Busch-whacked: But it’s sweet victory for Koch’s Boston Beer

Jim Koch, the brewery owner whose familiar voice is as smooth as single-barrel whiskey, is on the phone after a day of meetings in Boston. A variety sixpack of his Samuel Adams beers sits in front of him, and he can’t wait to sample a few of them – quality control, you know.

“I’ll drink anything. I’m interested in any beer I haven’t tasted,” he says. “You have to realize, I started drinking beer when I was 4 – Shangling, Red Cap . . .” These were the beers Koch’s father made 50 years ago as brewmaster at Hudepohl in Cincinnati – a brewery that Koch’s Boston Beer Co. recently purchased.

That acquisition should help put to rest some of the controversy surrounding the production of Samuel Adams’ 20 different beers. Several brewers, led by the giant Anheuser-Busch, have complained that Sam Adams beers aren’t really craft-brewed in New England. Instead, they are contract-brewed at locations around the country, including the Stroh brewery near Allentown. Cincinnati is a long way from Boston, and Koch will continue to contract many of his brews, but at least now Sam Adams has a large-scale brewery it can call its own.

But if that isn’t enough to get Budweiser to shut its yap, maybe the Better Business Bureau can. The BBB last week announced it had gotten A-B to agree to discontinue its commercial attacks on Koch. Among these ads was once that chortled, “Time to stop tricking beer drinkers, Jim.”

I ask Koch why A-B had gotten so personal in its attacks. Bud always has been an aggressive marketer, but these ads were in his face. Is this an old feud between the Koch and Busch families?

“Not that I know of,” Koch answers. “I’ve never had any personal interaction with him, and I certainly respect the company.”

Koch believes a magazine article of a few years ago sheds some light on the spat. In it, August Busch IV (son of the present A-B chairman) refers to his brand as the Cadillac of beers. Koch reads the article over the phone, quoting Busch: “Some of that quality perception has been damaged by some of the microbrews. Jim Koch for example.” This apparently disturbed Busch because he knew Samuel Adams was made at the same breweries that produced the likes of Stroh and Heileman – two beers that aren’t exactly No. 1 in quality.

“You can see the genesis of a misleading idea,” Koch says. “They played on it, but then they got caught. Their campaign was meant, I think, to keep people from tasting it. Once somebody has had Samuel Adams, it’s clearly a more flavorful beer, and all the advertising in the world isn’t going to get people to deny what their taste buds are telling them.”

So, what’s in that sixpack on Koch’s desk?

Samuel Adams Double Bock, for one. The springtime beer is a high-malt brew that, Koch boasts, `Is like a loaf of bread in every bottle.”

Taste test: What’s Philadelphia’s favorite beer? Based on the stack height at my local distributor, it appears to be a dead heat between Bud and Coors Light.

But if you’re talking micros, the answer – in a blind beer-tasting conducted recently by Beer Philadelphia magazine – is:

  1. Iron Hill Brewery, Newark, Del., Pig Iron Porter.
  2. Flying Fish, Cherry Hill, N.J., ESB.
  3. Ugly Dog, West Chester, Gold Ale.

Beer run: Victory Brewing Co., 420 Acorn Lane, Downingtown (610-873-0881): Located in a former Pepperidge Farm cookie factory, the brewery is huge, with room to grow.

Fans of the brewery’s bottled beers (HopDevil IPA, Festbier and St. Victorious Dobbelbock) will find those and other Victory staples on tap at the pub’s 70-foot long bar (which was cobbled together with the skids that were used to deliver the brew-house equipment). A kitchen with a brick oven produces decent bar food (pizzas, burgers, salads), and pool tables, dart boards, music and TV provide all the necessary diversions.

“It’s a beer-geek-friendly place,” says brewer Bill Covaleski.

It’s tough to find, so either pick up a Victory sixpack with directions on the bottom, or follow these: Schuylkill Expressway north to Route 202 south; Route 30 bypass west; exit at Lancaster Avenue, go west 1 1/2 miles, past the large stone school on left. Turn left onto Chestnut Street, five blocks to Acorn Lane, left and immediate right into parking lot.

Non-beer side trip: The Downingtown Farmer’s Market and Auction features a nice, oddball flea market (old tools, 8-track tapes and paperbacks galore). The market is on Lancaster Avenue, about 5 minutes from the brewery.


Area craft brews, 7-10 tonight, Flying Fish Brewing Co., 18 Olney Ave., Cherry Hill, N.J. The $25-a-head tasting benefits the South Jersey Ronald McDonald House. Info and tix: 609-966-0996.

Light beers, 8 p.m., Monday, Isaac Newton’s, 18 S. State St., Newtown. Malt Advocate editor Lew Bryson leads a tasting of “real” light beers, including Belgian wit, fruit and wheat beers. Info and tix ($10): 215-860-5100.

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