Sam Adams – the freshest beer in town • Craft Beer Restaurant


What does freshness mean to beer? The same thing freshness means to bread or meat or vegetables—the same thing it means to any perishable product.

Jim Koch is the premier campaigner for craft beer freshness. The results are a real boost for restaurant sales.

Photo: The Boston Beer Co.


To Jim Koch, founder and chairman of The Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams beers, freshness is paramount.

"Our goal is for Sam Adams to be the freshest beer in the market,” say Koch. And he’s not just whistling Dixie. He has lined up the troops, provided the resources and built a multi-part program to ensure just that.

“We started doing open freshness dating right after i started the company back in the mid-1980s,” he adds as he tells that he believes this commitment to freshness has played a major role in Sam Adams becoming the largest selling craft beer in the country.

"Craft beer doesn't turn over like a Bud or a Miller or a Coors,” he explains, “yet freshness is just as important. With any beer you have a limited shelf life. Basically you've got four to five months from the brewery to the glass.”

Freshness is such an important aspect of beer quality that he believes craft brewers need to do more to monitor the freshness of their beer.

"Restaurants that would never serve stale food, regularly serve stale beer" he says. "Brewers have not all been very forthcoming about putting an easy (to read) freshness date (on their products)." 

Koch urges restaurateurs to always always check the date on beer coming into their establishments.

"If you can't read the date, you would never accept that with your bread or your cheese or your other perishable food,” he stresses.

He feels it would be a better industry if there was more push back from restaurateurs—if more were to demand "I'm only going to carry a beer if I know it's not stale."

Freshest Beer program breaks new ground for craft beer

Taking a big step beyond educational activities, Samuel Adams has now initiated its Freshest Beer program, which will include over 50% of its distributors as participants by year end. Koch says that to restaurants the Freshest Beer program will mean that they won't have to worry about the freshness of any Sam Adams product that is delivered to them.

"Sam Adams coming into a restaurant is going to be only a week or two old," he relates.

He explains that they do this by taking the wholesaler’s inventory down to roughly a week and keeping that in a cooler. Also, they do not keep a back stock of beers warehoused at the brewery. The brewery production schedule is geared to produce beers that are pre-ordered by distributors, so the beer is shipped out to market shortly after it is brewed.

Gaining this much participation from the distributors is a true step forward for a craft beer label and could foreshadow many more such initiatives from other members of the craft beer industry.

Koch says that distributor management has bought in because selling craft beer has become vital to a wholesaler’s growth and profitability. Management sees that beer market growth is pretty much all in the craft sector. The market for macrobrewed beer has peaked and many traditional domestic and imported brands are now in decline. But he adds that selling craft beer is a different sale from selling macrobrews.

“It's all about education and supporting the quality and freshness of the product,” he states adamantly as he admits that there is still work to be done for all distributors to get this philosophy put in action across their entire sales forces.

Draft Quality Audit program, a free service for restaurateurs

To help with this, Sam Adams backs up its distributors with its own national sales force, a team trained to assist restaurants in improving their beer sales. They observe that most craft beer in restaurants is sold on draft.

“A restaurateur might be great chef and run a great restaurant,” Koch explains, “but many don't understand a draft system and the many ways things can go wrong. We've come to the conclusion that we as a brewer need to take responsibility for the quality of our beer in the consumer’s glass."

To bring this from concept to reality, Sam Adams reps conduct approximately 20,000 draft quality audits a year. Any restaurant serving significant quantities of Sam Adams gets visited at least once a year by reps who are trained to evaluate the taste of the beer. Primarily, they are looking for brewery fresh flavor. If there are any issues, they diagnose the problem and recommend solutions.

Sam Adams reps are also trained to provide assistance in optimizing restaurant beer lists. The beer market has changed tremendously through the years and it’s often been a challenge for restaurants to keep up with it. Koch observes that things are different now than 25 years ago when you simply lined up taps of Bud-Miller-Coors light beers plus a couple of premium pilsners.

"Today the market has moved from these standard beers more to the domestic craft beers,” he says. "Knowing which ones to put on to try to satisfy consumer preferences is not that easy.”

He says one of the biggest mistakes they see is restaurants tying up taps with duplicate beers—two, sometimes three domestic light beers.  Koch recommends one light beer on draft; other light beers can be offered in bottles.

"The light beer drinker is generally happy with a bottle,” he says. “The craft beer drinker wants draft."


It is refreshing to see that Jim Koch’s passion for selling good craft beer has not diminished one iota over the past 27 years. The Samuel Adams brand is a true leader in helping its distributors and sellers (both on-premise and off) offer only the freshest craft beer. Staleness is the sworn enemy of beer enjoyment. Jim Koch’s commitment to freshness helps all his customers profit from the enjoyment of a beverage at its peak quality.

Additional information on Samuel Adams beers can be found at their website.


Jim Koch: a tireless campaigner for freshness