Berlins crafty new beer scene was buzzing when Greg Koch announced that his San Diego based company, Stone Brewing, will open a huge brewery in Berlin including a Restaurant and a Biergarten – delivering a 25 Mio $ invest to the city. Bang. Last December, Stone released the first „brewed in Berlin“ beer simultaneously in seven European countries. Bang. Now the company announced that the Berlin brewed beers will enter the european market in cans. Yep, cans. Not bottles. Big bang. Time for a chat with Greg Koch about all this… and of course about the „Reinheitsgebot“.
Greg, thanks for taking your time to have a chat about craft beer. After the release of the first „made in Berlin“ Stone Brewing barrel last December, the city and it’s craft beer aficionados can’t wait for the opening of the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. Can you already reveal an opening date?
We’ll be welcoming our first guests starting in April but this is our soft opening. For those considering visiting during April and May, we’ll have an “Early Diner Agreement,” which asks in advance for a bit of patience. It’s admittedly an unusual approach, but we know that we’re creating a very large and very unique space and experience, and it will take us a while to get it ‘just so.’ As such, we’d love people to come during that period, but only with the understanding that if we make a mistake…and we will make mistakes…that you allow us to fix it on the spot, rather than learning about it later via an online review somewhere. If you’re looking to experience Stone once we’ve refined the experience and we’ve fully gotten our legs under us, we recommend you visit after the middle of June. Whenever you choose, we look forward to hosting you!
Let’s get hoppy! In early 2014 I traveled three weeks from San Francisco to LA and checked out a different local craft beer everyday. I was overjoyed, but also feared my return to Berlin, because back then the craft beer scene was still developing. Today, it would be no problem to check out a different Berlin craft beer everyday for three weeks. How would you explain this insane growth and hype that’s going on in the B.?
More and more Berliners are discovering that there’s so much out there beyond the ‘typical’ beers, and they won’t be denied. There are some amazing craft breweries creating exceptional beers in Berlin. It’s a relatively small scene right now, but I see it gaining even more momentum and expanding every month. For comparison, there are more than 115 breweries in San Diego County, which is essentially the same population as Berlin. West Coast style IPAs come from San Diego of course, but today there are dozens and dozens of German brewers brewing West Coast style IPAs, American Pale Ales, San Diego-style Double IPAs, etc. It’s extraordinarily flattering to see so many German breweries brewing beer styles that have been inspired by what we’ve created in the American craft brewing culture!
We experienced the hype of Berlin craft beer first-hand on 7 December when we tapped our first @StoneBerlin-brewed beers at 52 locations throughout seven European countries. We had an incredible turnout from fans curious about our beers and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Monterey Bar, one of Berlin’s best and most popular craft beer bars, had their #1 busiest day by a good margin in their more than two-year history of being in business.
Given that consuming is always more than a rational choice for a certain taste or the texture of a product – in your opinion: are the new craft beer drinkers drawn to a culinary experience around flavors or are they more drawn to a certain kind of lifestyle that comes with craft beer or let’s say any craft product right now?
If craft embodies a lifestyle, then it’s a lifestyle that prefers authentic, artisanal and flavorful. The industrialized versions of food and drink just don’t cut it. We want things that taste amazing, not just ‘acceptable.’ The craft community welcomes anyone interested in appreciating a flavor. We hope that those enjoying our beers are doing so for the artistry that goes into them, but if it’s simply because you think it just tastes good…whatever that means to you…we’re glad you’re here!
In April the „Reinheitsgebot“ will celebrate it’s 500th birthday. Many craft beer brewers struggle with this law, because they are not allowed to sell their beers under the name „Bier“ due to the restrictions of the „Reinheitsgebot“. What’s your physical reaction when you hear the word „Reinheitsgebot“?
Is the „Reinheitsgebot“ an anachronistic vehicle preventing innovation or do you think it’s still a necessary tool?
The Reinheitsgebot at one time played an integral part in the history of beer, but I don’t think it will survive scrutiny much longer. The reality is a lot of commodity brewers follow that law, making cheap, cheap beer. And a lot of artisanal breweries that make simply amazing beers with no desire to be restricted by outdated thinking that was originally conceived as a taxation law 500 years ago. To those that insist on following the R’bot I say: Restrict yourselves all you like, but you will not be successful restricting the creativity and quality of the new generations craft brewers!
Stone Brewing is about to invest 25 Mio. US $ here in Berlin. It’s a fun fact that a US brewing company brings one of the biggest industry investments to a city that notoriously struggles with investments apart from the creative or digital industry. But we have many passionate drinkers, people carry a bottle of beer all the time like a fashion accessory – but that’s most probably not the reason for such a game changing business development. So, why Berlin?
We looked at more than 130 possible sites in 9 countries before deciding on the beautiful property and historic buildings we found in the Mariendorf neighborhood of Berlin at the old GASAG facility. We soon fell in love with the city itself as well. So, while some may argue that carrying a bottle of artisanal beer is the ultimate chic fashion statement, that’s not what influenced our selection of this location. And actually we’ll be putting our beer in cans, not bottles! We apologize in advance that our ‘fashion accessory’ won’t add to the glittery shards so fashionable adorning Berlin’s sidewalks and parks!
That’s surprising news. Frankly: Cans don’t have the best reputation here in Germany among those who are concerned with environmental issues. And even many beer drinkers see canned beer as something that desperate Heavy Metal guys are drinking on their way to an Iron Maiden tribute show. Convince me please?
In some ways, it’s not our job to convince, it’s simply our job to maximize the quality and environmental responsibility of our beer and let folks decide for themselves. However, I can tell you that many experts today feel that cans are better packaging for beer. Period. At Stone we are committed to sustainability and always keep in mind our carbon footprint when delivering the freshest beer possible to fans. StoneBerlin will be our hub for distributing throughout Europe and cans, which can be recycled anywhere, only require one-way transport. Returnable bottles are highly embraced in Germany and we recognize that for some companies with relatively small distribution radiuses, returnable bottles may be a good choice. For a company like Stone distributing all across Europe and beyond, studies have shown that the additional trucking, storage, energy consumption for machinery and hot water, and the high use of cleaning chemicals is inefficient and an environmental negative. By using cans for our Berlin-brewed beers, we’ll be able to transport our beer using less fuel and in the most recycled package.
And what about the flavor?
We’ll be able to better maintain the bold, high-quality flavors our brewing team works hard to achieve, since cans optimize the protection of flavor. Aluminum serves as an absolute barrier to oxygen and is the only packaging option with an absolute barrier to light, which prevents “stale” and “skunky” off-flavors. Was that enough convincing? If not, no Stone beer for you! ;-]-= Seriously, we expect that the proof will be in the package…literally!
Like Anheuser-Busch/Inbev with their new Becks specialty beers, the old-fashioned big players start to surf the craft beer wave. How does that feel? Are you happy that dedicated craft beer brewers made the product finally mainstream or is it the beginning of the decline of a product?
The big brewers of course HAVE noticed, as they’ve been faced with decades of declining sales as members of the beer drinking public have slowly been opting out of participating in their race to the bottom. While it’s said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Industrial Giants are trying to fool the public by piggy backing on our reputation of being an independent brewer committed to bold flavors and brewing innovation. This is bad for consumers, as they are often too distracted and fatigued to pay attention or care to know the difference. Ultimately, craft brewers should use this opportunity to continue captivating the public’s attention with their true dedication to the craft of brewing and remain independent. We know we need to earn our place in the world every day.
Last question: Berlin is a very special city with a unique history and for many young people still something like the Capital of Cool. Which Stone Brewing Beer has the most Berlin-y taste and attitude?
That, my friend, is for everyone else to decide. We take an unconventional approach to all our beers, brewing what we like. We simply hope that others like it to. We will brew four beers in Berlin year-round: The classy West Coast style Stone IPA, the Stone Ruination Double IPA – the first West Coats style brewed double IPA, the intense Arrogant Bastard Ale and the hoppy Stone Cali-Belgique IPA. You see: This is the perfect city for Stone Brewing: Just as Berlin has pulled itself from a chequered past, and now is vibrant, creative and alive, the art of brewing is being revived as well, escaping from the confines of the industrialized overlords as the people cry for freedom from the oppression of cheap, tasteless beer!