(c) Stone Brewing Co
Interview with Greg Koch, CEO & Co-founder of Stone Brewing Co.

Amazing beer for Europe

The craft beer revolution has Europe in its grip. One of the companies spearheading this revolution, the cult Californian brewery Stone Brewing, has chosen Berlin as its European headquarters. From the end of 2015, on a site that previously housed a gasworks, craft beers with unusual names such as Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale will be brewed and sold. European Business Journal spoke with the CEO of Stone Brewing, Greg Koch, about his beer philosophy and Europe as a target market.

EBJ: Mr. Koch, you are the CEO of Stone Brewing Co., the first independent American craft beer brewery to be to run in Europe by the end of 2015. How can Europe benefit from craft beer?

Greg Koch: Europe already has thousands of amazing craft brewers that are making incredible beers. For example, BrewDog (Scotland) is recognized around the world. The tiny new Vagabund Brauerei (Germany) has become a very popular place for locals in Berlin’s Wedding neighborhood. Baladin (Italy) is 20 years old and considered one of the leaders of Italy’s incredibly vibrant craft brewing landscape. Europeans benefit greatly from having a quality range of choice and diversity. Stone Brewing’s presence will simply add to the diversity of choices for discerning consumers.

“The so-called ‘Reinheitsgebot’ is nothing but a great misunderstanding,” says Greg Koch

EBJ: Your European headquarters will be located in Germany – a country which is regarded worldwide as the beer nation and the master of the art of brewing. How will Stone Brewing enrich the German brewery landscape?

Greg Koch: We brew styles that are completely different from traditional German styles, and very different from modern industrial styles. We approach the brewing of our beer with the passion of an artist.

EBJ: Are we also talking about different flavours and a distinguished attitude?

Greg Koch: Yes, yes, yes. And the main difference that you would probably expect is that the flavour profile is bigger. Our beers have big character, with rich flavor and aroma. Our beer is completely different from the industrial beer that the majority of the world drinks. Industrial beer represents the lowest common denominator. There is industrial American beer, industrial Dutch beer, industrial Japanese beer, industrial Mexican beer, and yes, also industrial German beer. Industrial beer has become so common that most people know little else.

EBJ: So this is a worldwide trend?

Greg Koch: Exactly. For centuries, brewing has been a noble art, designed by and for the people. Tragically, industrialization and pandering to the lowest common denominator have fueled brewing’s deterioration into a mere commodity. So much so that most of the world no longer thinks of brewing as an art. Instead, they view it as something with little if any character, to be purchased as inexpensively as possible.

EBJ: But what about the famous German purity law? Doesn’t it prevent the beer from losing quality?

Greg Koch: The so-called Reinheitsgebot is nothing but a great misunderstanding. It’s nicknamed ‘purity law’ but has nothing to do with purity. It is an antiquated tax law from 1516, that only began being used as a marketing term and relabeled as so-called ‘purity law’ somewhere around the 1950s. Modern industrial brewers around the world are able to make poor quality beer that falls within the technical guidelines of the Reinheitsgebot. This will assist in understanding the Reinheitsgebot: www.europeanbeerguide.net/reinheit.htm

The craft beer revolution spills over to Berlin

EBJ: Well, the German purity law says that beer should consist of barley, hops, water and yeast.

Greg Koch: May we instead simply refer to it as the “Reinheitsgebot” since it’s not, and never was, a “purity law”? At Stone Brewing, 95%+ of our volume falls within the guidelines of the Reinheitsgebot, but the flavors and character of our beer would be considered very strong by most German beer drinkers. We use dramatically more hops and more barley, and our beer is much much more expensive to brew.

EBJ: It would be interesting to know about your personal definition of purity.

Greg Koch: Purity means that we are not putting anything into our beer that is not of high quality.

Greg Koch’s own definition of purity: “Not putting anything into our beer that is not of high quality.”

EBJ: So, have people fallen into the trap of a German cliché?

Greg Koch: Yes. The conversation in Germany as in many parts of the world has been reframed so much with this idea of purity law. Nobody really understands what it means. It’s just rhetoric and is often used as an excuse to sell you cheap beer and make you think that it is still okay. Cheap industrial beer with a “Purity” stamp on it is still cheap industrial beer.

EBJ: But industrial German beer is still successful. The masses buy German beer here that is produced by big beer companies such as the Radeberger Group.

Greg Koch: Yes, industrial beer is still the leading style beer around the world. If Germans want to take pride that they are drinking the same style of industrial beer as the Chinese and the Mexicans and the Americans, they can relax and continue to enjoy their industrial beer. It is not my job to convince anybody they should drink craft beer. It’s my job to make amazing beers. It’s simply for somebody else to decide for themselves if they like it or not.

EBJ: Don’t you address any target groups?

Greg Koch: My target group is people who decide for themselves that they like good beer. People who aren’t satisfied with industrial beer, and want something different. When it comes to other aspects, such as personality or demographics, I don’t know, and that’s not my business.

EBJ: But why is Berlin the place to be for your company?

Greg Koch: We found a piece of property that we really like: the historic 1901 gasworks buildings in Berlin-Mariendorf. These buildings have a unique and very special character, and they will offer us the ability to grow and to create this special environment for people who would like to come and visit us.

EBJ: The German capital is, after all, known for its alternative culture and a huge landscape of organic stores. And the Slow Food movement, which you are also a member of, is strongly represented there.

Greg Koch: Honestly, we didn’t pick Berlin because we thought that there will be any particular number of people that want our beer. We know that the fans of our beer are scattered across Europe. That being said, Berlin is a wonderful place and I’m very excited to be able to call it home!

EBJ: Why are you so sure that the Germans will enjoy it?

Greg Koch: Germans, like all people, really have good taste. That’s part of our basic nature as human beings. Because we are, after all, 99.999% genetically the same – aren’t we?

EBJ: I think so.

Greg Koch: Well, the difference in taste between craft beer and industrial beer is actually not within that 0.001%. It is actually within our nurture…the result of how we’ve been raised and what we’ve been exposed to. So, if people don’t think of themselves as craft beer drinkers, it is mostly because they have not been exposed to it. When we opened in San Diego in 1996, people were not really aware of craft beer. Most people didn’t even like our beer. It was very strange for them. It just takes time for people to get used to the idea that beer can be more than the industrial stuff in the television commercial.

EBJ: Do you think that the future belongs to microbreweries like you?

Greg Koch: There is more and more of it. I travelled the world early this year during a four-month sabbatical. I went to New Zealand, Australia, South-East Asia, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and Germany, and found that small brewers are growing like crazy everywhere. As more and more people learn about craft beer, more and more people are gravitating towards it!

EBJ: How do you comment on the fact that people are drinking less beer in Germany?

Greg Koch: Well, that is not a new development. Beer consumption has been declining there for many decades. I am fine with people drinking less beer.

EBJ: Why?

Greg Koch: Our beer is not about mass consumption. We have been growing as a company by greater than 45% each year on average for 18 years. I’ll repeat that: greater than 45% each year for 18 years. I suppose that is an unusual position in any business category anywhere in the world. We have never advertised. And we don’t make things that most people thing they like. The people who do like what we do love what we do – since we do it with passion, integrity and character.

Stone Brewing has chosen the historic 1901 gasworks buildings in Berlin-Mariendorf as its European headquarters

EBJ: At the production level, we are talking about different hectoliter numbers. For instance, the Radeberger Group produced eleven million hl in 2012. What will be the dimension of your production in Berlin?

Greg Koch: It’s fractional – not even a tiny slice of that. However, there is not much of a relationship. If you look at a great chef restaurant which uses farm-to-table quality ingredients – do they care what McDonald’s does?

EBJ: Will the ingredients for craft beer come from the surroundings of Berlin?

Greg Koch: A lot of the ingredients will be of local origin. We will also be using some American hop varieties that are not available at other places. But there are also new German hop varieties that some German hop growers create to keep up with the demand for the craft beer style.

EBJ: In what proportion will the ingredients be sourced?

Greg Koch: It will be 95% European sourced and ingredients, and probably more than half of it will be German sourced. But I can’t say that for certain. That is an expectation, not a direct quote.

EBJ: The new Stone Brewing Co. is an integral part of a world of beverage, Slow Food and beer production in Berlin-Mariendorf. What exactly is the idea behind this world?

Greg Koch: We will create a destination unlike anything Berliners have seen before. The restaurant and gardens will be expansive and highly unique. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Berlin will be an environment that takes you away from the harsh reality of over-commercialization and brings you into our world of artisanship. Our beers are big, bold and dramatically different than traditional German/European styles. The menu at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Berlin will highlight local and organic food with eclectic and creative preparations. Our goal is to bring the entire ‘Stone experience’ to Berlin.

EBJ: How many jobs will be created by Stone Brewing in Berlin?

Greg Koch: We will begin with 70 brewery-related jobs. Once Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Berlin is open, that will add nearly 100 full-time and part-time jobs.

A different kind of American dream

EBJ: Would a US-EU free-trade agreement have made it easier for you to gain access to the European market?

Greg Koch: The biggest barrier for us is transporting our beers that are meant to be consumed fresh. It takes quite a bit of time, effort and money to transport our beers to Europe. By opening Stone Brewing Co. – Berlin, we’ll be able to brew the beers and distribute them across Europe. As a result, we’ll be reducing our carbon footprint, getting fresh beers to our fans and bringing down the costs associated with having our beer available in Europe.

EBJ: How will you transport your beer across Europe?

Greg Koch: We will do it by refrigerated containers – sometimes by train, sometimes by truck.

EBJ: And not by plane?

Greg Koch: No, the carbon footprint is too high.

EBJ: What about the price for craft beer products? Good-quality beer justifies a higher price, is that correct?

Greg Koch: Most certainly yes. But we do not compete on price.

EBJ: By what percentage will the price be higher than the industrial beer prices?

Greg Koch: 1.5 to three times more expensive. We make several beer styles that range at different prices.

EBJ: People in Europe have the fear that America will flood the European markets with genetically modified products. You are quite the opposite of this. Can we regard your slow food approach as an American statement for genetically unmodified food?

Greg Koch: I am against genetically modified products, absolutely. But I also would like to point out that America is much much more than Budweiser and McDonald’s.

EBJ: Do you work together closely with other European companies, and do you still need business partners?

Greg Koch: Since we are a US-based company, we are working with a number of European-based companies – architects, contractors, equipment suppliers – to help bring our vision to life. We have not yet finished selecting all of our business partners.

EBJ: Are European companies interested in selling your beer?

Greg Koch: Yes, we have importers and distributors across Europe waiting to get our beer.

EBJ: What are the most important European countries for Stone Brewing?

Greg Koch: Germany is surely at the top. Sweden, Denmark, Italy, the UK, France and Belgium are also highly interesting.

EBJ: Since you are the personality behind Stone Brewing, let’s talk about you personally. As regards your appearance, you seem like a folk-rock star to me.

Greg Koch: I once dreamed of being a guitar player.

EBJ: Who were your role models?

Greg Koch: Matthias Jabs, the guitar player of the German band The Scorpions was among them.

EBJ: Are you sad that you didn’t become a rock star?

Greg Koch: No, I am enjoying my life very much, and I feel very rewarded with being able to carry forward the craft beer revolution every day.

EBJ: Do you have a song that best describes the craft beer revolution?

Greg Koch: The craft beer revolution is nuanced, varied and wide in its character so that it is represented by the music of human existence. For some people it might be Vivaldi; for others it would be Metallica. For me it’s both.

EBJ: What is your personal dream as CEO of Stone Brewing? Is it about delivering some kind of American dream to Europe – what do you think?

Greg Koch: My personal dream is to free everyone from the chains of oppression of low expectations, to get away from over-commercialization and generic lowest-common-denominator same-sameness and enlighten them to what a world of craft beer can offer.

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European Food

Food Special 2/2017

In this issue: Brouwerij Anders! NV – Pushing the boundaries of Belgian craft beer / Mozart Distillerie Gmbh – Your chocolate moment / Gloria Maris Groupe – Breeding healthy and high-quality fish / Caseificio Longo Srl – The artisan cheese company / Fromagerie Biologique de Vielsalm – Pure nature, pure taste

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