Here’s to Quality: A tale of beer and business

Right now there’s a growing trend. It started as a fad some years ago, but it just kept growing. And growing. It’s disingenuous to dismiss this as a fad or trend. It’s time to recognize it for it is – a permanent fixture in the economy with a growing market.

I’m talking about beer. More specifically, craft beer. As someone who drinks Yeungling draft (and only Yeungling draft), I sometimes marvel at its progression from hobby to small business, and now it’s a full-blown industry. One of the pioneers of modern day craft beer is Samuel Adams Boston Lager, founded by Jim Koch (pronounced cook) in 1984. It’s an interesting story, really, considering he left a successful career as a business consultant and returned to his family’s multi-generational tradition of brewing beer. His father, pushed out of business by the big shots (we’ve all seen the commercials and know who they are), thought his son was insane and wasting his time.

Koch, however, believed in what he was doing and was ready to work for it. Much like the brewing process itself, he grew his business with care, focus, and attention to detail. And lots of grit. Even now, owning the second largest craft brewery in the United States, he is known for his hands-on approach and relationships with his employees. He travels throughout the country checking in on distributors and vendors. He still travels to Europe every year to hand pick the hops that will be used in the ensuing batches of beer.

What impresses me most about this entrepreneur is his attitude, especially in the early days of his company – named after the American patriot and successful brewer Samuel Adams – where his goal wasn’t to compete with the Millers and Anheuser-Busch’s of the industry, but rather to brew something superior. He brewed his first batch at home and brought it to local bars. Weeks later he was named the number one beer at the Great American Beer Festival. He was personally involved with every aspect of the business from the choosing of ingredients, the brewing process, and developing relationships with distributors and bar owners, all of which he still does today.

Koch also tapped into a legitimate market. Not everyone wants to drink low quality corporate beer like Budweiser or Miller Light. In fact, some people like the idea of drinking a superior product so they can feel that they’re in a higher class than the folks sipping on watered-down, mass-produced beers that all taste the same as each other. Hell, Koch is continually taste-testing his product from each of his breweries around the U.S. in order to maintain a consistent product. That’s dedication and attention to detail. He doesn’t rely on saturating the market with marketing… he simply walks the walk. He wants to create an enjoyable, superior product each and every time. Apparently he’s doing this rather successfully.

At least, that’s what the beer aficionados at the bar tell me as they look down from their pinky-raised pint glasses.