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At Sam Adams’ Pitch Room, culinary entrepreneurs pitch beer baron for a shot at $10,000

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I spent Monday evening at the Samuel Adams brewery in Jamaica Plain, listening to a man talk about turning his passion for home brewing into a business. But the man wasn’t Sam Adams founder Jim Koch, the craft beer icon who started in his kitchen three decades ago. It was Michael Fairbrother, founder of Moonlight Meadery of Londonderry, N.H., who hopes to mimic Koch’s success.

Fairbrother came out on top of a pile of six food and beverage entrepreneurs in the regional round of Sam Adams’s new Pitch Room competition, launching him to the national final and a shot at a $10,000 prize. In a two-minute pitch, he recalled starting the business as a hobby (hence the “Moonlight” in the name) before committing to it full time a few years ago.

“How can you do what you love part time?” he asked.

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Fairbrother wowed a judging panel led by Koch with the taste of his meads, old-world beverages brewed with honey that are enjoying a bit of a renaissance. He beat entrepreneurs making chickpea chips, jams and preserves, personal-size cakes, African juices, and chocolate sculptures.

Koch told me after deliberations that a key factor was his belief that Sam Adams could do more to help Moonlight Meadery grow and create jobs than it could for any of the other businesses.

The Pitch Room is the latest addition to Sam Adams’s five-year-old Brewing the American Dream program, which offers small loans (often a few thousand dollars) and practical advice to startups in the food and beverage, and hospitality industries. These entrepreneurs, Koch pointed out, don’t have the same resources at their disposal as their counterparts in the tech sector.

“We’re still only 1 percent of the beer market, so it feels like being a startup every day,” Koch said. “The whole program came out of my experience starting Sam Adams and thinking about, ‘What do I wish I had that wasn’t available to me as a very small startup business.’ The first was good nuts and bolts business advice, not strategy, not philosophy — that stuff you don’t need. What you need is, how do you design a label? How do you negotiate a real estate lease? The second was loan money.”

Those of us who hang out at — and file stories from — Voltage Coffee Art in Kendall Square have Brewing the American Dream to thank, in part anyway. The popular source of caffeine was one of the program’s first loan recipients, Koch said, and is one of his favorite success stories.

The businesses Sam Adams funds, he said, have “great products and passionate people. How can you not want to help them?”

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