Stone Brewing Headed to Berlin
“We’re not coming to Germany to brew German beer.” Greg Koch from California’s Stone Brewing Company reveals his plans for the company’s first European location. Destination: Berlin.
The cat’s out of the bag: The first major international craft beer player to put down roots in Berlin is set to be Stone Brewing. And they mean it, for real. Or at least the US-based company has beaten its main competitors to the punch in making a public commitment to Berlin, ahead of BrewDog (still looking for the right spot), Brooklyn Brewery (who may set up shop in the old Bötzow Brauerei premises) and Mikkeller (who continue making the occasional pop-up stop but haven’t yet set up their own bar here).
The rumor’s mill has also been working overtime about Stone’s intentions. Greg Koch is the CEO and founder of the company, one of the USA’s largest and most influential craft breweries. During his Berlin visit last summer Greg regularly posted Facebook videos of himself inside one decrepit-but-amazing-looking old factory building after another, and you just couldn’t help suspecting that he was on the lookout for a place to open something. But what exactly? A bar? A brewpub? Maybe even a whole brewery?
We know now it’s to be the latter. The plans call for a massive production facility with its own large brewhouse and local staff based at the former GASAG Mariendorf site in Tempelhof-Schönefeld. The brewery will also feature a restaurant and a bar, and possibly some kind of tasting room. In any case, the “Stone Brewing Co. Brewery Berlin” is going to be one genuinely big deal, with added swagger. Work has already begun on expanding and developing the site, and the first glass of Stone ale brewed in Berlin is scheduled to be served up twelve to eighteen months from now. At least that’s what Greg Koch has in mind, as he recently confided to us in an exclusive Mixology interview prior to the official announcement of his plans.
Mr. Koch, do you already know what your first “Berlin-brewed” beer is going to be? Something German maybe?
No, not that. We’re not coming to Berlin to brew German beer. German breweries already do that, and a couple of them even do a wonderful job. But we’re coming here to brew our own style of beer. We’re bringing the Stone style to Berlin and we won’t be copying anyone. And by the way, we won’t serve pilsner at our restaurant, not from any brand. And none of these beer-based mixed drinks either. That stuff is strictly forbidden.
Will you serve any beers from other brewers?
Yes, absolutely. Our restaurant will have a large selection of traditionally brewed beers from Berlin, Germany and Europe on tap and in the bottle. We do the same thing at our headquarters in San Diego. We’ve got more beers there from other brewers than we do of our own. I already know all of the craft brewers in Berlin personally. We’re friends and I really admire the great work they do. We’ve included most of them in our plans and they’re looking forward to what’s coming up.
OK, if the little guys don’t have to worry about competition from Stone, what about the big guys? Should German industrial brewers be bracing themselves for your arrival?
I don’t understand the business model of the big brewers at all. And it’s never interested me. I have no idea how they will or should react to us. That’s just a completely different world. Here at Stone we live in a handcrafted world. Those guys live in a mass production world. So I couldn’t care less about them.
Some of the big brewers here are also trying now to brew American style beers like pale ales, IPAs and so on. They even explicitly label them “American Style”, which I find amusing because their customers are precisely the folks who turn up their noses as soon as they hear “American beer”. Those people have no idea and they think American beer means watery, tasteless light lager. There’s actually a brilliant irony in that – but I don’t expect the average beer drinker to get it.
Why Germany of all places?
We were looking for the ideal combination of the right country, the right city and the right building. In the end it wasn’t so much a choice of Germany or Berlin, although both are of course important. The decision was based on the perfect conditions, and that’s what we found with this building in Berlin. The location is exceptionally special. And Berlin itself also has a unique combination of history and tradition.
It’s probably even accurate to say that part of Berlin’s tradition is that somehow nothing here is really traditional. The nature of this city is that it never stands still, that it’s always moving forward. The energy here is enormous. We already found the location four years ago, by the way. It just took this long to tie up all the loose ends.
Four years? Why? German bureaucracy?
No, not at all. The German authorities were actually extremely helpful throughout the whole process. It just took some time before all the owners involved agreed on the deal.
Did you feel like the authorities that you had to coordinate your plans with in Berlin really understood what craft beer is and what you’re trying to do?
I’ve been dealing with prejudice since I got into this business 18 years ago. Prejudice will always limit peoples’ ability to understand things, so I don’t worry about it. But the German officials were very open to us, even though I’m sure they didn’t all understand the world of craft beer the same way we do. What they definitely understood though was this: Berlin’s brewing tradition died out a long time ago, but now it’s being revived. And it’s certainly in the interest of everyone in Berlin to bring the city’s brewing culture back to life.
Mr. Koch, thank you for the interview.
Original article by Nina Anika Klotz – Translated by Jeff Collier