Thursday, December 12, 2013
By KEITH EDWARDS Kennebec Journal
As a sixth-generation brewmaster, Jim Koch, founder and owner of Boston Beer Co., which makes Samuel Adams, knew right away he was looking at a piece of brewing history.
Jeff Damon, co-owner of Damon’s Beverage Mart in Augusta, right, donated this antique wooden beer keg to Jim Koch, left, founder and owner of Boston Beer Co., the maker of Samuel Adams.
This antique wooden beer keg was donated to Jim Koch, founder and owner of Boston Beer Co., the maker of Samuel Adams. Koch’s great-grandfather also was a brewer.
Photos by Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal
He spotted an old wooden keg while on a visit to an Augusta beverage store.
Koch had seen similar kegs before, including in family photos of his great-grandfather, a brewer who was missing one of his fingers. Koch believes the finger was lost while he was stacking similar kegs which, when full, can weigh more than 200 pounds.
"He was missing a finger and I'm pretty sure that's how it happened, stacking up one of these heavy kegs like this one," Koch said, while standing in front of the approximately 75-year-old wooden-staved keg bound together with sharp-edged metal hoops. "You get your finger caught between two of them and it'll cut like a knife."
The keg, with "Boston Beer Co., Boston Mass.," burned into each end, was presented to Koch recently at Pine State Trading's beverage distribution center in Gardiner, a gift from the Damon family. The Damons own six stores in central Maine, including Damon's Beverage Mart in Augusta -- the former Lou's Beverage Barn -- where, a couple of years ago, Koch had spotted the keg.
The Damons found the keg shortly after purchasing the store in 2009. They believe the keg was acquired by the store's previous owners, Elsie and Lewis "Lou" Boucher.
Koch, according to James Damon, one of the owners of the local stores, visits Damon's Beverage Mart about once a year.
Koch said he visits stores that sell Samuel Adams to ensure stores only sell his beer fresh.
Shortly after the Damons had taken over the store, Koch spotted the keg and asked about purchasing it. The Damons agreed that Koch could have the keg -- which could be worth about $1,500 -- for free.
"It's important to him," co-owner James Damon said. "To us, it was just a barrel sitting there. It had sentimental value to him. We didn't need to make a profit on that."
Jeff Damon, another co-owner of the Damons' stores, said he felt like the keg was going home, to its rightful place.
Koch said the keg will be put on display in the museum at his Boston Beer Co.'s brewery in Boston, where it will join the only other such keg he's ever seen.
"It's like finding a unicorn," he said.
Koch started Boston Beer Co. in 1984, and has built it into the country's largest craft brewer.
His family began brewing beer in 1840, but not in Boston -- Koch is from Ohio.
The first Boston Beer Co., and the source of the old keg, started in 1828 and was the country's oldest brewery when it closed in the 1970s, according to Koch.
Koch said the keg likely dates to "post-prohibition, but not by much," and was probably delivered to a bar and emptied, but never found its way back to the brewery.
"It's an empty that never got returned," Koch said.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at: