It was a bit of a moment, when Greg Koch, co-founder of iconic Stone Brewing walked onto the stage at BrewDog’s AGM two years ago. With his look it felt like the prophet – if not even the messiah – had arrived. But watching any of the videos that are online, in person he seems very approachable. Greg is now coming to Switzerland for the Stone tap takeover at The International. So go, have a chat. “I love talking with folks about beer” Greg says.
There are two questions you might want to avoid, though: “I get asked what my favorite beer is. And I get asked how I started. The first question is impossible to answer, and the second has been answered countless times…easy to Google the answer to that one!” We do encourage you to quickly Google that – or go here – because the rise, reputation and impact of Greg Koch’s Stone Brewing can hardly be exaggerated. Founded by Greg and Steve Wagner in 1996, Stone basically invented the west coast-style IPA with their Stone IPA. And with the beer label text on the Arrogant Bastard Ale, they created the marketing blueprint for breweries like BrewDog. Stone played a gigantic role in making San Diego a beer tourism destination, with it now being an important part of San Diego’s visitor industry (we also wrote about San Diego, here and here). With the opening of their outpost in Berlin, they are bringing all of that experience to Europe.
Stone Brewing – Berlin: The beginning of a beautiful relationship
2009 Stone published a formal Request For Proposal to evaluate potential sites for a brewhouse in Europe and in July 2014, Stone announced plans to be the first American craft brewer to own and operate a brewery in Europe with Stone Brewing – Berlin. “Stone Brewing – Berlin will be the center of our universe for Europe”, explains Greg and elaborates: “Our goal is to get the freshest beer possible to as many of our fans as we can. This Tap Takeover is the official beginning of what we hope to be a VERY beautiful relationship!” Yes, good people of Switzerland, starting in June, Stone beers will be officially available in Switzerland (via Amstein).
The last time Greg has been in Switzerland, there was no Stone Brewing: “I visited Switzerland in 1995. Stayed one night in Interlaken at Balmer’s. Not really my scene. Went on to two nights in Grindelwald. Wow. Spectacular. Will be taking my spouse Sara back to Grindelwald on this trip.” As we are still more famous for anything but beer, you gotta wonder what he’ll try first: Swiss cheese, chocolate or a Swiss beer: “I’m a huge fan of the artisanal cheeses of Switzerland. I would love to start off my visit with some Swiss artisanal cheese and a great Swiss craft beer!” But wait, what about chocolate? We are even more proud of that than our cheese! “I’m sure there must be good chocolate made in Switzerland these days, I honestly couldn’t be less interested in the typical industrialized ‘dump tons of sugar, cocoa butter and lactose in it’ version of chocolate, any more than I’m interested in industrial beer. Perhaps someone will bring me some awesome artisanal Swiss chocolate to try?”
With Stone venturing into European markets, they move back from new discussions (i.e. there being only crafty beer by AB-Inbev available at Burbank airport) to old discussions: How to get a beer into a bar with only two taphandels that might even be under contract with a big brewery. Having gone through that, Greg can speak from experience: “The people play the real role in this. By patronizing bars and restaurants that have refused to sell their tap handles to the highest bidding industrial brewer, the people are supporting a change in the system that has historically prevented them from having free choice.” Rhetorically he askes, if anybody would go across town for the same old industrial beer. Of course not. But they would for something special and unique. And while at times the beer world might seem bleak in some cities, Greg is confident this will change. He notices that more and more places are rejecting to be bound to big brewers and are instead curating their own beer lists: “Stone participates in this by helping to grow the awareness and demand for great beer, and that demand then manifests itself at bars, restaurants and markets”, says Greg. “Once business owners learn that it’s a better business model to make free choice, than it is to sell their beer rights to a big company for a check, then the system begins to change for real.”
Another night – another moment?
For all of those curious what beers will be available at the tap takeover, the taplist was published on the Facebook post. Among the beers are the iconic Stone IPA and Arrogant Bastard (including a bourbon barrel aged version), but also the Stone Ruination Double IPA 2.0 or the Coffee Milk Stout. With ten beers announced, the whole thing happening on a Tuesday, what to do if people need to pace themselves? Greg responds almost shocked: “I haven’t been to Switzerland for years, and this is my FIRST public appearance. Folks can’t cut themselves a little slack to have an extra beer?” No, we are responsible to a fault in these parts. “OK. If you MUST pace yourself, I’d definitely suggest giving Stone IPA a try. It’s the iconic west coast-style IPA and our flagship beer. That, and our Arrogant Bastard Ale. Both are currently being brewed in Berlin. After that, I say try whatever interests you.”
So there you have it. There will be good beer, if you bring it yourself, good chocolate and definitely good vibes. But will there be another moment like in Aberdeen? “You never know when inspiration strikes, so a short speech is entirely possible. You can expect a celebratory cheers from me, definitely, but from atop the bar? Who knows!”
Read the full Q+A with Greg here.