Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Jim Koch, founder and owner of Boston Beer Co., likes to help the little guys because he still considers himself one of them despite the success of Samuel Adams beers.
"When I started, I was the little guy and sort of still see myself as the underdog," Koch said in a telephone interview last week. "Even today, 25 years later, we are still very much the underdog. We are not even 1 percent of the U.S. beer market. It's 0.9 percent. We compete with giants, and I know what it's like to be the underdog, because I live it every day."
Koch's latest effort to help is a microloan program designed to assist owners of small New England companies in the food, beverage and hospitality industries. He started the fund with company money because he remembers trying and failing to get a loan when he started his business.
Called Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream, the program so far has made 46 loans to 37 different companies totaling more than $350,000, which is estimated to have created or retained 300 jobs. The largest loan has been $17,000, and many are around $1,000, Koch said.
Most of those loans have been made in Massachusetts, and Koch wants to expand to other parts of New England, especially Maine.
"There are a lot of interesting little businesses in food and beverage in Maine," he said, "and all they need is a loan to grow and start up, a good business idea and the ability to repay the loan."
Koch said repayment of the loans has been about 90 percent, so that each dollar he invests in the program can mean $9 in loans to help small businesses before it is used up.
In addition to the loans, Brewing the American Dream will let business owners get speed coaching in areas such as sales, accounting, graphic design, marketing, information technology, legal and packaging from Boston Beer Co. employees. The program is also running business and financial literacy seminars.
The loan program is not the only way Koch has reached a hand out to the little guys.
Boston Beer Co. runs two contests in which home brewers can get their beers bottled by the company. One is called Longshot, and the company is going to pick the best Category 23 beer -- one that does not fit the 22 established categories -- submitted by home brewers to bottle. Another picks a home brew that is served only at Patriots games.
When Boston Beer Co. made its initial stock offering, Koch also did it so that beer drinkers -- yes, my wife, Nancy, and I were among them -- could buy 33 shares.
"That was a radical thing, basically selling stock directly to people," Koch said. "Normally, it all goes out to big banks and they sell it. But these people paid $15 a share, and when trading opened, it was a little over $30. It worked out well for me, because for the most part, the investors like you have held onto the stock. I would rather have people who drink the beer own the company than anyone else."
When I asked Koch what he was planning for new beers, he said he was just about to leave for Bavaria in Germany, where he is planning to work with the people at Weihenstephan, the world's oldest beer company, to create a new beer.
"We are going to invent a new style of beer that has never been seen before," Koch said. "It is going to be something like a cross between champagne, a dessert wine and Samuel Adams Nobel Pils."
The night before I spoke with Koch, I had the last beer from a four-pack of Samuel Adams Double Bock, so that will be what I report on this week.
I am partial to bocks, and this is one of my favorites and perhaps the absolute top bock. It is part of the company's Imperial Series, and is 9 percent alcohol. It is intensely malty and a bit sweet, with a wonderfully smooth mouth feel. It is a beer you want to savor and spend a long time with.
Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at: