Is Sam Adams too Big to be Craft Beer?

Craft beer is big. Independent craft breweries saw their collective sales grow 20 percent last year, and they’re slowly taking away sales from the giants. Overall beer sales are flat, but locally brewed India Pale Ales are killing it.

Craft beer is also small. As a group, craft breweries still comprise only about 8 to 14 percent of the overall beer market. And being small is a point of pride — it’s part of the craft brewery definition. You can’t be craft if you make more than 6 million barrels of beer a year (Budweiser brews about 40 million barrels a year). Even if a brewery sticks a craft-looking label on the bottle (think Third Shift, which is actually a front for Coors), it doesn’t make it craft. Its parent company is still too big.

Except, maybe, for Samuel Adams. Jim Koch started his Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams in 1984, pitching it as a flavorful antidote to a watery beer scene. Along the way Boston Beer Company grew into a $2.9 billion company. But now flavor is everywhere, as are other upstarts that pitch their beers as more bold, artisanal and authentic than Sam Adams.

The company is trying to combat this narrative, recognizing that it’s stuck between the small and the big. No matter how craft fads come and go, a recent television ad implies, Sam Adams is forever.

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