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Sam Adams Is Airborne Again; Deal Inked With JetBlue

Tuesday, 2 Jul 2013 | 10:39 AM ET
Samuel Adams Boston Lager in a can.
Source: The Boston Beer Company
Samuel Adams Boston Lager in a can.

The "Sam Can" is cleared for takeoff.

The Boston Beer Company, the nation's largest craft brewer, is partnering with JetBlue Airways to make its newly canned beer available on JetBlue flights nationwide.

The "Sam Can," as it's known among beer drinkers, was unveiled to much fanfare in May after Samuel Adams founder and Chairman Jim Koch reversed his longstanding position that beer was best served in bottles. Koch claims Boston Beer spent two years and $1 million dollars to build a better beer can.

"Cans have gotten quite good today. (Ours) has a unique shape and a different lid, which means you get noticeably more flavor," said Koch. "It's not huge. I would call it a slight but noticeable difference, but it was an improvement over the standard beer can."

What's not slight is the boom in canned beer, which made up 53 percent of the market last year, versus 48 percent in 2006, according to industry trade group the Beer Institute. The number of craft brewers canning their beers has expanded from fewer than 50 in 2008 to 262 in 2012, according to industry website Craftcans.com.

Brewers are quick to talk about the benefits of cans, from their convenience, cost savings and increased ability to protect beer. But for all the talk about consumer convenience and taste preferences, the business side is impossible to ignore. Having canned beer as on option brings access and opportunity for increased sales.

(Read More: The Beer Revolution Will Not Be Bottled )

"We were purists about the can and we were shut out of a lot of places where people wanted to drink Sam Adams," said Koch. "Finally finding a can that I can be happy with means that beer drinkers get Sam Adams in occasions where they never could before."

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Airlines are commonly one of those places where bottles are shut out. Bottled beer, including Sam Adams, was once common in the sky, but as cost-cutting became the new way of life in the airline industry, bottles were dropped in favor of the lighter and easier to store cans.

JetBlue officials read about the release of the Sam Can and called to discuss putting Sam Adams back in the skies, Koch told CNBC.

"They've been very innovative in upgrading the customer experience. So they were enthusiastic and committed and when you have a partner like that, you then know it's going to last," Koch continued. "I'm looking forward to this as something that will be available to passengers in the coming years."

While JetBlue will be the first airline to offer the Sam Can, Koch said he is open to working with other airlines to get Sam Adams back in the skies.

(Read More: The Man Who Made Canned Craft Beer Cool)

"I appreciate an airline that tends to the details of the consumer experience," he said. "They all get you from point A to point B safely and efficiently. It's just nice to get there safely and efficiently with a good beer in your hand."

Koch is no stranger to the airline experience. He estimates he averages about 200 flights a year. In the nearly 30 years since he founded Samuel Adams, he's racked up more than his share of frequent flier miles.

"For some airlines, I'm working on my third set of a million miles. I literally have millions and millions of miles on airlines."

-By CNBC's Tom Rotunno. Follow him on Twitter @TomRotunno.

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