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An American beer revolution

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An American beer revolution
Article date: 20 Sep 2010

Your chance to discover the talents of one of the most influential breweries in America’s craft beer movement.

When your country’s most prestigious beer festival awards you the ‘Best Beer in America’ accolade, just six weeks after you open your brewery, you can be forgiven for assuming that you are onto something special, something revolutionary and something which is going to change people’s taste expectations.

Well, Jim Koch achieved just that with Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Against a chorus of ‘Are you crazy?’, from family members, Jim decided that the Harvard degrees in business and law and the lucrative business consulting career on which he had embarked could not replace the inherent desire to brew. I say inherent as Jim comes from a long line of brewers, a line which stretches back four generations, to be precise, to his great-great-grandfather. The rest, as they say, is history. Samuel Adams’ original team of just three (with a little help from Jim’s great-great-grandfather’s recipe) has evolved from winning its inaugural award to becoming one of America’s most-awarded and respected breweries and a key catalyst in the resurgence in American craft brewing, a fact which makes Jim immensely proud: “I would like to be remembered for helping to pioneer the craft-brewing movement in the US. When I started Samuel Adams, back in 1984, there was just a small band of craft brewers; today, just 25 years on, there are some 1,400 of us and many thousands of beers.

“We have always striven for innovation, being the first to introduce seasonal beers, pioneering barrel-aged beers, extreme beers and craft lager.”
Indeed, in the process of pushing the boundaries, the brewery has brewed well over one hundred beer styles and launched the career of many a brewer, again something of which Jim is proud and keen to continue: “Look, you don’ t have to be a trained or qualified brewer to work at Samuel Adams, but you do need passion. Most of our employees throughout the company are home brewers, passionate about the craft.”

Visitors to Wetherspoon’s beer festival (27/10– 14/11) will be able to enjoy the brewing skills of one of Jim’s prodigies: Bert Boyce, brewing manager at Jim’s original brewery in the Jamaican Plain area of Boston and the location where Jim’s team members try out new recipes, new styles and push the boundaries of their craft.

Despite his relatively young age, 34-year-old Bert has 15 years’ brewing experience under his belt and is hoping to demonstrate his creative and innovative streak, when he and his colleague Dan Melideo brew at Shepherd Neame.

It really will be a hands-on brew, from field to firkin, as Bert explained: “We will be doing something a bit out of the ordinary by selecting and harvesting the hops ourselves, from our friend Tony Redsell’s farm in Kent, then ensuring that we get them in the brew within a matter of hours, so that we definitely catch the real essence of the hops.

“The plan is for the blond ale to be an American- English hybrid, blending the American intensity and English balance, while showcasing Kent-grown, American Cascade hops.”

The blending and experimenting with flavours come as no surprise, considering Bert’s other passion – cooking.

“I’ve always loved cooking and creating dishes using contrasting flavours. I suppose that that was what attracted me to brewing... well, that and my fear of getting a proper job!

“I love the fact that I can use intuition, which I consider to be a key attribute to successful brewing. Good brewing, creative brewing, comes from knowing your ingredients, the process you put them through and a clear vision of the beer which you are aiming to make. Well, that and a whole load of guts!

“To me, it is a combination of art and science. I love the fact that brewing exerts you mentally and physically, that it is creative and, let’s face it, incredibly social.”
For Bert, the challenge of brewing for the festival holds no fears, other than the language barrier (to-may-do, tom-at-o – that kind of thing), yet presents plenty of opportunity to enhance his brewing knowledge: “Obviously, I love craft ale,
but I consider it an infinite learning curve. We are fortunate that we are able to travel and work with other brewers; to learn what makes them tick; to witness their intuition; to understand their processes – all things which might inspire you to try different things yourself. Hopefully, the guys at Shepherd Neame can pick up some ideas from Dan and me as well.”

That sense of belonging among brewers is, in my view, unique, competing for sales, yet as one in sharing their passion. It’s a collective approach which I can’t imagine working the same way in many other industries. This camaraderie is something which isn’t lost on Bert either: “Last year, we hosted a pretty grand party, during the national craft brewers’ conference, with pretty much all of the US craft brewers under one roof. Hundreds of brewers, seven beer stations and 20 unique beers. It was some party and probably my proudest moment at the brewery, to get that sense of belonging and sharing a few beers. I was completely jazzed!”

The summer saw a certain Mr Obama and Mr Cameron exchanging their local ales, symbolising a common bond, yet with subtle differences.
For me, Bert and Dan will go one step further, fusing the two beer styles to create something very special – and that’s just typical of Samuel Adams: pushing forward constantly in the name of great-tasting beer.

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