Boston Beer Co. has finally opened its Samuel Adams Tap Room near Faneuil Hall — steps from the Samuel Adams statue ― as it looks to reinvigorate a brand facing strong competition from smaller craft brewers.
The three-level 14,000-square-foot space at 60 State St. features three bars, and was under construction for two years. After missing the summer tourism season completely, the company had hoped for a November debut.
“Where else can you hold a Sam Adams in your hand and look at the statue of Sam Adams, from which the illustration of Sam Adams that has been on our label for 36 years was drawn?” said company founder Jim Koch.
Koch described the location as a graveyard for restaurants — three have gone out of business at the address since he started brewing beer, he said. That’s why the taproom is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows that can open, and features an upper-level outdoor patio.
“The realtor told us that there were 13 million people who walked by the space every year, and my reaction was, ‘Well that’s a problem if all they do is walk by,’” he said. “I want them to stop in for a beer.”
And there are 20 on tap to choose from — eight are staples such Boston Lager and Sam ‘76, while others are experimental, including Peach Apricot IPA or Moscow Mule. Boston Beer’s popular Truly hard seltzer is on tap, too.
The space features stadium seating, board games, a gift shop, and a to-go crowler station. There’s also a Boston Marathon hallway — Boston Beer produces the race’s official beer, 26.2 Brew.
Taking a tip from Delaware-based Dogfish Head Brewery ― which merged with Boston Beer last year ― there are also iPads that allow drinkers to provide instant feedback on beers.
The taproom serves some food — including a sandwich of the day and snacks such as soft pretzels and flatbreads — but Koch said he hopes people will visit nearby Faneuil Hall spots for a real meal.
“Running a restaurant is hard work, and if there is one thing I hate, it’s hard work," Koch said.
Megan Parisi, the taproom’s head brewer, said it’s a way to remind consumers that the company’s beer is local.
“People forget that we started just as small as anyone else, if not smaller,” Parisi said, “Our roots and hearts are here in Boston, and this is a chance to reconnect.”
Richard Duprey, an analyst for the Virginia-based investment advice company The Motley Fool, said sales of Samuel Adams beer have been declining for years as consumers turn from large brands to smaller brewers. According to the industry’s trade group, the Brewers Association, Samuel Adams is a craft brewery since it produces less than 6 million barrels of beer annually. But it tips toward the high end of the scale at more than 4 million.
“For craft beer drinkers, Sam Adams is seen as a more mass produced type of beer," Duprey said. "The trends have been away from that type.”
The downtown taproom is the third such space for Samuel Adams ― preceded by a Jamaica Plain room in 2017 and a space in Cincinnati the next year.
Bart Watson, chief economist with the Brewers Association, said the concept has been gaining in popularity over the past few years — brewers say taprooms help them directly connect with drinkers.
“We continue to see that taprooms are something consumers like,” Watson said. “I think this is driven by consumer desire to experience.”
But that wasn’t so obvious early on.
Rob Burns, cofounder of Everett-based Night Shift Brewing, said that when it opened a taproom in 2014 it was unclear whether there was demand.
“At the time, we were like, ‘This is just going to be a big, giant empty room — how are we going to get anyone to ever come here?’” he said. “Then we were surprised that we were jam-packed all the time.”
For Night Shift, which produced 39,000 barrels of beer last year, the taproom made a noticeable difference in sales volume.
But the Samuel Adams taproom isn’t primarily about selling product, according to Burns.
“For Boston Beer, I’m sure the impact is small in the grand scheme of 4 million barrels, but I think it is a great marketing tool for them,” he said.
Duprey isn’t convinced it will make much of a difference.
“For companies producing 15,000 barrels a year, selling a lot of beer at their brewpub makes a real difference for them," he said. “It won’t really turn the direction around for Sam Adams — the trends are really working against the beer."
But Koch expects Samuel Adams to grow again as the beer landscape stabilizes.
“Even though there hasn’t been growth, there have been a thousand new breweries opening every year,” he said. “Brands like Sam Adams are going to start growing again as attention comes off of what’s new.”
Koch said the success of new taprooms educates drinkers about good beer, so he’s not worried about competition.
“If someone had a great experience in one taproom, they are going to be more willing to try someone else’s taproom, too, and that’s good for all of us,” he said.
The taproom will employ 10 full-time and 55 part-time workers. Koch wouldn’t divulge the cost of the drawn-out project, but said the company didn’t cut corners.
“It’s more than lunch money,” he said. “It’s plenty of millions. We intend to be there for decades and decades and decades. It’s our home.”