The rising tides of the craft beer industry have recently raised Jim Koch, founder and president of the groundbreaking Boston Beer Co., to billionaire status. But even the largest craft brewery in the country accounts for only a fraction of the beer industry.
In a recent phone interview, Koch told me that though the brewery is small compared with the giants of American brewing, Sam Adams beers have won more mindshare than their market share would indicate:
“I think it is surprising to people when they find out how small we actually are. We are about 1% of the U.S. beer market. One out of 100 beers made in the U.S. is a Sam Adams. I’m really proud of that. I’ve worked hard for 30 years to get to 1%. I know it doesn’t sound like much to you, but I’m very excited by that. People are surprised at how small we are and that’s okay.
“I feel great that we’ve made a bigger impression than our actual size. We captured more people’s minds and imagination about beer than their actual purchases. But that’s okay. It’s almost like being Ferrari. Ferrari’s share of the market is trivial, but everybody knows about Ferrari.”
When asked how much longer craft beer’s explosive expansion could last, Koch said, “Drinkers will decide how much craft beer they want to drink,” before describing what he hopes the future will hold for craft beer:
“The perfect world to me is where the small, independent brewers, from Sam Adams to the latest nano-brewery start-up in a garage, are surviving and continuing to be able to make great beer available to drinkers, [and] every time a beer drinker goes to buy beer, whether it’s at a craft beer bar or their local convenience store, they have a great selection of flavorful, high-quality beer made by small, independent American brewers.”
Among craft breweries Boston Beer is so large it’s almost in its own category, but Koch says this doesn’t change his company’s approach to supporting the industry.
“Within craft beer, we’re all pygmies,” Koch says, “but Sam Adams is the tallest pygmy. And we’ve always been, almost since the beginning we’ve been the leading craft brewer in the United States, so I’ve always felt a lot of responsibility to the community of craft brewers.”