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[UPDATED] Jim Koch Discusses Philanthropy, Raise a Pint, Brew a Dream Program in DC

Remember those drunken napkin drawings back in college with which you convinced your friends that your drinking could save the world?  While you were scrawling about catapulting spent grain cookies into underserved communities, Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company was writing theses in the Harvard Environmental Law Review about corporate stewardship.  This early interest in social good led to Mr. Koch’s commitment to philanthropy through Sam Adams.  Locally, Sam Adams has been an important supporter of the DC homebrewing community.  A broader, nationwide program to get the Boston Beer Company involved in local communities is the  Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program.  Brewing the American Dream focuses on offering microloans to visionary or burgeoning food and beverage businesses.  Over the past few years, with organizations like Accion, Kiva, and Grameen Foundation gaining steam, micro lending has become a popular and effective way to support innovation.  DCBeer recently had the opportunity to discuss the philanthropy with Jim Koch.

DCBeer.com (David Slentz): What is the foundation for these philanthropic efforts?

Jim Koch: Sam Adams understands social responsibility as part of its success formula.  Ever since writing in the Harvard Environmental Law Review in 1976, I have been a big believer in a company having a social mission and responsibilities to the community.  Companies who are in tune with their environment are more adaptive, nimbler, and ultimately more successful.

DS: Why micro lending?

About six years ago, Sam Adams was looking for a way to be more focused with its giving and less ad hoc.  Most big companies can easily write a check to some charity and complete the corporate philanthropy that way.  Sam Adams was looking for a way to bring more creativity and innovation to the process.  This is in line with the brewery’s ideal of bringing more creativity and innovation to everything they do.  The staff tried to come up with an idea of doing more than writing that check.  The team asked who they want to help and what internal strengths they could bring to a charitable effort.  The team decided that it wanted to bring its entrepreneurial knowledge in the food and beverage business to support new and growing small businesses within that market.  The micro lending would be part of an integrated approach that would combine the funding with small business coaching.  This would give all businesses an opportunity to apply for loan amounts less than what banks or the Small Business Administration could offer.  With micro lending, Sam Adams could help grow and create jobs and support those who have innovative and creative ideas. 

DS: Is there any reason why April and May are the months for the the ‘Raise a Pint, Brew a Dream’ initiative?

After receiving lots of drinkers asking how they could drink and support charitable efforts at the same time, Sam Adams went to the drawing board.  The idea first arose in March and it was put out there as quickly as possible. 

DS: How can DC support the effort?

Local bars and retailers have table tents, ads, and other materials promoting the effort.  For every pint of Sam Adams Boston Lager sold, five cents will be donated to the micro lending pool (Ed.: This is an earmarked account with Accion micro lending).  The table tents have QR codes that drive to articles about past Raise a Pint Brew a Dream success stories.  The QR codes are attached to the local markets; the stories here would be about DC-area stories.  This means that the recipient locations roughly mirror the location where the money is raised.  Urban areas with a greater concentration of Sam Adams being sold will be more likely to see award recipients than the markets with less Sam Adams simply because of the awareness of the brand and the efforts.  Future micro lending award recipients could see, and be inspired by, the advertisements.  Spreading the word about the initiative and buying more Sam Adams Boston Lager will increase the amount of money awarded. 

DS: How did Sam Adams come to populate DC?

The DC metro markets were one of the first markets to embrace Sam Adams.  I used to travel from Boston to DC every Monday and Tuesday selling my beers.  I would go bar to bar and see if they would sell my beer.  DC has a special place in my heart, especially the home brewers.  The home brewers used to be the big organization and the dozen or so craft brewers were the pests.  There is lots of support for Sam Adams and its efforts in the DC area.  This is one reason why I knew the Raise a Pint initiative would be well supported in DC. 

DS: What is the state of DC as a beer culture?

SAVOR has had a good showing during the past few years (Ed.: SAVOR is in NYC this year but it will return in 2014).  DC has, and is getting, a good beer culture.  People in DC eat out a lot and they often want drinks as well.  DC understood craft beer and its culture earlier than many other areas.  With early adopters like The Brickskeller [now Bier Baron], DC had an early craft beer retail market.  I have heard good feedback about the recent Craft Brewers Conference.  The brewers said they were treated well and had a good time.  They enjoyed the local bars and events. 

Please come visit us anytime, Jim.  Thanks for your time.

Official announcement:

In June of 2008, Samuel Adams announced the creation of our Brewing the American Dream micro-lending program, designed to help small food and beverage business owners pursue their dreams.

For 5 years, we’ve worked with Accion, the nation’s largest non-profit micro-lender, to identify qualified business owners and provide loans that help fund getting off the ground, expansion or in some cases, bridge through a tough time. To date, we’ve lent over $2,000,000 to 230 small business owners helping to create or save over 1,400 jobs. In April & May of 2013, we’ll donate five cents* for every pint sold at participating bars/restaurants selling Samuel Adams Boston Lager on draft.

So raise a pint to small business owners, for each time you do, you’ll be helping the Brewing the American Dream program. You see, Boston Lager doesn’t just taste good, it does good.

*Donations are from The Boston Beer Company to the “Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Fund” at Accion, the nation's leading nonprofit micro lender. For more information about Accion in the U.S. visit us.accion.org. Maximum donation $250,000.  Valid only at participating locations displaying this offer.

Recent Award Recipient from DC [UPDATED]:

Brewing the American Dream microloans have made the difference for many DC food and beverage businesses, including Mindy’s Catering, owned by Erin White and Fredy Robles. Mindy’s Catering is a family-owned, full-service catering business that’s been serving Washington, D.C. since 2000. In recent years, Erin and Fredy wanted to improve their business and sought funding to purchase their own event equipment. The Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream loan allowed them to do so – a move that saved the business about $25,000 per year in rental fees. The funding also allowed for investment in new marketing materials to help grow their corporate catering business throughout the D.C. area.

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