Samuel Adams statue at the Boston brewery

The Origin of Samuel Adams Beer: Uncovering the Name’s Roots

Samuel Adams was a patriot and he may have been a brewer. No, we don’t mean that he played football in New England and baseball for Milwaukee; the Founding Father known for having a rebellious streak may have dabbled in brewing before the Revolutionary War. It was this connection founder Jim Koch was channeling when he launched the Boston Beer Company in 1984 and named his flagship lager after Adams.

“I had always admired Samuel Adams’s role in the American Revolution,” Koch told the History Channel. “As the rabble-rouser, he was the most independent-minded of the founding fathers.”

Koch and Adams had more in common than a desire to go against the grain. Their fathers were both brewers, meaning they were born with beer in their blood. Koch is a sixth-generation brewer who started home-brewing in his kitchen using a recipe passed down in his family. The beer he brewed had once been called Louis Koch Lager but it would soon become intertwined with the Boston-born signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Koch created an even deeper connection with Adams’ revolutionary past when he unveiled the beer at dozens of bars throughout Boston on Patriots’ Day 1985. Patriots’ Day is a holiday in New England, created to honor the battles of Lexington and Concord. In Boston, it’s traditional for folks to pack the bars and watch the Boston Marathon as it passes by. Quite a fortuitous day to introduce a beer named after one of the Revolution’s leaders.

What was Samuel Adams’ connection to beer?

Glasses with malted wheat, barley and hops

Historians are a little hazy (like an IPA) as to whether or not Samuel Adams ever worked as a brewer, but they are certain that he played a role in beermaking as a maltster. When Samuel Adams Sr. died in 1748 he passed down a malting business to his son. A few years later an advertisement was placed in the Boston Evening Post reading: “Strong beer, or malt for those who incline to brew it themselves; to be sold by Samuel Adams, at a very reasonable rate.”

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Pay close attention to the words “a very reasonable rate.” If history is any indicator the rate was perhaps too reasonable as Adams was notoriously a terrible businessman. It wasn’t too many years later that Adams found himself in debt troublesome enough that the family’s estate was put up for sale, although his sway in town intimidated anybody from purchasing it. Adams was elected tax collector but his good nature prevented him from hounding those with debts, to the point that he was sued for failing to collect those taxes. But a bad tax collector is a popular one, and he was reelected to office.

It was clear that while beermaking may have been in his blood, politics had a far greater sway on Adams’ attention. The plotting of the American Revolution combined these two things, as much of the strategy was hashed out by patriots in taverns. So let’s raise a glass of Samuel Adams to Samuel Adams for his enduring legacy.

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