John Geist of The Boston Beer Co. Brings New Drinkers to Craft Beer

August 27, 2015

More than thirty years ago, the Boston Beer Company fired some of the first shots in the craft beer revolution when founder Jim Koch began hand-selling his Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

For the last 17 years John Geist, the company’s Vice President of Sales, has been one of Koch’s most effective co-conspirators in the brewery’s continuing effort to deliver flavorful, balanced and innovatively complex beers to America’s thirsty masses. Geist grew up in the metro Chicago area and began his professional career working for Gallo. Not long after that, he worked on the wholesale side of beer, wine and spirits before accepting a position with Boston Beer. That was in 1997. Geist said he was attracted to the company’s work ethic and passion for beer.

Many dyed-in-the-wool craft beer consumers name Sam Adams Boston Lager as their go-to, always in the fridge, beer of choice. Nationally it is the third best-selling beer. Coming in at numbers eight and nine respectively are Sam Adams Summer Ale and Rebel IPA.

With that kind of success, Heady Times wanted to know what keeps Geist soldiering-on. What new challenges lie ahead for the Boston Beer Company? Here’s what he had to say…

“Our mission is to bring new drinkers into the category. The industry isn’t growing, so in order to create new business opportunities it takes the resources and innovation of a national brand to recruit new drinkers by bringing exciting new products to market, even if it’s an alternative to beer. Craft is now 11% of the beer market. That’s a miracle; astonishing. But that also means that we have 89% of the market left to attract. That knowledge continues to fuel our rebellious spirit!”

For Geist and the entire Boston Beer family of brands, quality and freshness are always “Job One”, but innovation really “revs” their engines. At the Sam Adams Brewery in Boston, the company has a nanobrewery where at any given time, there are dozens of beers in development. Geist explains, “We can brew in small batches, just less than a half barrel at a time. We can tweak the type of hops, or the quantity of ingredients, then taste the brew and tweak it. Having the nanobrewery also allows visitors to give us their opinions. Not to mention, it’s fun.”

Another way the company revved its innovation engine was through the creation of an “incubator” company called Alchemy and Science. In 2011 Koch recruited his friend Alan Newman, co-founder of Magic Hat Brewing Company, to make great craft beer in any way, place or style that he thought made sense. It is a completely separate organization that works in an entrepreneurial and creative way. Said Geist, “As I mentioned, we’re eager to recruit open-minded drinkers to craft and grow the category. That’s why Jim created the nanobrewery (which by the way, perfected the Rebel IPA recipe) and teamed up with Alan. These guys are still dedicated to growing the category and they can because after all these years, they have the resources to do it. But they still have their eye-on-the prize which is to grow the value of beer by always offering a better product with quality ingredients like Coney Island Hard Root Beer and the great shandys from Curious Traveler. I love drinking them all, in moderation of course, and I am incredibly proud to sell them.”

Sadly though, there is a small down side to success. Some consumers don’t think excellent craft beers can be made in any sort of large quantity. But Geist is not deterred by this perception. Resting on their laurels, he maintains, is not an option. Of their most recent endeavors Geist commented, “We made sixty beers last year and are continuing to brew a variety of new and different styles of beer, which means we’ve got something for everyone. We saw a lot of excitement around two of the newest members of our Rebel IPA family – Rebel Rider session IPA and Rebel Rouser double IPA”.

Geist admits that he gets excited about releasing new beers and seeing them take off. Always a bit understated, he calls the experience “gratifying”. He continues, “Bars need to offer drinkers a spectrum of beers – some local, some national. Today’s beer lovers expect to have broad choices. Their preferences change from night to night, and from occasion to occasion. Craft beer, hard cider and even shandy drinkers are all looking for the same thing – quality, flavor, craftsmanship, and they like to know who is brewing their beer or fermenting their cider. I am gratified that Rebel IPA is positioned in the top three IPAs.”

Indeed, one of Geist’s and the company’s biggest challenges is making enough beer so that their portfolio is more available to everyone. The company’s Barrel Room Collection is a case in point. These beers, Geist admits, are hard to make. They take time to age and the ingredients make them more difficult to brew on a larger scale. Says Geist, “The hardest thing for me is when a customer lets us know they’re really frustrated that they can’t find something in their city or town.”

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