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!