little sticky. But I agree that it’s no big deal if it’s coming from the distributors, as it’s their job to fight for real estate on behalf of the brewers they rep.

  9. January 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    The tweets posted by Lagunitas at the height of this pissing contest were preachy and smarmy. It might be time that Lagunitas consider a PR department actually. SA is BIG compared to most in the craft beer market, but Lagunitas is as well. Would it surprise me if a sales force targeted Lagunitas? No. They are big competition to SA. If SA reps are using underhanded tactics I hope they get called on it, but the manner in which it was publicized was enough to turn me off of Lagunitas too.

    “That’s a directed attack- making LAG unavailable. Imagine someone threatening your children…” tweet from https://twitter.com/lagunitasT

    Really? Threatening one’s children is the comparison? Threatening children is a lot different than trying to beat out a product in a very competitive, flooded craft beer market. Everyone should take the time to read Magee’s twitter feed.

    “Do you want your brewer to see it all as a big game? All just marketing? No blood? Selling you hangovers w/o seeing the beer as liquid soul?”

    Seriously, I think we all understand that craft beer, ideally, is not “just marketing”. But for pete’s sake, it IS business.

    Again, it makes complete business sense to be for SA to target Lagunitas as one of their biggest competitors (as well as Sierra). The whole peace and love thing is BS. It’s business, especially at the volume of brew these particular companies put out annually. If SA distributors were giving kegs away free, it’s illegal and I hope they get caught. But the holier than thou thing is enough for me to wish they do lose some tap handles on the way.

    As for the particular beer itself: the funny thing is the SA marketing for Rebel IPA calls it a West Coast IPA, but it’s appears to be very much the opposite, aside from the particular varieties of hops being used. It’s deeper in color, with much less bitterness. A West Coast IPA, as most craft beer fans and brewers would agree, I believe, tends to be big in ABV and bitterness, and light in the use of crystal/caramel malts. I started drinking SA Boston Ale back in the mid 90s, when they were “microbreweries” as opposed to “craft breweries”. It offered more flavor than almost anything I could find in New England. But in the past 10 years, I only drink SA if I’m at a function where it’s the only alternative to BMC.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

      Is Vermont part of New England? Because Heady Topper offers quite a bit of flavor!

      I agree to a point about business being business, but Magee’s assertion is that this is something new, something craft brewers simply don’t do to each other. If true, it’s a step in a new direction, one that might erode the collaborative spirit that many beer geeks admire in the industry. Brewers compete against each other – it’s business after all – but not like this, at least according to Magee.

  10. January 16, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    So… if I get this right, people are getting their panties in a wad because Sam Adams is branching out into different beer styles than their normal ones, and the folks on the West Coast feel that this is Sam Adams moving into their territory? Am I right in my assessment?

    If so… um… who cares? There is plenty of market share out there for everyone. STFU and brew, whiners.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

      Nope – no one minds that SA is brewing a West Coast IPA. The accusation is that they are playing dirty pool with their sales tactics for the beer. Not sure if it’s true, but apparently Tony Magee thinks it’s underhanded enough to blow the whistle on it in hopes of shaming SA into stopping what they are doing.

      • January 16, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

        Yeah, it’s a business, but Jim Koch is not known as a douche. He’s helped other small brewers when he certainly would have had a larger share of the market by allowing those competitors simply to go under. No one would have said anything if he hadn’t shared hops when hops were not to be had. Plus his company sponsors the Homebrewer Long Shot competition. Hosing other brewers is not his style. He’s the quintessential nice guy.

        Magee’s company, Lagunitas, is in my backyard. The brewers there are great folks. A friend of mine apprenticed there and can’t say enough good things about them. When my homebrewers club, the Malt Konocti Mashers, toured the brewery they almost weren’t able to leave: the staff wanted to have them taste more beer.

        As I understand it, Magee says that BBC’s marketing *plans* to target other craft brewers in order to get a bigger piece of the 6% market share that microbreweries (I think the craft brewery definition is flat-out bogus, especially since it blocks some fine regional breweries from being included) have. That’s an odd marketing strategy, to go for a bigger sliver of the sliver rather than going for a bigger piece of the pie.

        • January 16, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

          It’s an odd strategy, but sometimes publicly traded companies do bizarre things to move the needle and keep their investors happy.

        • Nate
          January 17, 2014 at 8:10 am #

          He’s also gone squarely after other brewers too. See: The Oregon Originals line of beers BBC put out in the late 90s in west coast stubby bottles and priced to undercut the then up and coming brands like Grants, Sierra and Anchor.

        • January 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

          Those were difficult times for local brewers in the Pac NW.

  11. January 16, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    I personally don’t believe this was an attack just directed at LAGUNITAS specifically. I don’t think it wasn’t intentional either. The explanation is simpler than it sounds.

    BBC is the big dog on a small hill. With that position comes a lot of advantages that other smaller craft brewers simply don’t have. The amount of advertising they can do, for one.

    But what most people fail to realize, is that their position also affords them the ability to campaign for tap position in a blanketed manner. Meaning, they aren’t just trying to take tap position away from LAGUNITAS, they are trying to get a spot in EVERY BAR over the heads of EVERY OTHER small craft brewer. It isn’t personal, it’s the top dog being the top dog.

    I expect this kind of rhetoric from beer geeks. I mean, in a sense, we’re just like music geeks. We love something that feels like it’s our special thing. And just like when an independent band gets bigger… we jump to pointing the finger and calling them a sellout. Suddenly there’s roadies and security and they don’t hang with the fans anymore after the show. So obviously they don’t care about us anymore. Yet we still put our money into the pool that keeps them at the top, because it’s the product that ultimately speaks for the brand, not the machine the gets built around it.

    For smaller brewers with smaller bank accounts who are clearly more hands on, it’s easy to take this personal. Especially when every other brewer in the trenches with you isn’t flexing in the same way. But comparing BBC to big beer? Seriously? They aren’t even close to perpetrating the same kind of evil corporate tactics. So relax with the conspiracies. Let their beers do the talking. Rebel doesn’t sound like it will satisfy most west coast hop heads, so regardless of this campaign to get it into a tap near you, if it can’t do the job it won’t be long before the sticker changes back.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

      Reading Magee’s statements both on twitter and BA, it’s clear that he’s talking about Sa targeting Lagunitas AND other West Coast brewers. He asserts that it’s fine to put your beer next to his and let consumers decide which one is best. I think the part he doesn’t like is the idea of putting SA’s beer IN PLACE of his beer, which makes sense.

      I agree with your take on this, save to say that the way SA is uniquely “flexing” might wind up being the beginning of the end of the spirited but collaborative competition amongst brewers. That’s an appealing notion to beer geeks, and anything that might threaten that in the future will likely be viewed as a threat to what they hold dear.

  12. Brett
    January 16, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    I think Magee is overreacting. Sam Adams is one of the largest breweries in the country; any beer they make potentially threatens to take tap handles in a bar. West Coast IPAs are extremely popular, so why wouldn’t BBC want to make one? If this was any other brewery announcing they were going to be producing a new IPA, no one would bat an eye. In fact, we’d probably be cheering.

    We like to gang up on BBC because they’re successful, but we musn’t forget that Jim Koch, much like his brand’s namesake, truly was a trailblazer in the 1980s. He helped pave the way for breweries like Lagunitas to gain national attention. As Koch points out, craft beer still only accounts for 6% of the market, so there is an astounding amount of growth potential. I can envision a world where, in 10 years time or so, a company like Lagunitas or one of its competitors could be in a position to rival Sam Adams. New Belgium is a great example. They’re 7 years younger than Sam Adams, but have steadily crept up the craft beer ladder, and now they’re neck in neck with Sierra Nevada (the second largest CB producer,) and about to open a second brewery on the East Coast. Any brewery stands a chance at growing from scrappy underdog to national fixture.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      I think the issue is just that – SA is a trailblazer, paving the way for smaller brewers to follow. If they are indeed taking the gloves off promoting the placement of Rebel IPA, it would make sense that others would follow. If this happens, the happy and collaborative world of craft beer we all love starts to come undone (if it ever truly existed).

      I know it’s inevitable – as the craft beer segment matures, so do the businesses, and the tactics used to sell their products become more sophisticated and cutthroat. I can’t think of an industry where this isn’t the case. Everyone’s friendly at the beginning, but eventually it becomes big business. “Big” and “craft beer” don’t mix well for some.

  13. The Beer Guy
    January 16, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    I think that it’s too bad that Tony is whining that Sam Adams created a beer of this style that competes with his product. Fact is, if the quality of Tony’s product is there then he should not feel threatened. Both of these beers are great. As IPA’s have developed, so have their sub-categories such as Black IPA’s, White IPA’s and yes “West Coast IPA’s”. Yes, West Coast IPA IS a style. More and more breweries on the east coast and across the USA are making these styles because that is what the consumer is telling us that they want.

    As far as Samuel Adams reps “Targeting” Lagunita’s draft lines…I highly doubt it. This sounds like smart business planning by the Boston Beer Distributor for that market. They are the ones that go out and sell the brand at street level and if Lagunita is with a competitive distributor (which I suspect they are)…then I call it smart business by the distributor to try to position Rebel where Lagunita sells. That’s business and, if anything, Tony should put together a program to protect his lines AND pressure his wholesaler to step up their game.

    This is just business and that’s how it goes as more breweries are trying to eat off of the same piece of pie.

    As far as some comments suggesting that Sam Adams may not be craft….my comment is, a Rock and Roll band should not be punished just because fans want to buy their record. Sure the Rolling Stones started out in a garage and then became popular (just like Jim Koch)…and some may want to call them a “Pop band”…but at the end of the day they are still Rock and Roll. Sam Adams should always be considered a Craft Beer. They shouldn’t be penalized for being successful.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

      Reading through Tony’s numerous comments, you’ll see that he learned of the alleged plan from a distributor who was given orders from his SA rep to target the taps of Lagunitas and other West Coast IPAs. According to Magee, this wasn’t a distributor playing hardball (they do that all the time – it’s their job and he respects that) it was BBC calling the shots. That’s his contention with what’s happening here – it’s coming from the brewer, not the distributor.

      I agree that SA is still craft as well. Longshot, Utopias, Deconstructed, etc., all celebrate beer culture and what beer can be.

  14. Alex
    January 16, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    My name is Alex and i am the owner of a beer bar. I can tell you, first hand without question, the Sam representatives came to my establishment to sample Rebel IPA. They did in fact say it is just like Lagunitas IPA and some other west coast IPAs, it cost less too.
    I hand select beers from breweries that deserve our business. I have not yet poured a Sam product (not because of the product itself but because they have support from many surrounding business in my area.) I do however believe Rebel IPA will crush it in the chain restaurant market and could be a great corner/entry beer to get consumers closer to a product like Lagunitas IPA…..and then Lagunitas Sucks. I guess its not all that bad for Lagunitas afterall.
    I’m sure there are other business owners and beer buyers that confirm Boston Beer’s intent.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

      I’ve had Rebel IPA, and would welcome it in any BMC chain where i saw it. It’s not as big and beautiful as Sculpin or Union Jack or Lagunitas IPA, but it would be a godsend in places with more pedestrian offerings.

      That said, I had lunch at Houlihans on Saturday, and they had a new craft beer menu from real craft brewers, which was a great thing. I had my first taste of Anderson Valley!

  15. Craig
    January 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    My company started off as a brewery but quickly evolved into a very successful contract packager, to the detriment of the beer. Eventually, the decision was made to sell the brands, which, having been around since the mid-90s, had a strong following in the region. Fortunately, the brands wound up in the hands of what might be the most respected brewery in the state. During the transition, though, it was no secret that we were moving out of the beer business. Another local brewer used that information to sell their own product when they began distributing to our immediate area. We heard several stories of bar owners being told, “you know they are going out of business, so you might as well drop them and give us the tap.” There’s no way to measure what damage that twisted version of the truth (aka “lie”) did to sales, but the new owner of the brands invested a lot of money to acquire the rights and trademarks to the beer. If I were them, I’d certainly feel as if I’d been stabbed in the back by a fellow member of what is, usually, the most incredible community of people I’ve ever experienced.

    This experience tells me shady practices are probably more common than we all wish, and the only reason the Lagunitas/BBC squabble came to light was the size of the breweries involved. Many people – and breweries – blow off steam on Twitter, but, because Lagunitas is among the largest of craft brewers, they attract lots of attention and exposure…..hmmmm.

    • January 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

      I think you’re right – sleazy stuff happens everywhere all the time, and craft brewers are running businesses with expensive overhead – at least a few of them are going to pull the kind of stuff you’re talking about. I guess this matters more because BBC is an industry leader, not a tiny brewhouse.

  16. Brian
    January 16, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    So I just read the article, what exactly is the issue here? Sam Adams is making their Rebel IPA to compete with the Lagunitas IPA and many other amazing micro craft beers. Not saying that I want them to be successful in their attempt to “take over” the craft beer scene but it just seems logical, on a business perspective, to want to make a non-shitty beer to adapt to America’s evolving beer palate. Isn’t this what capitalism is about? Competition? And to play devil’s advocate here, isn’t competition better for consumers, and thus, overall beer quality? Personally, I have never been impressed by any Sam Adam’s varieties and boy are there a lot of them. Perhaps the exponential rise in IBU in the hops crazed ale’s of the west are to blame? Regardless I will continue to support good beer including my favorite, the Lagunitas Maximus IPA. For the record, I think Pliny is over-rated (pleasedontshootme)

    • January 16, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

      I think Pliny set a standard and others have surpassed it, but it’s still pretty damn good.

      If you read over Magee’s comments, he’s all for “fair” competition – give the consumers choices and let them pick what they like. His allegation is that SA is targeting the taps of other West Coast IPAs for REPLACEMENT, getting Rebel IPA placed and removing the competition all at once. Competition is better for consumers, but sometimes bigger players can pull moves that smaller ones can’t (or won’t). That’s the crux of it, FWIW.

    • January 16, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

      More on Pliny the Overrated (no one’s going to shoot you here!): http://beerandwhiskeybros.com/2010/08/19/my-first-taste-of-pliny-the-overrated/

  17. Brett
    January 16, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    “it is easy to overdue the bitterness” – don’t think he learned that at Harvard!

    • January 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      Ha ha – nice catch!!

      >

    • Lulubelle
      January 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

      Yes I noticed that too, and that was from the PR firm hired to avoid those kinds of things.

      • January 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

        I saw when I posted it, but I promised “unedited” comments, so there it is!

  18. Brian
    January 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    I don’t think it’s that big a deal. Plenty of non-west coast breweries do a west coast style IPA. I think it’s them trying to keep up with trending styles. I will say I can’t remember the last time I had a SA, but they seem to be alright in my book for the things they’ve done for smaller brewers/breweries. I heard they gave some of there hops to smaller guys during the hop shortage, and they do their homebrew contest on a regular basis. I think they do a tight-rope walk of wanting to remain true to their past, but also expanding and keeping up with demand for new styles. I guess it probably is a no-win situation for them. They seem to be too big for beer snobs, not that I am one, but also too small to be considered a big guy. I’m sure in certain places they have preferential treatment on tap lines so yeah, their rebel IPA may get put on before a Lagunitas, but I would like to think it’s not because of a cutthroat move. One last thing, I had no issue with the PR statement…that’s just a smart move.

    • January 16, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

      I agree that using a PR company is a-ok, especially if they’re good at it – knowledgeable, respectful, responsible and fairly straightforward. I can attest that the people they’re using are all of those things. They’re certainly big enough and media focused enough to warrant it.

      I also like your “tween” theory of how they fall into a gap between craft and macro. While it might not fly with some beer geeks, they seem to be doing okay for themselves and producing respectable beer as they go.

  19. jims
    January 16, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    What EXACTLY is Mr. Magee’s proof to back up his accusation? Usually three sides to every story; in this case, Magee’s side, Koch’s side and the truth. When can we get to the third part?

    • January 16, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      I’m going to go with “never.” To hear Tony tell it, he heard this from a distributor who was being pressured by senior BBC staff to target Lagunitas and other IPAs for replacement at taps in the East.

      He later apologized to the distributor because he caused a real problem between them and BBC when he slung his allegations. I’m confident that no other distributor is going to kick the golden goose and verify what Magee’s been saying – it’s suicide to piss of a major player like Sam Adams.

  20. January 16, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    I try to buy as local as possible. If everyone did this there is plenty of room for many, many breweries to do very well and none of them needs to be huge. For example, I was just in my local bottle store perusing the selection… and there is plenty, even in this rural area… even Lagunitas… I looked at them… and picked up a 6 pack of Southern Tier IPA… they’re an hour up the road from me. I do try other beers and they’re all good so there’s no reason you can’t support the ones in your region.

    • January 16, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

      I think if I was in CO or OR or WA or CA or MI or VT I’d buy local, but not in NJ – there’s really no excellent local brewers. :(

      >

      • GregH
        January 16, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

        How about Captain Lawrence? They’re just over the border.

        • January 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

          They’re okay, but slightly hit or miss. I look to the west for “local” beer, as PA has a pretty robust line up of brewers.

      • January 17, 2014 at 10:37 pm #

        What about Iron Hill?

  21. John
    January 16, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    Sam is a big boy. He still claims to be a craft brewer but when that claim comes from your PR firm times are a changing. We now stand in the midst of the greatest selection of craft brew ever! Sam has learned from the bigger boys. Grab your favorite beer or Brew your own or cry or celebrate of the sale of Jim Beam (somebodies gotta mention the whisky). It was inevitable that the growth would slow and the natives would turn on each other.

    • January 16, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

      I know the times are changing, I just want them to change as slow as possible!

  22. January 16, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    May the best tasting beer win. Period.

    • January 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

      As long as you get to taste the best tasting beer to declare it the winner. I think that’s the issue here.

  23. HomebrewerDave
    January 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    When I started reading this, I thought maybe BBC somehow infringed on a label or name with their IPA. Even though I live in California, I don’t even much care for the super hoppy products so prevalent here. This wasn’t the case, so I really don’t understand what the heck Tony is worried about. Just the same, Lagunitas, you have good products! I’ve had one or two Boston Beer co. beers worth drinking, but in general I think their beers are 2nd rate. I would never go out of my way to drink one. BBC’s flagship (Boston Lager) is so bad I’d prefer about anything else (even a mass-produced product). I’m not surprised BBC use (or have) PR people since it’s become a huge beer producer. Lagunitas: If this is concerns you so much, maybe you should consider brewing a easy drinking beer to compete with SA Boston Lager?

    • January 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

      It’s the alleged tactics SA is using to promote Rebel IPA (targeting the taps of other WC IPA producers) that Tony has issue with. His claim is that this isn’t how craft brewers operate (until now).

      He’s afraid SA will use their muscle and might to push other WC IPA’s out of the tap lines, including Lagunitas IPA.

      If anyone should be pissed about the look of the label, it should be BrewDog!

  24. B
    January 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    I really don’t think BBC was trying to step on anyone’s toes here. I personally think Laguanitas tends to get a bit paranoid. They have sent MULTIPLE cease and desist letters to multiple breweries for “copying” their brand when really it’s all a mis-understanding. (i.e. the Twitter situation with the upcoming Knee Deep Brewing)Yeah they make good beer, but who would want to mimic laguanitas beer? I know brewers have tried to up one Russian River and their famous Pliney, that is understandable. But I really don’t see anyone trying to enter a Laguanitas IPA in a home brew fest even.

  25. Zachary Sylvester
    January 17, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    Small vote of someone who likes darker beers (barrel ages, stouts), when I do feel in a “hoppy mood” i would way rather drink some Lagunitas, if they were put side by side.

  26. jackofhearts
    January 29, 2014 at 2:00 am #

    Just got my hands on a case. Must say I wish they didn’t use Simcoe or Amarillo, now they will contract these out and brewer’s who really know how to use these hops may not be able to acquire them (let alone homebrewers). Its not a bad ale, more like an APA than an IPA.

  27. February 4, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    I am so intrested in meeting these guys.

  28. Tiki56
    February 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    Having visited the Lagunitas facility and hearing the stories about how Tony deals with regulators and authority in general it is no surprise he would stir things up in this way. What I would want him to answer is why Lagunitas adding a facility in Chicago is much different than what Boston Beer is doing. Isn’t that akin to taking business away from local craft brewers?

  29. John m
    February 7, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    SA rebel IPA doesn’t come close to the west coast IPA’s I’ve enjoyed. Green Flash, Ballast Point, Knee Deep, Russian River, Bear Republic, Berryessa, Track 7. The list goes on. With so many better west coast IPA’s on the market, I don’t have time for SA.
    DRINK LOCAL. I know who my brewer is. Do you?

  30. February 7, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    To be honest, I believe that SA is playing the old 3 Card Monty. Shifty as big companies go. And I much rather buy a small craft beer knowing that I might not get it again, or for a short period of time. Sam Adams is right up there with Bud and Coors. A tasteless beer. Long live the little guys! My money will be spent on the limited run beers you produce.

  31. Rick M
    February 7, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    Thanks to this article I have now tried Lagunitas Pale Ale. Unique & very tasty, so good I bought more.

  32. March 11, 2014 at 6:45 pm #

    I know I’m coming in VERY late to this discussion, but I’m getting caught up on my blogroll reading, and have a first hand observation of what led up to this.

    First off, did any of these commenters read your article Jim? The issue isn’t that Sam Adams is producing what they call a West Coast IPA, it’s that they allegedly tried to bump California beers from taps.

    Now, on to the observation. I strongly suspect that SA’s has hired a new marketing company, separate from their PR firm, and one that has done business with Big Beer in the past. I was sent an invitation to SA’s big rollout at GABF for Rebel, which was held at a taphouse in LoDo (in Denver), one that isn’t normally known for a great selection of craft beer. The SA staff at the event were probably the smoothest and smarmiest I’ve ever seen at a craft beer release event, and were almost certainly from a marketing firm. It had the distinct taint of a macro beer release.

    While I got to keep the glass I was drinking out of, other handouts like a nice bottle opener were only being handed out to select attendees. When I asked for one, they gave me a guilty, begrudging look like they had been found out.

    I go to quite a few events like this, and usually when you are sent an invitation, the beer is usually free. It wasn’t here. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind paying, and I do for every brewery I visit to review and do business at. But the invite was written such that it seemed a given, especially if you want people to try your new beer, a beer venturing into an established, popular style.

    While the beer was okay, it definitely can’t compete with the others of the style from either coast. Judging from my experience at the release event, Magee probably does have something to worry about. SA wants to compete with the Big Boys, and is using some of their tactics.

    • March 11, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

      Interesting, Will. Since I wrote this, I’ve also seen their commercial where they diss craft beer for being a flash in the pan compared to good ol Boston Lager. Definitely feels like a new marketing direction, one that’s aggressive and a little bit nasty.

    • Rick M.
      March 11, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

      Will spouted: “First off, did any of these commenters read your article Jim?”
      Thanks for getting imeediately to the insult to every other person that commented about SA, that way I did not waste my time reading the rest of your post.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How I got Blacklisted for Mentioning Samuel Adams’ PR Company | Beer & Whiskey Brothers - April 25, 2014

    […] sent a list of questions to both Lagunitas and the PR company that reps Samuel Adams, and posted those answers here on the site without editing a word of them.  I mentioned in the post that Magee answered my questions and that […]

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