Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GMIICTDT IV: Finding Sam Adams

In honor of Independence Day, I took a short break from finding Sam Breakstone (which I totally did) to look for another mythic figure from American History, patriot Sam Adams.

Sam Adams:  American patriot and
all-around scary looking guy.
Samuel Adams, the second cousin of John Adams, was born in 1722 in Boston.  He lived most of his life in the Boston area and became a passionate champion of American independence long, long before it was fashionable.   A born populist, Adams spent years agitating for colonial rights.  He managed to somehow be at every single important event in the politics of the Revolutionary War - participating in the Boston Tea Party, creation of the minutemen,  the Second Continental Congress, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the writing of the Articles of Confederation.

Here's how important Sam Adams was:  You know Paul Revere's famous midnight ride was undertaken to warn that the British were coming.  Did you know Revere was riding specifically to warn Sam Adams that the British were coming to arrest him?  That's the only reason Revere was on the horse.

Adams served in the Massachusetts Senate and was the fourth governor of the state.  It is speculated by some that Adams would have made an excellent candidate for President except that he died eight years before the position was created.  Incidentally, he was for mortgages on land and against Shay's Rebellion, putting him on the right side of history every damn time. 

And how has his memory been honored?  By being appropriated by businessmen to openly invite consumers to delude themselves.

Oh, for the love of ...
First of all, Samuel Adams Boston Lager has nothing whatsoever to do with Samuel Adams.

Are any of the founders of the Boston Beer Company related to Sam Adams?  No.  Not even remotely.

Did they use Sam Adam's recipe?  No.  They did not.  Founder Jim Koch's family had been making beer for five generations.  His great-great-grandfather, Louis Koch, started brewing in the 1860s.  The particular recipe on which Sam Adams is based dates from the 1870's.

Koch's family story is actually pretty cool.  He's the first-born male lineal descendant of beer brewers.  His father was a brewer, his father's father was a brewer, his father's father's ... it's a long line.  Prohibition stopped them for a time (usually known as the 1920s).  Large distributors like these guys had driven his father out of business.  But in 1984, at the age of 35, Koch (pronounced Cook), was poised to make a comeback with a 110-year-old four-ingredient recipe he made in his kitchen.

It's a great story.  In a lot of ways, it's way better than  Breakstone's.  But Jim Koch didn't like it enough to sell beer.  Instead, he just called the stuff Sam Adams and desperately hoped that the real Sam Adams wouldn't rise from his grave and representatively legislate him to death.

Adams is in here somewhere, decomposing patrioticly.
Okay, Adams didn't invent Sam Adams Boston Lager, but he was a brewer, right?  I mean, it says so right on the bottle.

Well, they're half right
Nope.  Adams wasn't a brewer.  His father was a maltster, owning a business that Adams ran as a young man.  This leads naturally to the question of what the hell is a maltster.  It turns out that a maltster is a person who makes malt for use in the making of beer and other alcoholic beverages.  Barley or another grain is sprouted, roasted, mixed with sugar water, thrown away and then the water is boiled down to a dark mess.  It's all detailed here.  In the old, old days, brewers would make the malt themselves.  By the 1700s, though, specialized maltsters had sprung up.  You can still buy the stuff.  It comes in all sorts of varieties and is useful for making bagels, baked beans, beer and other things that start with B.

But being a maltster does not equal being a brewer any more than, say, making paper equals publishing the New York Times.  Any more than picking cotton equals making soft, comfortable Hanes undershirts.  Make up an example of your own.  It's fun.

So, Sam Adams has nothing to do with Sam Adams.  But it's at least made in Boston.  Right?



  1. Great article! Samuel Adams (the beer) is delicious!

  2. The inspiration for the Man on Sam Adams is actually Paul Revere