From the HBD Archive
From: hplabs!utah-cs!cs.utexas.edu!raven!rcd (Dick Dunn)
Subject: another cheap shot at Sham Adams
Date: 1989-05-25 04:34:27 GMT

To try to be slightly fair, I *do* think Samuel Adams makes a decent beer.
It's not outstanding--it is by no stretch of the imagination the best beer
in America--but at least it's competently made, decently hopped, and has
some body.

Now, about their marketing...

I worked the early Great American Beer Festivals for a while--that's the
summer fling the AHA sponsors with various American brewers, mostly small,
bringing in beer to taste. It was a fun thing to do. People were coming
out in droves and getting interested in beer. They were paying some
attention to what they were tasting. Sure, some people got drunk, but
overall it was a very positive thing, because something about the setup
made people pay attention to the beer.

Naturally, as soon as the beer festivals started gaining some attention,
there was some value attached to winning the voting, even though it was
just a straw poll of a random group of people. And although the beer was
mostly being served by people recruited by AHA, some of the breweries were
sending their people to stand around and talk about the beer. At this
stage it was good, because it gave the brewers a chance to educate people
to what they were trying to do. They also got a chance to hear what people
thought about their beers in direct comparison to other beers, mostly
micros. The beers that won in the early GABFs were, IMHO, some of the
truly outstanding beers I've had. The top three in various years included
this and that Anchor beer, Sierra Nevada stuff, Grant's...man, that's
significant! Grant's is *not* mainstream beer. You get people
appreciating that sort of beer; you're making some progress in teaching
people what beer is all about. The Palo Alto Brewing Company (which made
wonderful beer while they existed) actually brought in a beer engine and
set it up. It was a pain to use, having it attached to a folding table,
but it gave a chance for people to find out what it was, and how you pump
beer instead of letting the carbonation do it, and how that makes a differ-
ence for an English-style ale.

Then, over the space of a couple of years, things quickly turned very com-
mercial. Suddenly it was a Big Thing to win the competition. Trinkets
started to show up--try our beer and get a hat, or opener, or... The
brewers started getting more actively involved, and not just talking about
their beers but promoting them in the voting. Perhaps the biggest factor
in the change was that the brewers started doing the pouring. And, where
the AHA volunteers were carefully coached to pour light--it's a tasting,
after all--and to be very careful about people starting to get tipsy, the
brewers were not all careful about this. Some of them recognized that if
they poured a nice full glass, they somehow earned a vote...and yes, if
you're getting impatient for the punch line, Samuel Adams was one of the
leaders in this trend to turn a tasting into a hard sell. They also
figured out another line to reach the crowd, namely that significantly more
than half the crowd, especially the ones who were "tasting" heavily and
would cast or influence the vote, were male. So all of a sudden they've
got an attractive female "brewer's assistant" dressed to draw attention!
Hey, they know how to sell beer, just like on TV! The year I saw that, I
was only attending, but it was my last year at GABF.

I enjoyed talking to the folks from River City (good beer...RIP), Sierra
Nevada (won't forget Budpeople tasting their first Bigfoot!), Grants (Bert
Grant is the Gordon Bell of brewing, I think), Newman, Hale's, and
others...but I can't stomach what the folks from Samuel Adams did to
try to pervert the GABF to their uses. Now, it wouldn't have happened if
AHA had recognized the problem and nipped it in the bud (sic), but that
doesn't excuse the brewers. Nor was Samuel Adams the only brewer doing it,
although IMHO they certainly led the pack. Things went further down from
there...a year or two after the last one I attended, I heard some reason-
ably serious reports of influence-peddling in the pro judging of the
beers. It doesn't matter whether they were true or not; they indicate how
far the competitions had sunk. And I see Samuel Adams as one of the
pivotal influences in converting the significance of the GABF from sub-
stance to style. It's their choice, but I don't have to like it.

(One thing I ought to be clear about: When there were allegations of
influence games behind the pro judging of commercial beers, there were
people in AHA trying to get it out in the open and get it straightened
out. But I don't think they succeeded.)
---
Dick Dunn {ncar;ico;stcvax}!raven!rcd (303)494-0965
or rcd@raven.uucp

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