Not-so-Local Brewery Spotlight: Samuel Adams Brewery – craft beer at its largest

While preparing for our trip back east I asked friends for suggestions of things to do in Boston. Multiple people (and AAA) recommended the Samuel Adams Brewery tour. I’m not usually one for brewery tours because there is very little that is different from place to place. “Here’s the fermenters, there’s the bottling line, smell these hops, etc etc.” But I also don’t turn down free alcohol and it felt like if I’m going to really commit to this craft beer lifestyle (which, let’s face it, I already have) then I should go to the source, the biggest craft brewery of them all.
Tasting room smiles.
A smaller than expected complex in a suburban neighborhood of Boston houses the original brewery which is now used mostly for small experimental batches while larger facilities in Philadelphia and Cincinnati do most of the production and bottling. The lobby area is also a trophy room with many cases of medals and even a large silver cup awarded for having the most awards by one brewery. The tour is standard, with a funny guide who shows you the basic operations and tells you why beer is an important part of American history. I couldn’t help but look for the guys from the commercials, one of the brewer’s beards may or may not have influenced Reed to grow his own. In no time we were whisked into the tasting room to sit down at long wooden tables while pitchers of beer were poured and the importance of drinking quality beer was explained through a series of steps to follow when drinking and evaluating beer. Turns out the tastebuds at the front of your tongue are going to deliver more of the sweet flavors while those at the back will pick up the bitter notes. How did I not know about this? I have since vowed to taste more beers at the front of my mouth in order to let the malty flavors be experienced before the bitterness of the hops takes over. 
We tried 4 of their beers, the Boston lager, Oktoberfest, Harvest Pumpkin and White, and I liked them all. Even Reed enjoyed the pumpkin one, which tasted of nutmeg but not in an overwhelming way. A quick spin through their gift shop, where I bought a 22 of their American Kriek which I had days later and thoroughly enjoyed. Cherry beers can go horribly wrong, often tasting like cough syrup – but this one was delightful. Afterwards we boarded a free shuttle to a local pub for lunch where we tried a few more varieties of their beer in their potentially over-designed pint glasses before being shuttled back to the T station.
All in all it was an enjoyable visit. I was worried that it would feel big, and maybe evil – the way I imagine a tour of Anheuser-Busch would feel. Sam Adams is the #1 craft brewer in the US which makes them feel like the enemy, but their sales still only make up 1% of the beer market compared to AB’s 55%. I’ve seen the documentary Beer Wars, about the crazy market share discrepancy and how the already enormous companies continue to do everything they can to get bigger and bigger. It’s very off-putting and made me an even stronger supporter of local breweries like Stone and the way they conduct themselves. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sam Adams, but I got the same feeling being there as their commercials dole out – they care about making good beer and selling it to people who will appreciate it. I get the impression that Sam Adams takes being #1 very seriously, as it means that the line of people being converted from fizzy yellow beer to the good stuff goes through them.