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The ale trail (continued)

Morean himself is a connoisseur of old prints and lithographs that show Bostonís breweries in their heyday; many of them once hung in brewmastersí offices. "I kind of like the things that show the buildings themselves, because some of them donít stand anymore," he says. "One of my factory scenes for Rueter & Alley was found on the back of a piece of artwork by an art dealer. I negotiated with him for about four years before he finally decided to sell it to me."

Indeed, breweriana can be a lucrative pursuit ó even the cans. "Six or seven years ago, they would sell regularly for $100, $200 apiece. When eBay first came out, people were kind of excited to sell their things, and a lot of stuff went out. Now, a lot of that stuff is just locked up in collections. Some of those cans that used to go for $100 or $200 now go for $1000, and you just canít find one if youíre looking for one." Morean has heard of some plumbers who found 100 or so cans in a wall. They were able to sell them for $13,000 and vacation in Hawaii with their windfall. "I think the most Iíve seen a can selling for is about $25,000," Morean says. "Itís just like anything thatís collectible. If that $25,000 beer can was a coin, comparable in rarity and condition, it would be worth over a million dollars. Theyíre good investments."

JIM KOCH believes in investing in the past, too. When he decided in the mid í80s to take his fledgling beer company and set up shop in the old Haffenreffer bottling house, he had his work cut out for him. Jamaica Plainís breweries used to be one of the cityís primary economic engines, employing thousands upon thousands (and sometimes keeping their steins full in their company bier gardens). But that was a long time ago. With Prohibition, and then with the industryís total collapse in Boston, the JP neighborhood had fallen on hard times.

"It was basically an empty building that nobody wanted," Koch remembers. "A brewery is a very difficult physical structure to modify for any other use." Still, he says, "I walked into the place and fell in love with it. Even though at the time it was scary-looking. It was virtually abandoned, there were trees growing out of the façade. There were squatters in there. There was a pornographic painter. There was our local gang, the X-Men. There was a chop shop that cut up Jaguars. And the Opera Company of Boston was storing their sets there, so youíd walk in and there would be a 20-foot sphinx from Aida. The roof leaked. You had rain coming in. All of the equipment was gone. Everything. There was not a single useful piece of equipment there. It was a place that had been virtually abandoned for 15 years. It took some real ó I wonít say vision, Iíd say hallucination ó to ever see it as a functioning brewery and the vibrant environment it is today."

Even the first baby step hit a road block. "I remember calling up the liquor-control board," Koch says. "I said, ĎI need a form to open a brewery.í And they came back and said, ĎWell, we donít have those. I found some to close a brewery ...í No one had opened a brewery since Prohibition." But Koch was persistent. And by the mid í80s, for the first time in almost two decades, beer was once again being brewed in Boston.

While only a few thousand barrels per year roll out of the JP brewery, itís the heart and soul of the Sam Adams empire. "Itís where all of our beers are born, where the recipes are perfected," Koch says. "We brew some of the beer for Boston. But in terms of actually trying to produce larger quantities, itís not the place for it. We had looked at turning that into our big production brewery, but the issue is that the neighborhood doesnít want it ó the idea of bringing 25 trucks in and out every day. We would go from being well-regarded as a good neighbor to being a pain in the ass. Because [the neighborhood] has been gentrified." Thatís due in no small part to Kochís decision to reanimate the Haffenreffer brewery ó and to the JPNDC and the other "urban pioneers who had this vision that this neighborhood was going to become an attractive place to live again. And that by turning the brewery around we could stabilize the neighborhood."

Perhaps more important is the restorative effect Koch and Sam Adams have had on beer-making. "When I started Sam Adams 21 years ago, beer in the United States was in danger of becoming just alcoholic soda pop," he says. "By anchoring Sam Adams in Bostonís brewing history, it felt like I was reviving the idea that beer is meant to have flavor, and is part of our culture. Particularly here in New England, you had both brewing traditions alive. People would drink ales and lagers here, which was unusual."

If Koch could somehow travel back in time, to taste some of the hundreds of beer styles that were once brewed within Boston city limits, which would he tip back first? "Iíd love to try all the beers of the original Boston Beer Company," he says. "When I started this, I wanted to revive that name because the last home of the Boston Beer Company was in that brewery. Thatís where it was last brewed, in the 1960s. And until it closed, it was Americaís oldest brewery. It was the anchor of Bostonís brewing tradition for almost a century and a half. It was a very sad thing that it closed, and I wanted to revive that centerpiece of the brewing tradition here in Boston."

As we wrap up our conversation, Koch seems to get a little excited. Just before we hang up, he says six simple words.

"Iím gonna go have a beer."

Mike Miliard can be reached at mmiliard@phx.com

page 4 

Issue Date: May 27 - June 2, 2005
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