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Beer Town: Sam Adams founder Jim Koch talks beer, business and life

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"Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two" By Jim Koch (Flatiron Books). Credit: Boston Beer Co.
"Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two" By Jim Koch (Flatiron Books). Credit: Boston Beer Co.

“Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two” By Jim Koch (Flatiron Books). Credit: Boston Beer Co.

You may not know his name, though you’ve probably seen or heard him in TV or radio ads.

Jim Koch, the billionaire founder of Boston Beer Co. and brewer of Samuel Adams, has lovingly sniffed hop cones, been submerged in a beer dunk tank, and done many other crazy things to promote his brand. But for those who know Koch (pronounced “Cook”), it’s no joke. It’s pretty much the real guy. And he likes to have fun.

In his unconventional, conversational new book, “Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two” (Flatiron Books, $27.99), which was released last week, the man who was among the founding fathers of the craft beer renaissance is unabashedly down to earth and even ribald when it comes to telling his story.

Koch lays out the ups and downs of the Sam Adams saga in 42 sections, with provocative titles such as “Welcome the Dude with the Gold-Painted Toenails” (plus some others that can’t be printed in a family newspaper). As with the ads, the point is to get your attention first, then get to the point he’s making in a very personal way.

“The company I founded in 1984, the Boston Beer Company (BBC), gave me pleasure beyond my wildest dreams,” Koch writes in the intro. Then he goes on to tell a bunch of really candid stories, including what he calls his “most colossal screw-ups.”

I caught up with Koch last week on the phone from New York City, a stop on his recent book tour. Here is some of our conversation.

Q: This isn’t exactly the same old business book, is it?

A: I didn’t want to write a standard business book. This is beer. I wanted it to be down to earth. I wanted it to be based on real-life experiences and stories, because, to me, that’s where the best lessons come from.

Q: How did you manage to capture your personality so well in prose?

A: I ended up writing the book by talking into an iPhone and then it got transcribed. But I wanted it to be like me sitting down and having a beer with somebody who said, “Jim, in 32 years of Sam Adams, what have you learned?”

Q: So what are the big lessons?

A: The book isn’t really built around one or two big lessons, but rather around a number of bite-size lessons. If I try to pull back and find one recurring theme, it is about passion, finding something that you love, and working really, really hard at it. And that will have its rewards. But it will also have setbacks and certainly mistakes that you then learn from.

Q: So there are no easy ways to success?

A: Success is not this rocket ship trajectory to the stars. It’s more like a roller coaster. And the key is hanging on to your passion and your values, even when times are difficult. The small-business owner needs to be constantly innovating, to break the rules, to push the boundaries in everything you do.

Q: The book is a reminder that beer is a business, but because the book is so personal, it also seems relevant beyond just beer or business.

A: A lot of the lessons aren’t limited to an entrepreneurial story. They’re very relevant to people picking jobs and careers and making decisions to go on a new path. I wanted the book to be inspirational for people who were willing to take a very sober look at where they were at in life.

Q: So this is really a book about life?

A: The biggest risk of all is wasting your life. You think, if I leave security and a good job, I’m taking a lot of risk. I want to flip that on its head and say, if you are clinging to security and the comfortable path, you’re taking the biggest risk of all, which is wasting your life.

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