A Beer & A Few Questions with Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch

You’ve said that the frst beer that made you stand up and say “Wow!” was Anchor Steam. What was the most recent beer that gave you that reaction?

I’m happy to say that there’s quite a few. I couldn’t mention just the very last one. Today, you can round the corner anywhere and have one of those “Oh, my God!” epiphany experiences. But I did have—I was in Toronto—and I was at this wonderful restaurant called People’e Eatery, and they had a bottled beer from a local brewery and I couldn’t even tell you the name, but it was aged in pinot barrels. It was an unrepeatable experience. It was complex and completely diferent from what I’ve had before. The ability for these moments to happen is what’s so starkly diferent 30 years later.

You have a whole range of responsibilities as executive chairman. How intimately are you involved in the brewing process?

The truth is I’ve never been our brewer. So I started the company with Steve Wagner, who was our brewmaster. We had homebrewed together, and I was always the assistant homebrew lackey who did the bottle washing and such, but I still do take a very active part in the development of the beers. Mostly, that’s tasting sessions with our brewers. We sit down and we discuss, do we have an idea that we want to create a beer to meet this idea, or has somebody created a beer and said he we think this should be an idea? So I’ve got a Stone Ghost Hammer IPA in my hand right now, and this is a perfect example, because I frst tried this beer earlier this year. And we tasted this beer and we were like, this is awesome, yeah, we gotta do this one as a seasonal release.

So this is the hot button issue right now, when was the last time someone approached you with a check with all those zeroes at the end?

[Pounds table for emphasis] I. Will. Never. Sell. Out. To. The. Man!

It has never happened, and I think it’s because, I’m certain it must be because, I’ve been well-documented and very clear. I don’t think one of the big international conglomerate industrial brewers wants to have me tweet out how I told them to go pound sand. So they just don’t expose themselves to that ignoble end result.

Do you think there are any trends hurting the craft beer industry?

Yes, the one you just mentioned. Absolutely. I can totally understand how the average craft beer consumer does not understand how negative it is. But all you have to do is go to neighboring Canada. I was just in Toronto, and the brewers will tell you there how much the big international conglomerates cock-block access to markets. And that is a strong, pejorative term, and it’s completely appropriate. I can tell you how, being in this industry for 21 years, industrial beer has tried their best to prevent craft beer from getting to market, and they have a new technique which is to buy/modify/obfuscate. You go to the airport bar at the Burbank Airport, and they seven IPAs on tap, Bud, Bud Light and Stella. To the casual observer, fuck yeah, its great. But it turns out every single one of these beers all come from the same brewery. The true authentic local brewers in Southern California have been blocked from having their beers served at the Burbank Airport.

Has there been any cross-pollination now that you have a brewpub in Berlin? Any ideas that you’ve taken from the German style of Brewing or vice-versa?

The only influence we’ve taken so far from German brewing would be that we decided to brew this most awesome Berliner Weisse in Berlin, which I’m really excited about because I’ve been a lover of the style onice I discovered it could be done well. Other than that, we’re being Stone. I think it would be disingenuous if we went and tried to be anything other than ourselves. As to the other question, there’s about 15 breweries in Berlin, and 11 or 12, maybe even 13 are focused on American craft beer styles. So I think that answers your question.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Words & Photos by Brian Conway

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