Fact or Fiction: Sam Adams

Max Maroney
Boston Heritage of a City
April 29, 2013
Did Samuel Adams Operate a Brewery?

Samuel Adams is one of the most well-known and influential residents in Boston’s history. He was born here in 1722 and lived in the Boston area his whole life dying in Cambridge at the age of 81, in 1803. Adams was one of the founding fathers of the United States having signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Today Samuel Adams’ name is most closely associated with a brand of beer made by the Boston Brewing Company that is named in his honor, but did Samuel Adams have anything to do with this company and brewing beers or was it just named after him? Well it turns out that both of these things are true.
The Samuel Adams brand of beer was not created until 1984 by James Koch, more than 180 years after Samuel Adam’s death, so clearly he had nothing to do with the Boston Brewing company. Samuel Adams, however, did come from a family of brewers and maltsters. When Adams was 21 years old, like a lot of people at that age, he had to decide what he wanted to do with his life. He debated back and forth in his head between becoming a businessman and practicing law as a lawyer. Eventually he decided that he wanted to go into the business world. Adams’ father operated a fairly successful malt house and was able to loan him 1,000 pounds, which was a fairly large amount of money at the time, to go into business for himself after a failed attempt by Samuel to work at Thomas Cushing’s Counting House. Adams quickly proved that the business world was no place for him by losing the entire loan his father gave to him with nothing to show for it. After losing the money, Samuel’s father made him a partner at the family’s malt house which was located right next to the Adams’ home on Purchase Street. The Adams malt house made enough profits, under Samuel’s father, to buy the family a house with an orchard, a garden, and even a few servants to help out. The ales and beers that the Adams family helped to make were all sold locally due to the poor refrigeration and pasteurization technology at the time that made it impossible to ship it very far without the beers and ales going bad. There was a history of maltsters in the Adams family going back multiple generations. Samuel continued to run the malt house after his father’s death and even earned himself the nickname Sammy the maltster by his political foes. This nickname was not given to him in a positive manner and was supposed to be a shot at Samuel and his family.
To get back to the main question of whether or not Samuel Adams was a brewer, I feel it is a bit of a leap to call him that. The title of maltster seems much more appropriate to me. According to a 1986 article in Boston Magazine Samuel Adams was not a brewer. The founding father was “a maltster, a soaker and drier of barley, and not a very eager or adept one at that. Sam inherited the malting house from his father and rode it straight into collapse, four times starving off receivership only by bullying creditors with fast talk.”[1] This may sound like nitpicking about definitions, but there really is a difference between a maltster and a brewer. A maltster simply makes the malt that is to be used in brewing beer, while a brewer actually makes the beer or ale from the malt and hops. It is kind of like comparing a lumberjack to a carpenter. The lumberjack, just like the maltster, only provides a key element for the carpenter to use in the harvesting of wood, or making of malt. The carpenter then takes the wood from the lumberjack and makes the final product just like a brewer takes the malt from a maltster. A brewer is a more skilled position and one that Samuel Adams did not have much interest in perusing. All of Samuel’s time and effort was concentrated on his political career and not with operating the family malt house.
The Boston Brewing Company has forever associated the brewing of beers with Samuel Adams’ name even though Samuel was not a brewer himself. I do think it was a smart marketing choice by the company to name their brand of beer after Samuel, because of the Adams family’s ties into the brewing industry and the positive patriotic images that are thought of when hearing Samuel Adams’ name. Adams’ name has helped to make the Samuel Adams beer brand the most popular in America as of 2011, generating more sales than any other American brewing company.[5] The casual Boston historian may not realize that Adams was more of a maltster than anything else and it wasn’t necessarily by choice. Adams’ true passion was politics and only took control over the malt house when his father passed away.

Sources:

1. Bauld, Harold. “Good for What Ales You.” Boston magazine, June 1986.

2. “Samuel Adams.” U.S. History. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. .

3. Samuel Adams Brewery Tour. April 11, 2013.

4. Noon, Mark A. Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2005. Print

5. Mittelman, Amy. Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer. New York: Algora Pub., 2008. Print.

6. Kidder, David S., and Noah D. Oppenheim. “Page 153.” The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class. New York: Rodale, 2006. N. pag. Print.

7. “Samuel Adams Facts.” Revolutionary War and Beyond. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. .

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