Sam Adams ‘Mystery Man’ Feels the Craft Spirit

sam rebel ipaSitting in a sports bar sipping a beer on a recent afternoon, I was approached by a guy who asked me if I’d ever tried Samuel Adams’ new Rebel IPA.

Immediately, I knew I was going to get a free beer, and maybe even some free merch. I told him that I had just had one a couple days earlier, and that I very much enjoyed it. He offered to buy me a Sam Boston Lager, but I responded that, “I’d rather have another Rebel IPA.”

Beer bought, and he also gave me a hat and a really cool keychain/bottle opener. But instead of moving on to the next guy, he actually talked with me for a while, possibly because I told him I am a beer blogger.

The conversation we had inspired me to write this because, honestly, this guy was more than just a brand ambassador sent down from Boston to convert taste buds. He came across as being very sincere and enthusiastic about the product Sam Adams produces.

I promised him I wouldn’t use his name so that his PR department wouldn’t be upset; honestly, I think the Samuel Adams PR department should let employees like this talk publicly more often. He was certainly more convincing than a press release.

But before I share a few of the things this Mystery Man said, I’ll recount a conversation I had a couple of years ago with another brand ambassador of sorts. Actually, I have always referred to her as “Miller Lite Girl.”

Miller Lite Girl was blond, pretty, thin, very sweet and was maybe a day or two over 21. Most importantly, she obviously knew very little about beer. No foul there; she was young and was probably just working her way through college, and walking around buying Miller Lites for guys in bars was just another way for MillerCoors to win over brand loyalty.

When she walked up to me and started talking, I engaged her in conversation, asked her name, etc., so she sat down for a moment to chat (I talk to everybody, it’s just what I do). When I found an opportunity, I said, “Can I buy you a Bud Light?”

Caught off guard, she looked down at her Miller Lite jacket and said, “Um, I can’t drink a Bud Light. I’m a Miller Lite girl.”

I assured her I was just joking, so she laughed, got me a free beer and was on her way. But my point is, there is a big difference between a field marketer and someone who has made a career in the beer industry.

And now back to the Samuel Adams Mystery Man, for comparison. He informed me he had been in the beer business for more than a decade, and that he had worked at breweries and as a distribution rep, working with a wide variety of brands and beers over the years.

As we talked about craft beer and the fact that some view Samuel Adams as having too large of a production level and brand presence to be considered “craft,” Mystery Man grew animated, almost excited.

He reiterated several times that CEO Jim Koch is dedicated to quality ingredients and putting out the highest quality beers as possible.

“We are holding the shield for craft brewing,” Mystery Man said, when talking about beer snob critics.

Rebel IPA is a testament. Brewed with five different West Coast hops – Cascade, Simcoe, Centennial, Chinook and Amarillo – it’s got a hoppy flavor profile without going over the top, at 45 IBUs. In other words, it isn’t trying for the hop orgy experience, it’s just a really nicely balanced IPA with a nicely bitter, citrus quality that is good enough to satisfy a craft beer enthusiast while also potentially building a bridge to those interested in crossing that line.

Interestingly, Rebel IPA represents a fairly big departure from the relatively buttoned-up Sam brand, with a bright red, splashy logo and tap handles that are made to look like spray paint cans. They even rattle when you move them. The change looks like a pretty clear attempt to appear as one of the more daring craft breweries. Maybe it’s a way for Sam to improve its image with the beer snobs who view the brand as no longer being small enough to be “craft.”

Mystery Man also noted that Sam Adams is up against the brewing giants, the same as any small craft brewery. But the fact Sam Adams may be the biggest of the rest doesn’t mean they are trying to do the same to smaller craft brewers, he suggested. They just want to make and sell good beer.

What I came away with was that Mystery Man wasn’t just toeing the company line – he clearly meant what he was saying and believes in what is going on in Boston.  I’m glad I talked with him, because while I try just about every new Sam Adams beer, I don’t buy a lot of it (well, until Rebel IPA came along). Now I may re-think that.

Also, at no point during the conversation did I have the urge to buy him a Bud Light.

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