When I was an NBC News producer based in Europe, we did a profile of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany at the time, Richard Burt. While we were shooting scenes of him at his home in Cologne, he offered my correspondent a beer with which I was unfamiliar (this was the 80's), a Samuel Adams, explaining that this was the one U.S. beer that conformed to Germany's Reinheitsgebot, a very strict law governing the purity of beer and mandating that it could contain only water, barley, hops, and yeast. Burt loved serving American beer to Germans at embassy events. Loved it.Years later, shooting our Beer Geeks episode at the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston, I told that story to company co-founder Jim Koch, who was delighted by it and told me he began selling Samuel Adams in Germany before he’d even gotten it into stores in Delaware.
In fact, Jim exudes a happy enthusiasm you might not expect from a long time businessman and Harvard law school grad who has grown the largest craft beer company in America (along the way, achieving a personal wealth estimated at more than a billion dollars). He and Michael, who’ve known each other for more than 20 years, reminisced about the old days – Jim making beer in his kitchen and peddling it door to door while fending off complaints that, compared to what people were used to, it had too much flavor. That’s right, too much! But he persevered. His way.
In fact, I was struck by his total commitment to making beer the old fashioned way – hands on, obsessive attention to detail – while eagerly embracing any new technology that can help make that happen. He was like a school-kid with a new bike as he showed off his newly acquired automatic system for injecting hops into the boil kettle at exactly the right moment. And he was just as passionate as he explained the system that moves grain from the mill room to the mash tun, using what he called a brewers necklace, in essence a moving chain that cradles the grain in the middle of each link and causes less damage to the grain than the traditional auger system can.
He really is the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with. And we ended up having - and enjoying - several, one of them in an amazing way. As many beer lovers know, the pinnacle of the Samuel Adams family of beers is something called Utopias, blended from a wide range of beers that have been aged in barrels for as long as 21 years. Jim took us into the room where the barrels age and actually let us sample directly from one of them. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Like cognac. And Armagnac. And port. No carbonation. And 60 proof. And when we shot our pairings dinner, Jim brought out a bottle of Utopias for dessert. As a former journalist, I’ve enjoyed many, many beverages all over the world - and this might simply have been be the best glass of anything I’ve ever tasted. Or more than one as, somehow, what remained of the bottle from dinner, ended up in my luggage when the shoot was over.
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