You have a busy schedule. How do you decompress?
I try not to compress. It’s been 22 years, and Sam Adams has been successful beyond my wildest dreams. Frankly, if it fell apart tomorrow I would feel like I accomplished way more than I set out to do.
You know, when people ask me about what’s happened in beer in the past two decades, I always point to your brand: There’s a whole generation that has come of age who take the availability of Sam Adams Boston Lager for granted.
More than that. Our generation remembers Sam Adams from its early beginnings. You ask a 25 year-old: as far as they’re concerned it’s been around forever. Because ever since they were aware of beer, it was available.
It’s the most vivid illustration I can give people about how deep the beer revolution goes.
Isn’t it great that a beer drinker can take good beer for granted? That’s what me and a lot of other people worked so hard for. I think it’s great.
Your role in the Hallertau hops story. Why did you become such a warrior for hops?
That and Tettnang were the hops required in [my grandfather’s] recipe. When we started, we weren’t using very much, and the hop wasn’t hard to get. But by the late eightiess it was beginning to show problems. Hallertauer Mittelfruh, the heirloom hop of the German lager brewing tradition, was the hop that defined German lagers. At one point it was pretty much all that was grown in the Hallertau. Slowly, higher-yielding, more disease resistant varieties came in. The Mittelfruh hop has never been genetically altered, which means it has no tolerance for a number of pests, most importantly Verticillium wilt. Do you grow tomatoes?
My husband does.
Tomatoes have had to be bred for resistance to Verticillium. But they couldn’t do that to Mittelfruh hops without changing the flavor and aroma character. So, the 8000 acres were down to about 380 acres by 1993 or 4. Everybody had been telling us: you’ll have to find another hop, growers won’t keep growing this hop, it’s too hard to grow, it’s too expensive, no amount of money is going to get people to grow it because the disease is going to ruin it. That would have meant losing some of the special taste of the beer.
I started asking “why.” You know, in Japanese quality control philosophy, there’s “the five whys”—you haven’t gotten to the problem until you’ve asked “why” five times. So I asked why—why won’t they grow them? It was because the old growth was infected, and they didn’t think they could keep the soil clean.
We know in England that Goldings are subject to the same wilt. The English had changed their growing practices and the Germans hadn’t. That’s why I was convinced we could turn this around. The hop dealers, the growers, the agronomists, had all come to the conclusion that this hop was over and it was going to die out. Asking why it was a problem there and not in England, we realized there were techniques that could be brought to Germany that would help this hop to survive.
We weren’t big, but we got people excited to implement new growing procedures. They cultivated clean cuttings, and moved to new fields. So those 400 acres are now 2000-3000 acres.
You were awarded the order of the hops.
Yea, that was cool, really cool.
A knighthood. You’re Sir Jim?
A chevalier. In the hop world. Ironically, the thing is in Strasbourg, so it’s all in French not in German. It was neat, because it dates back to the 1300s. To be knighted in an order that’s existed for over 600 years, that’s pretty cool. Even in Boston we don’t have anything that dates back that far!