Warning. This post is long. I've been advised that blog posts should be 475 words. I've opted to strap that advice to the back of caution and defenestrate ‘em both. Because it's important that I share these words from the people quoted below. They're important to me, and if you're here, I'd like to think that we place importance on similar things. At the top of that list, being real.
I intended for this follow up blog post to take a couple days, or maybe a week. It took me 5+ weeks. From the distance of a little time, I can see the good a lot clearer.
As I wrote last time, we’ve transferred ownership of our Mariendorf brewery and restaurant to our friends at BrewDog.
To clarify, Stone Brewing remains very much independently owned by us. And we did NOT leave Berlin.
Our beer will still be brewed at Mariendorf, on the same equipment, with the same obsessive process, and many of the same obsessive people. The Stone Tap Room Prenzlauer Berg is going strong. Stronger actually (we broke our attendance & sales records just last Sunday).
April 9, the Tuesday after the news broke, I arrived in Berlin. I got to our restaurant at about 7pm for a planned informal gathering with our team. Gotta admit that at the time I wasn’t looking forward to this. I very much wanted to see everyone of course, however I wasn’t sure if they wanted to see me. They’d worked so damn hard, and we’d just delivered some devastating news a few days earlier. And after all it was me who had to give the final word to pull the cord. I would have understood if they were second-guessing that decision, frustrated, or even outright pissed.
Through the lens of the weeks and months prior that led up to the decision, it was hard to see the positive perspectives and good impressions we were leaving in Mariendorf. It just felt more like failure. It hurt.
But no matter what I needed to see my colleagues, my compatriots, my friends. There were a lot of thank yous to say, and say in person. Saying things in person matters. Going through things together in person is why beer exists.
I needed to shake their hands, and remind them that setbacks are not the same as ends. That they’d made progress toward a diversified beer culture. They’d curated the largest draft beer selection Germany had ever seen. They’d helped spread the word of both authentic traditional beer styles that had been largely ignored by the populace, and newer ‘craft’ styles. They’d started a ripple, and ripples don’t easily stop. Over time, they can become waves for long-lasting, positive change.
What I walked into surprised me. No matter how long I live — no matter how often I’m reminded that people are intrinsically awesome — I’m often caught off guard at just how incredible that can be. I got zero animosity. I would have understood. I got no recriminations. Again, I would have understood. Instead I was surrounded by words, hugs and even some tears of appreciation. Warmed the hell out of my heart.
Our head brewer, Thomas Tyrell, whose passion and obsession are rare commodities, had thrown his life into this project. “I’m still sad that it did not work out as you envisioned and planned and executed for over four years,” he texted me ahead of my arrival. “But I can tell you: I would do it again.”
I stood with my people and we shared good words, camaraderie, and beers from 7PM until 3AM.
“I felt lucky that I got to be here at all,” some said.
Wow. Thank you.
“I saw from the inside the changes that were happening, and are still happening, and I’m proud of our contributions,” others said.
Thank you. You’re such an important part of that, and will continue to be.
“When I started at Stone, even though he’s as German as it gets, my dad wasn’t into beer. Now because of what we introduced him to, dad is a huge craft beer fan and wants to try every new IPA that he hears about,” one told me.
Heck, I can’t tell you how many of our customers walked up to me over the ensuing days wanting a hug. A final selfie in the space. Some even started crying, including some who I was meeting for the first time. I choked back a bunch of times that week, and I’ll admit not always successfully. That’s what happens when you do things you care about. You feel lucky when others share the feeling. And I feel very lucky. Business ticked up definitively over the last several weeks as people came to see and experience for the first time, or the 300th (I know of at least one fan that was in that latter category). There were lots of pictures. There was zero schaudenfruede, as that tends to prefer computer keyboards and mom’s basements, to actual real human interaction.
So what about all the so-called controversy?
As news broke of our sale, the feedback was swift. The internet runs, it does not walk. There was a genuine appreciation for our part in the craft beer discussion that many Germans were already having. There were a few who accused us of arrogance — of being brash Americans disrespecting German beer culture.
Anyone who knows, knows this was never the case. Ever. The only thing we’ve ever disrespected is the industrialization and cheapening of beer, and we’ve openly lamented consumer’s eschewing of the authentic good stuff in favor of it. Sometimes knowingly, but more often not. The only things I’ve ever intentionally railed against is when there’s a lack of options for beer drinkers — most specifically, the lack of authentic traditional styles, and craft beer styles.
When I gave a speech to announce the Berlin project in the summer of 2014, I reflected on this:
"For centuries, brewing has been a noble art… an art of and for the people. Tragically, over the last several generations, 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 art. Far from it. Instead, they view it as something to be purchased as cheaply as possible. True, there have always been and continue to be brewers who have maintained the integrity of their art over the centuries. However, their work has largely been ignored by the average beer drinker in recent decades. The masses have instead been held sway with an endless barrage of advertising schemes and degradation of the art at the hands of pricing wars and accountants. Decades of consolidation and mass-homogenization has led to a loss of understanding of beer among the populace.”
We founded Stone Brewing Berlin because we love Germany and saw an authentic artisanal beer culture that had been long suffering precipitous declines, and a passionate craft beer culture starting to form. Our goal was to help raise the profile of both. Hopefully perk enough ears that people listened to see if the sounds were interesting to them. Or not.
For me, the real arrogance came in a far-too-common remark we heard from some Americans. It goes something like, “When I go to Germany, I don’t want to drink IPAs.” Their clearly implied and thinly veiled message was “I don’t want options in Germany, I want their beer culture to stay the same forever. Because that’s what I want."
To see the real perspective, one needs to pause for a second and put the shoe on the other foot. Trust me on this one: the Germans I know…and anyone…would like to make that decision for themselves, thank you very much.
Think about it this way. In the USofA we get to have the very best of Belgian, British, Irish, Scottish, Czech, American, German, and other world beer styles. We import them, and we make them. We have fallen in love with the rich tapestry of choices.
Want to know true arrogance? It’s arrogant to think that someone somewhere else wouldn’t want / doesn’t deserve the same level of free choice because you want your image of the old world to stay firmly locked in your imagination of history. Shame on that. Just as a couple generations ago Americans traveled to Germany and discovered its rich brewing heritage and wanted to bring the best of it back to enjoy in their home country, similarly many Europeans have traveled to the US over the last couple decades and fallen in love with our beer styles. For good reason: they’re different, and really good.
There is no single tree in the forest (for if there was it’d be a single tree in a desert), and the reality of the craft beer world is that it’s an ecosystem. If we conceptualize craft beer as a forest, then we can imagine industrial beer as a much larger homogeneous grassy expanse next to it of, well, grass. Unthreatening sameness. Little to explore. Comforting (perhaps to some) and boring. The forest offers diversity. Things to learn and discover. A wondrous world, yet potentially scary to those who’ve spent all their time sitting on the grass (populated with billboards and TV ads to reinforce that decision).
Craft beer types are naturally drawn to the tree line when it first appears on their horizon, and can’t wait to explore its wonders.
The diverse occupants of the forest offer many different perspectives. Nothing hits you in the heart quite like the feedback of the real people who work their asses off making good, craft and artisanal beer — in Germany, and elsewhere in the world’s craft brewing ecosystem — and I thought you should hear from them. Directly. Personally.
I want to share some of the texts and emails sent to me because these are the words that are most important. They are words from people who are not looking at it from the outside and making judgements, but instead are on the inside. These are the folks fighting for the freedom of additional choices where most people might still argue that they don’t want them (just as in the US 40, 30, and 20 years ago, and that one neighbor you have down the street neighbor still today who likes his industrial beer and loudly derides the ‘weird’ beers that some kids seem to like these days).
And for everyone associated with Stone Berlin, hopefully these words will help illuminate the positive things you were able to achieve.
Just as I’ve noticed with some of the sharpest critiques about me and our project have come from Americans, you’ll find that some of the comments from our German friends include some fairly sharp opinions about their own country and the attitudes of their countrymen. Recognize that every country in the world has their own phrase for the “Ugly American,” except that they replace ‘American’ with their own country. You see, we’re all human. We’re all inherently good. We want good things for ourselves, and we want good things for others. That can manifest itself by being very self-critical, extending that ‘self’ to our own country and our own tribes.
Enough of my perspectives. I will leave you with the perspectives of some German brewing industry friends.
Katharina Kurz, founder/co-owner of Berlin’s BRLO Brewery:
"Stone has made an amazing contribution to craft beer in Germany. I am proud to call Greg and the Stonies my friends. I think that Stone has had a great impact on craft beer in Berlin and Germany. The Stone brewery and gastronomy was such a bold and ambitious move and investment, it really put a lot more eyes and ears on craft beer in Germany and showed what is possible. While I don't agree with some of the initial PR stunts (yes, the infamous Stone throw), Stone really helped put Berlin on the international craft beer map. I remember sitting outside of our half-finished BRLO brewery during a construction site meeting in summer 2016, when Greg cycled by with Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Bill Covaleski of Victory Brewing. All three huge names in craft beer and here we were 1.5 years into our brewing adventures, hanging out and showing them our brewery. Pretty cool! Greg and his fantastic team were always extending their hand to contribute in the spirit of the craft beer community and we developed a wonderful Stone-BRLO friendship. I was extremely sad at the news that this adventure and vision didn't work out in the end. One of the first things I angrily thought was: oh, the Schadenfreude that so many nay-sayers and told-you-sos will be feeling right now.
Craft Beer has not been "exploding" in Germany like it did in other countries. It is developing, but at a much more steady pace. For BRLO, it has been a wonderful journey so far, but also a challenging one. When we started 4,5 years ago, I had to explain countless times a day what an IPA was - we have come a long way in that respect, especially in Berlin. But we are still fighting to get more taps into bars, to convince bars and restaurants to carry beer menus and to have a decent beer selection and adequate storage in retail. Not to mention the comparative price level of beer (and people's price sensitivity) in Germany... We have to work together to change the hearts and minds and tastebuds of Germany, to show how different and diverse beer can be. Thank you for everything, Team Stone, and see you soon!"
Cihan Caglar, owner of Biererei, one of Berlin’s best brew shops, and a craft beer pub across the street that focuses on both fresh and (nearly unheard of in Germany) vintage beer styles:
"I was pretty disturbed reading the news today. You can’t imagine how important and invincible Stone Brewing was in my eyes. When I’ve first heard about the idea of Stone Brewing coming to Berlin I was excited and proud being able to welcome as a Berliner one of the most important craft breweries from the states in Berlin. I felt the energy you were bringing with you to push the whole craft beer scene on levels which were not possible without you in Germany. You truly acted like the Gargoyle bringing good beer to the people. I believed this idea and wanted to contribute as much as I could do with my small business. I wish the brewery would have survived longer. Thank you so much for everything. I hope you’re fine and you’ll show yourself in Berlin soon again!"
Stefan Kruger, co-founder of Berlin Beer Week:
“I’m really sad to see this happening and I am happy that I could be part of this rollercoaster journey. I was born and raised in East Berlin, and emigrated to West Berlin just five months before the wall fell. I’ve lived here my entire life. I thought I knew beer. After all, I’m German. My journey into craft beer started in the US in 2011 when a friend of mine gave me a Stone IPA and I was introduced to Greg Koch and had an interesting & eye opening conversation with him about German beer. Back then I, like many, fell for the advertising lie of big companies, that German beer is the best because of the purity law (which is a farce if you actually take your time and research it) and when I came back to Berlin that year, for the first time ever I realized how monotonous the German beer landscape really was (and alas still is), while walking through the aisles of the beer section in my local super market. Style wise there was not much else than Pilsners, Helles, Weizen and the occasional (just colored, because it's legal and cheaper to do so according to the Reinheitsgebot) dark beers. Naturally I was stoked to hear that Stone Brewing had chosen my home town Berlin as the location for their European expansion plans.
In these 5 years since Stone announced Stone Brewing Berlin, this city has gone through a rapid transformation in terms of availability and perception of craft beer. Back in 2014 we had only one really dedicated craft beer bar with more than 10 taps and that one had just opened two months before the Stone unveiling event in July 2014. Now the numbers are double digits and you can find craft beer in a lot more "normal" bars than ever before. Back then there was probably one or two handfuls of craft breweries operating out of Berlin. Now I think we have more than 20 if not even 30 (including the ones that don't own their own equipment).
Stone Brewing making such a big investment into Berlin gave all of us a lot more confidence, that our passion, good beer, will prevail, even in Germany, where beer is unreasonably cheap and it jump started everything. It encouraged many of us to take that final step and open a bar, brewery, distributorship etc. or in my case establish the annual festival "Berlin Beer Week" together with two other craft beer enthusiasts in 2015, with Stone being super supportive from the beginning and even hosting the closing event of the very first Berlin Beer Week on their construction site in 2015.
Together we have accomplished a lot in terms of the acceptance of artisanal ales for sure in this city and also the rest of the country in the past 5 years. However, based on my observations in these 5 years I think Stone and everyone of us underestimated two things in regards of the German beer market.
- It takes time to change peoples habits. Even more so when these habits stem from centuries of tradition. I think we Germans are among the most change reluctant people on this planet. Now put 500 years of brewing tradition into the equation and it takes even more persistence to change a behavior.
- Big beer in Germany put millions of Euros down since the 80s to ensure everyone knows how "great" German beer is because of the purity law.
Number 2 also worked well on me until my friend gave me my first craft beer. Up until then, even when abroad I was always looking for big German brands to drink because I thought anything else is crap.
I think it was too bold to assume that German beer drinking behavior could be transformed in such a short of time that you need to make a big venture like Stone Berlin financially stable, but then again in hindsight we are always smarter.
I am sad to see Stone Brewing Berlin being transferred over to Brewdog, but I am also happy to know that the legacy will carry on with the Tap Room in Prenzlauer Berg."
Nina Anika Klotz, founder, writer and publisher of Hopfenhelden, Germany’s leading beer blog and first craft beer magazine (you can read ‘why’ she started it here: https://www.hopfenhelden.de/en/):
"I was excited to see Stone coming. I had just realized something like a craft beer movement existed, and that it might come to Germany. A big company like Stone would make it happen faster. Make the craft revolution more of a thing. Some people saw it as a big American company coming to a country that’s very proud. Most German beer drinkers think they’ve been drinking the best beer ever because it’s Bavarian. We never thought there could be anything else—dark beer, sour beer, crazy and new beers. I’m absolutely sure Stone changed the German beer culture. People started to see beer in a new way. Stone helped beer be discussed in German media and TV shows. They started a conversation about variety. The grassroots craft beer movement will prosper from what Stone did."
And then there was this next one from Oliver Lemke, founder of Brauerei Lemke, Berlin’s oldest and largest German-owned artisanal brewery. In my previous post, I expressed frustrations about our contractors in Berlin. It was an element of our compound fracture, and other German entrepreneurs I spoke with often expressed such sentiments. So it needed to be said. Because if no one says it, nothing changes. I include Oliver’s statement not to pile on, but to show that we weren’t just pointing fingers. And we were definitely not alone.
"Just saw the news! I want you to know that I´m really sorry… You had great influence. As sad as it is, I really had to smile when I read your statement, because it contains so much pitiful truth about my country and believe me—you missed the worst parts. With the experience of being an entrepreneur in Germany for 20 years myself, I can honestly say that for many reasons—the regulations, work laws, authorities, widespread stinginess, the unwillingness to try new things, the combined tax burden and numerous other things—this is probably the last country in the western world somebody should open up a business in. Not knowing this, great entrepreneurs like yourself come from all over the world, try, and fail—again and again. So please don’t take it personally. This is just no country for entrepreneurs. Looking at Germany from the outside this might seem hard to believe, but the truth is: We owe our success as a country to our fathers and forefathers and the awakening will be soon and hard. I’m sure you’ll find other spots in this world where your commitment is appreciated."
Wow. Seems harsh perhaps to the casual observer, but I get it. This entrepreneur thing is hard.
And finally, this last statement, written in his native German, is from Stephan Michel. Stephan is well known in American and International craft / artisanal beer circles. He’s the owner and brewmaster of Bamburg’s storied Mahr’s Braü, which started in 1671 and operates inside the beautiful capital of Franconia with a classic German brewery and attached pub (English version):
"Die Mahrs Bräu ist traurig.
Seit vielen Jahren sind wir eng mit Stone Brewing verbunden. Eine innig gewachsene Freundschaft und einige Kooperationen in der Vergangenheit verbinden mich Stephan Michel Geschäftsführer der Mahrs Bräu mit dem "Beer Jesus" Greg Koch.
Ich bedauere zutiefst, dass Greg Koch Mariendorf verlässt. Was er auf die Beine gestellt hat, ist verrückt, atemberaubend und erfordert viel Mut und Optimismus. Wir Visionäre haben es nicht leicht, weil wir leben, was wir tun.
Bierkonsum ist stark mit Emotionen verbunden, für den Brauer wie für den Konsumenten. Im traditionsverbundenen Deutschland - in dem es seit 500 Jahren das Reinheitsgebot gibt und die Leute sehr loyal zu "ihrem" Bier sind - ist es nicht leicht Fuß zu fassen. Der Biermarkt hier ist recht gefestigt, man trinkt gerne lokal, unterstützt "seine" Marke. Das war auch Greg klar. Trotzdem wollte er den Deutschen das amerikanische "Craft-Beer" ans Herz legen und ihnen den "Stone Brewing Spirit" mit auf den Weg geben. Und obwohl klar war, Marienfelde ist nicht Berlin-Downtown, die nächste Bushaltestelle ist nicht unbedingt um die Ecke und die Deutschen bevorzugen vielleicht lieber regionales Bier, hat er 2016 25 Millionen investiert und daran geglaubt, dass die Gegend um Berlin in Europa der richtige Ort für die Umsetzung seiner Ideen ist. In Franken, klar - da ist so etwas noch schwerer, um nicht zu sagen unmöglich, denn der Franke ist noch eigener mit "seiner Hausbrauerei". Aber in Berlin? Das ist doch "der" Markt für einen kalifornischen Bier-Superstar, wie Greg Koch! Leider hat er es nicht ganz geschafft. Aber es liegt wahrscheinlich gar nicht unbedingt am mangelnden Zulauf, auch die deutsche Bürokratie trägt sicher eine Mitschuld. Ich kann solche Entscheidungen verstehen und stehe dahinter. Werden einem immer wieder Steine in den Weg gelegt, sind den Ideen irgendwann die Hände gebunden und man muss seine Strategie neu planen. Dieser Energieaufwand macht müde und man muss sich die berechtigte Frage stellen, ob sich der Aufwand noch lohnt. Heutzutage muss viel mehr getan werden, um den Konsumenten bei Laune - und beim guten Geschmack - zu halten. Der Bierabsatz geht zurück und eine erfolgreiche Brauerei zu etablieren oder fortzuführen ist eine massive Herausforderung, die man erst mal meistern (wollen) muss.
Umso mehr hält die Mahrs Bräu daran fest, Visionäre wie Greg Koch zu unterstützen. Man muss öfter mal über den Tellerrand schauen um am Ball zu bleiben. Das ist doch mit allem so. Und es ist doch auch spannend, wie andere Länder ihr Craft-Beer inszenieren. Das ist einer vieler Gründe für die Mahrs Bräu, von Zeit zu Zeit mit Brauern aus der ganzen Welt zusammenzuarbeiten, gemeinsam ausgefallene Biersorten zu brauen und dadurch außergewöhnliche und andere Geschmackserlebnisse in die Bierstadt Bamberg zu holen.
Wir brauchen visionäre Brauer wie Greg Koch und ich bin dankbar, dass es in der Brauerszene (noch) Persönlichkeiten wie Greg Koch gibt. Was er in den letzten 25 Jahren geschaffen hat, hat auch mich stark beeinflusst und begeistert und verdient allerhöchste Anerkennung. Er kann mächtig stolz sein. Egal ob wir uns zum nächsten Mal auf dem riesigen Gelände in Mariendorf treffen oder einen gemütlichen Tap Room in Prenzlauer Berg. Er ist mein Freund."
A few weeks ago I found myself in Richmond, Virginia (RVA). I was there to connect with our brewery team, and attend a screening of the documentary film that chronicled the trials and tribulations of building Stone Berlin. Our Stone RVA and Stone Berlin were sibling projects, both commissioned in the summer of 2016. The Stone RVA brewery is American in scale—a much larger project (a factor of 3x in cost) than the Berlin one. RVA was finished on time, on budget.
It’s interesting to reflect on the differences between the beer cultures in these two cities. As one might guess, it’s much stronger in one than the other. One city is clearly in the “up and coming” category, with a slow-yet-determined march towards becoming a bonafide “beer town.” The other seems awash in beer festivals, beer bars, beer restaurants, breweries, cideries and meaderies. Anyone who’s visited both cities and has taken even a cursory glance at their scenes can easily see and taste this.
Richmond is the 97th-largest city in the U.S. — one-tenth the size of Berlin. Berlin is not just the largest city in Germany, but will become the most populated city in the EU once the UK Brexits. And yet, Richmond has far more breweries (+/- 2x, which makes it a whopping 20x the beer scene when measured in per capita). In RVA you won’t just find a more robust beer scene, but also a much deeper conversation about the possibilities of beer. This is now the norm in cities and towns across the length and breadth of the US. We’re a goddammed bona fide beer country.
I’d love to see Berlin get there. Stone is still expanding in Berlin, in Germany, and Europe as a whole. There are great craft beer voices there. We’ll continue to help crank up the volume of those voices.
As for Mariendorf, we extend one more heartfelt and emphatic THANK YOU to our people—whether you welcomed us, worked with us, drank with us, or encouraged us.
Once more, for the record, Stone has not left Berlin. Or Europe. We very much believe in its craft beer scene, and our future there. We will sell more beer in Europe this year than last. We will sell more beer there next year than this year.
As often happens with conversations like this, the positive voices are frequently drowned out by the negativity of a few. However, one might suppose that the detractors deserve to be heard too. So, to encourage feedback from both camps, I offer this format….
Below is the place to leave your POSITIVE feedback. If you liked what we do, and would like to offer supportive words, here’s the place to do it. Note that ALL negative feedback will be removed.
Here is the place to leave your NEGATIVE feedback. If you think I’m an idiot, let’s hear it. If I should go straight to hell, yep that too. If I clearly don’t understand the basics of the world, of beer of…whatever…you can tell me about it here. You’ll have an audience of the schaudenfruede-seekers. I won’t promise I’ll be one of ‘em.
I was one of the lucky ones who attended the Stone Berlin Grand Opening in September of 2016. It was my first visit to Berlin and I extended my stay over the entire week. I loved the city and I had a great experience at Stone. I immediately understood why Greg was inspired to build there, particularly in that historic gas work structure. Berlin is an amazing city. So much energy. So cosmopolitan, diverse and dynamic. Not really like the rest of Germany.......or anywhere else.
The grand opening event was full of positive energy. For Berliners, I am sure that the aesthetic was something very new. For me, having been to Stone's brewery in Escondido, I recognized some cool and welcome Southern California vibe there. There were some other American well wishers there including my friend Rob Todd from Allagash. It was a great party.
As someone who's owned a pioneering craft beer bar in Chicago, The Hopleaf, for over 25 years, naturally I was curious about the beer and pub scene in Berlin and took advantage of my week there to check it out between exploring Berlin's excellent museums. One of my first stops was a great craft beer bar called Hopfenreich, which claims to be the first craft beer bar in Berlin. I felt instantly comfortable and even ran into a hop grower/broker I know, Nunzino Pizza from Hophead Farms there. Hopfenreich offered several Stone brews on tap along with beers from the emerging local craft beer scene. Tasting several of the local brews, I found them to be quite good but perhaps tame relative to Stone's hop forward beers. The local crowd seemed to be enjoying the Stone offerings. We also visited the Markethalle Neun in Kreuzberg where Heiden Peters had a beer stand. I loved the market, the food stands and the beer was excellent, if again a bit tame. We of course visited several restaurants and taverns who's beer selections were more pedestrian. I will say that very fresh, at proper temperature, in clean appropriate glassware and served with excellent sausages, many of the mass market beers of Germany are pretty damn good; far superior to the Bud Light/Miller/Coors choices in America.
Craft beer as we know it in America seems to be a bit of a slow starter in Germany. Maybe that is not surprising in a country long married to an established beer culture. There are 1300 breweries in Germany but like America in the 1970's, the vast majority of beer sales are dominated by a few mass producers of well made but uninspiring beers. Of course America in the 1970's had only 70 breweries and none of them were making the niche styles that some small breweries in Germany still make. The same situation is true even in Belgium where most drinkers bypass the great lambics, Flemish sours, saisons, Trappist beers and other specialties for Stella, Jupiler or Maes. Many of the most interesting new and old beers of Europe only survive today because of the interest in them from export markets, America in particular.
I live part of every year in Italy, who's craft beer scene has exploded like it has in America. I have the 2013 Slow Food Guide to Italian Craft Breweries. There are a remarkable 500+ entries. In 2019, there are now close to 1000 breweries in this wine centric nation. Unlike Germany's more timid craft brewers, Italians take a lot more chances, push the ingredient and flavor profile envelope with sometimes reckless abandon. They still tend to shy away from the American IPA level of bitterness but local and ancient grains, herbs, fruits and chestnuts are frequent additions, mostly with positive results. Brewers in Italy and other nations are not constrained like Germans are, if only psychologically, by the limitations of Reinheitsgebot that have led to there being far less diversity in German beers.
After that bit of rambling I should focus to my views as to why Stone Berlin was not as successful as Greg had hoped. First, the site itself. A more ideal building would be hard to imagine. The German architectural equivalent to the early 20th Century "Arts and Crafts" style is perfectly realized in the former gasworks building chosen. Unfortunately, it is located in Mariendorf which is a bit sleepy compared to many areas of Berlin. The site is not as accessible to public transport and is surrounded immediately by rare vacant land. While there are some nice parks in the area, there are also a lot of industrial sites, cemeteries, and underutilized plots. It is not a center of nightlife, theater, music and art. The streets are not teeming with activity. Stone would be a destination in and of itself and I think perhaps after an initial burst of interest, it may have returned in Berliner's minds to being located in an out of the way backwater not worth the trouble to go to.
Next, there is the beer. For reasons I touched on above, Stone's hop forward, high IBU beers may not suit the palates of many Berliners or Germans in general......at least yet. Germans have a lot of beer that they are quite comfortable with. It is integrated into daily life. In fact, the way that it is integrated into people's routines has favored the types of beers the Germans brew; refreshing lagers that tend to be a bit lower in alcohol and go down easy and fast. While some Germans were converted, many more seemed to see American style beers as a curiosity to try occasionally before returning to their longtime habits. Perhaps Stone Berlin is just ahead of its time. Perhaps, though, Germans are just happy with German beer. It is interesting to me that unlike the UK, France, Italy, the Netherlands and other European nations, Germany was the one place that Belgian beer never made any impact in spite of a wide open EU market that could have made these beers available. It reminds me of the total lack of interest in French, Spanish or American wines or food from anywhere else in Italy. Parochialism lives.
Lastly, Stone arrived in Germany at a time when Germans are drinking less beer overall. Germany has the same demographic crash as much of Europe. The population is aging and aging people drink less and are less likely to try new things. On top of that, many, if not most of the young newcomers to Germany are from places where beer, for religious or cultural reasons is not allowed or desired. Added to everything else mentioned, it is a tough nut to crack.
No one should fault Greg and his partners for trying. They were ambitious. They were hopeful. They triumphed over a lot of adversity to complete the project and it was launched with a wave of positivity. The facility is awesome and of course the beer was and is good. Some might be saying it was an arrogant American move to try to impose Stone's beer culture where a homegrown beer culture has thrived for centuries. That sort of thinking would have us still choosing between Schlitz, Pabst or Bud at every corner bar in America. Trying new things, introducing them to others, blending cultures, and alas, learning lessons and sometimes overreaching and and falling are all good in the end. In this case, Germans were introduced to quality American beer and some were impressed. Even those who may not be converts have to admit that their stereotype of American beer as watery nothingness is wrong. Stone will still have a presence in Germany. Time will tell if BrewDog will have better luck decoding the German market. I wish them well and I wish the best for Greg and Stone.
Hey Michael. Dave & Wendy Swartz from Coasters Pub in Melbourne, FL here. We still remember having beers and chatting about our businesses and the industry.
Cheers, buddy, and Cheers, Greg. You helped rub lots of beer geeks' elbows on the Grand Opening. Well done.
You probably won’t like this post. You might like a post of fizzy yellow schadenfreude that bears no risk to you, at all, as you play arm chair quarterback. But, a post of this boldness and sophistication is probably far beyond you. In fact, I bet you’re moving your lips as you read this....
Greg, of course when you play really really big sometimes you fail really really big. Congratulations! I remember when I lost my company after we had raised more than $80 million back in the dot com days. It almost killed me. I felt awful. I blamed myself. I was just heartbroken. And, there were places where people could post anonymously online about the company for which they worked and people posting truly awful things about me. Then one day it really hit me that posts like that are just like little dogs behind fences. Bark bark bark bark bark!
But you, you showed up! You did something big! I remember the anti-reinheitsgrebot brew that I tasted (and that we lightsabered a bit) before the grand opening, even. Stone Berlin was a bold, exciting, fun, purposefully anti-establishment, wonderful Stone Brewing Company vision. It’s the kind of thing that had you do what you did to make me, and all of us, fall in love with you, and Stone, in the first place, Greg!
I feel like I’m something of a global craft beer ambassador. I travel all over the world and make it a point to try (and often smuggle a little in my luggage) craft beer from everywhere I go. I talk to a lot of brewers and patrons and fans of craft beer all over the world. Even on Necker Island, to my surprise, recently. And here are a few things that I would just love to go on the record saying…
I’ve been drinking craft beer since before you started brewing it even. So, I’ve talked to all kinds of craft brewers in all kinds of great places and this revolution goes very deep and has brought about an almost unfathomable amount of positive change. Craft breweries go into rundown neighborhoods and a few months or years later it’s amazing what has transpired. The choice of beers today is almost overwhelming. (which reminds me that there is a German saying: no one suffers like he/she who has a choice… That’s kind of funny in this context…) And the quality is through the freaking roof! And, everyone I’ve ever talked to at these places not only knows of Stone Brewing Company, but they love stone brewing company. That’s zero exaggeration.
And here’s something else that I want to point out. I love your approach. I love how much it reflects the craft beer industry. I love that when you started to get distribution for Stone beers you turned to all your brothers and sisters in the craft brewing industry in San Diego and said, “hey, let us distribute your beer too!” And it grew! I love that Stone still cares about other breweries and that Stone won’t sell out and I love that you do great collaborations with weird and cool entities from all over the world.
And yes, I know this one hurts. I think it’s courageous and generous of you to share how much it hurts. It reminds me that even though you’re a demigod of craft beer you are still one of us. A human. And that just makes me love you more.
The other thing I’ll say is that you’re lucky to be able to process this with the people who put their hearts and souls into it for you. When I lost my company we were all locked out and I didn’t get to say I’m sorry and I didn’t get to share peoples tears or stories. It took me more than 10 years to finally reconnect with people and start to hear the stories about how actually it was a great opportunity to be at the company and people went on to do great things because of their experience... and, this is just a part of Stone Berlin. Stone is still in Berlin, Stone is still everywhere else that Stone is, and it reminds me of the saying I wish I had known when I failed so hard and that pulls me through hard times, today. It’s from a guy named Louis l’Amour... He said, “There will come a time when you think everything is finished. That is the beginning.”
And so I say, as painful as it is, this is actually the beginning. Germany pretty soon, will have no idea what hit it. All of Europe will rise to the experience of great tasting beer, and it all started with that beautiful bastion of beatific brewing... Stone Berlin.
I still want my hug, by the way. And I want in on the next big adventure, too.
Working for Naparbier in Spain as their brand manager I feel very much connected to the European (& further afield for that matter) Craft beer scene. Greg, with this post I think you have hit the nail on the head regarding the "old world vs new world" topic of discussion (for some). Personally, coming from Kent in the UK I was brought up surrounded by hops & cask beer drinkers galore (my grandfather in particular) & regualarly heard jibes towards this so called keg and craft culture......however change is happening, & im also seeing more & more beer lovers exchanging beers, sharing ideas & crossing the "abyss" whilst sharing both old & new styles. This for me is great & what (caugh, caugh non industrialised) beer should be all about. My real love of beer actually came from the states & my many travels to CA. Stone in SD was a reference for me & therefore I was very happy to hear they were branching out into Europe, & excited to see how their experience would evole mixing their craft ideas with Germany´s rich & deep rooted beer culture. You made the leap with all the right intentions so im happy to hear that Stone will be still producing out of Berlin & look foward to seeing our "crazy" beer world ever coming closer in unison over a damn good pint & that Stone is still very much a part of it!
I was bummed when I heard the news of Stone Brewing closing up shop in Mariendorf. Being a US based employee of a German company, I was lucky enough to visit several times, even once before the place opened. It was plain to see the passion, thought and attention to detail that Greg and team had poured into the place taking disused industrial complex and bringing it back to life in a glorious fashion! It was HUGE and beautiful. But is Greg's own words from a previous post perhaps it was "too big, too bold, too soon"
Over the years I have sent many friends and colleagues to Stone Berlin and they were all impressed with the whole experience from the food to the stunning setting, to the epic beers and for the chaps, blaring Metal in the restroom.
The ray of light from this whole story is that Stone Berlin will still be going strong at the taproom Prenzlauer Berg waving the flag for AND pouring great beer. I look forward to going back there sitting on the patio and taking way too much time to pick out my first beer...
Cheers to the team at Stone Berlin, past present and future!
Jack Carson Director of Innovation - Jägermeister USA
A Stone Brewing sempre foi uma das cervejarias mais importantes como nossa fonte de inspiração ao longo da história da nossa cervejaria Bodebrown em Curitiba PR Brasil. A filosofia e os seus valores são compartilhados ao redor do mundo. Nós ficamos muito tristes em saber que a fábrica da Stone estaria sendo vendida para a Brewdog, nós sabemos como a decisão deve ter sido difícil de ser tomada. Mas Berlin nunca mais será a mesma, depois da chegada da Stone. A cena craft de Berlin com certeza teve profundos avanços com a chegada da Stone, e pelo menos a fábrica estará em boas mãos e a cena de Berlin continuará avançando, sem falar que para a felicidade dos fãs, a Alemanha continuará tendo as cervejas da Stone Brewing. O mercado é muito dinâmico, mas por onde a Stone passa, só temos que agradecer. Inúmeras cervejarias são criadas após muitas pessoas se apaixonarem pela cerveja artesanal após beber Stone. Para nós foi um sonho ter feito uma cerveja colaborativa com a Stone em Berlin, ficará marcado para sempre em nossa memória. Nosso muito obrigado ao time completo da Stone e principalmente ao Greg Koch & Steve Wagner por lutar bravamente para que as pessoas tenham mais opções, e opções muito boas do que beber. Cheers my friends. Saudações do Brasil!
I would like to comment on events in Berlin regarding the sale of Stone's own brewery, flying over comments, positive or negative, so let me say that a company like Greg's, if he takes drastic decisions, has a reason very precise, leaving aside the comments of nerds and people, they have not the slightest idea of what it means to manage such a large business, I am the mouthpiece of the sensations and problems experienced by Greg, not only in the workplace, but also in the personal sphere , a person full of good intentions and enthusiastic about his work, exactly like us !! from east to west the brewery world has a priceless strength and Union, dictated by our uncontrollable desire to experiment and to be able to share with the whole world, all that concerns the evolution of the Berlin events, is a consequence solely and exclusively of a non evolution of a turbid system, given by the lack of evolutionary brewing culture !! I, to my great luck, have had the enormous pleasure of knowing Greg personally 20 years ago !!! has always shown me a friendship that goes beyond profits and business !!! they were guests at his home, I had the pleasure of being able to collaborate with him and knowing that from a great friendship spoils like that between Stone and Brewdog the possibility of continuing to grow the world of craft beers was born, well it makes me think that all our work done in our twenty years of sacrifices and efforts, maybe it makes sense !! I do not consider it a failure but an attempt, that attempt to export a way of seeing, of living, of brewing, of drinking beer that goes further. me that in my small way, in twenty-three years of activity with my partners, I think I made beer culture in Italy and not only, I embarked on paths unknown to me in order to make sense of my work and that of the partners and in Stone Brewing Berlin, I recognize an incredible effort and dedication to this fantastic world of craft beer, by Greg, priceless !!!! and if this project has not had the classic fairy tale end of Walldiney it doesn't matter, the important thing is that we, he and all the lovers and lovers of the craft world, understand the efforts and the passion we put in order to give our best !!! as far as I am concerned, Stonebrewery and Greg are always a unique example of the world of craft beers. the dead partnership was, is and will always be given by a deep friendship, Lambrate, however small it may be, will always offer its support to Stone !!! remembering the work done and what will follow in the next few years, we will try to follow a real and constant example like the one given by the commitment of his advocate Greg !! with the hope that James is the guys from Brewdog they can continue to work and prosper in Berlin, throw me a single warning, a single unanimous cry "we are here, we exist, so drink craft beer"
It was an honor to be in Germany and eventually in Berlin as Stone opened their brewery in Mariendorf. From the first time the news dropped that Stone had found a site for their brewery and it would be in Berlin there was an instant excitement in the air. At the time I was brewmaster for one of the original Craft Beer brands in Germany. The going was tough for those of us trying to create a new scene in the very traditional German beer market but the news of Stone coming to Berlin gave wind to this struggling process and the words “Craft Beer” suddenly were now being spoken about on a whole new level in Germany. I even made the decision to move to Berlin to be closer to the “action” and excitement. If there had been any doubt before Stone opened its new brewery in Berlin, it was definitely confirmed with this decision from Stone, that Berlin would become the Craft Beer capital of Germany and quite possibly in Europe. I am very thankful to Greg and all of his team and what they have accomplished. Thankfully they will continue to provide us with great beer in Berlin and we will also have the Tap House in Prenzlauer Berg to visit. Many thanks for all of the wonderful events, inspiration and unwavering dedication to our craft, beer. It’s only a small setback and victory will be ours in the end.
As a Head Brewer in Berlin as well as having my own beer company, one thing has come very much to light in the last years – and that is, that this German beer market is an enigma! For those of us, of which I believe there are many, who like creativity and choice, the need for a new wave of beer variety has overwhelmingly existed for many years. But for just as many consumers seeking new options and liquid culinary adventure, there exists somebody else who is resistant to any change or evolution of something they view with national pride – the culture of beer in Germany.
Greg and his Stone Brewing Berlin team took a nation rich with beer tradition, and they courageously persisted in trying to open up some eyes to an entirely different beer experience.
Pioneers in the scene for demanding that we, as a nation, respect beer much more than a recent history of warm bottles sitting in a window with a bombproof Best Before dates might suggest, Stone has opened up a Pandora’s box of quality and variety – and hopefully, we’ll never look back.
It was incredibly sad for me to learn of Stone’s Mariendorf brewery handover – it was my favourite Berlin venue to visit and I travelled there by bike with frequency. It’s a relief to hear that Stone beverages will still be being produced in and for the Berlin market and that the Stone Taproom Prenzlauer Berg is here to stay. It’s surely become my new beery weekender!
On behalf of anybody who values beers, thanks so much Greg and co.!
Cheers and hopefully bis bald!
Berlin you’re not worthy!
My initial thoughts when Stone Berlin closed down:
Grandezza has gone – an uncompromised commitment to quality and style and an assertive statement of beauty and value – all lost. Everything that craft beer can ever be.
As I see it, Berlin had been unable to fully embrace what Stone Brewing had to offer. The Berlin scene feels more at ease with a “subcultural” shabby look in their bars and restaurants than with confident style. Sadly enough, it proved true once more that Berliners are provincial, hardly ever leaving their Kiez (neighborhood). All issues of public transportation to and from Mariendorf aside, I imagine now that a venue like the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens would have been received much better in Hamburg or Duesseldorf.
Regarding the industry: Even though there were collaborations, German brewers, craft or traditional, kept a residual reserve. I feel, we were unable to overcome cultural differences and not see Stone through the stereotype filter of the forceful American who threatens to overtrump us. It hurts to admit that collectively we were unable to connect fully and cherish the gift Stone gave to Germany.
When Stone Brewing Berlin opened, the German craft beer scene was in a high spirit of optimism. We were just starting. Fresh and enthusiastic. The closing of Stone Brewing Berlin makes us aware of a sobering feeling of stagnation. In the past five years many of our new brewers have worked their fingers to the bone without the market responding accordingly.
If I read the signs correctly, this is the time for German craft brewers to stop struggling. Exhale and remind yourself what you are passionate about doing and why you do it. Make an authentic choice. This is important: It will save you a million dollar campaign if you express your purpose, your holy “why”, clearly, make sure that your audience and the consumers get your message and that you follow through to what you claim. Next to a commitment to quality, we need a strong statement of purpose. People search for meaning, people emotionally connect to what they find meaningful. So please, let’s take this chance.
I am happy that Stone Brewing remains in Berlin with their beers still being brewed in Mariendorf and poured in Prenzlauer Berg. So not all is lost yet. We can still enjoy their call to quality, style, beauty and value. Most important of all now Stone can grow organically, we can connect and prove that, after all, we might become worthy!
Well said ,Greg!
Greg, While I was sad to hear of the transfer (because I'd never made it over to see what you guys had built in Berlin), I also don't think you could have picked a better company and team to transfer it to. I still look forward to visiting Berlin at some point in the future and see what you guys and BrewDog are up to there.
But until then, there is no shame in knowing when to say when. Know that if they were easy decisions or the work was easy, anyone could do it. Keep up the good work both here and abroad.
When I moved to the States more than a decade ago, I accidentally happened upon Stone's Ruination DIPA (the old recipe) as my "rite of initiation" into the world of hops, hops, and more hops. I was a big fan of Stone (as well as some other breweries, I should add) for many years, so you can imagine my surprise when I bumped into Greg by chance in Eastern Europe, of all places. One year later, I was invited to the opening ceremony of the Mariendorf brewery, which I sadly missed due to some last minute change of travel plans, so for a while I only tasted the rather limited number of beers canned in Berlin while in Europe. And then last fall I finally made the pilgrimage to Mariendorf one unseasonably summery Sunday in October. To say that I was blown away would be an understatement. I spent a few hours sampling one amazing beer after another (including some from guest taps) and just didn't feel like leaving. There were kids with parents enjoying a Sunday brunch, locals walking in with growlers to fill, and (I suspect) some visitors such as myself. I was planning to go back some time later this year and was deeply saddened to learn about the balance sheet problems that resulted in the transfer of ownership. I can only hope that Brewdog will prove to be a worthy steward of this shrine
As much as the closure of Stone Berlin is heartbreaking and I will miss my annual pilgrimage with friends to Stone Berlin, thank you for bringing real American gastronomy and beer culture to Europe. And thank you for continuing to increase your availability of Stone beers here in Europe. Please continue to keep amazing beers on tap at the Berlin tap room and maybe consider expanding the model to other European cities. Lastly Greg please continue to visit us in Europe and make great collabs with the European craft breweries.
I think homebrewing played a great role in craft beer expansion in Brazil and also in the US, people hear of new beers, a friend who's traveling brings a bottle, someone tries to learn how to brew, start gathering friends for reviewing, the knowledge starts to spread, whether it's due to the lack of options like in the US 80's, or due to the prices of imported beers in Brazil 2000's.
Germany may have lots of options of German beer styles, cheap beers and as I've seen from my studies in beer a lot of people (even non German) still brags about the purity law, so maybe they don't feel the need to homebrew.
In Brazil the largest barrier to the craft beer besides the bittering (we're a sugar cane culture country who loves extra sweet stuff) were the prices (usually 10x when we started), but we could bring more people to it by having friends and family to try our homebrews for free at BBQs and parties, most of them never went back to the big corn/rice Lagers.
I wish Stone Berlin had made it through as I wish Stone could expand to other countries like mine, even if it was just a small brewpub or tap room, we would be honored!
Thank you, Greg! On numerous visits to Berlin over the last few years, not once did I not pass by your fantastic establishment that is, was, Stone Berlin. From the first moment I walked in, took the tour, attended the tasting and savoured the flavours.... Well, it was love at first sight. It was that special something, that kept me coming back. Maybe it was all the brilliant beers on that super long menu, maybe it was the place, the food, the great service, or who knows, maybe it was the pure metal playlist in the washrooms. It will be missed. And then the Prenzlauer Berg Taproom, lucky I got to see it so soon after it opened, and stoked to see it still going strong. A very nice one, where I'm sure to return to. Thanks for keeping at it and promising to stay and fight the good craft beer fight in Europe! :-)
Cheers, and best wishes,
+Rasmus, Helsinki, Finland.
ps. Hope to see Stone gain more traction in Finland, too. \m/,
In creating Stone Berlin Greg, Steve and the entire Stone Brewing Company put on a great demonstration of the pleasure and pain that passion can create. Greg, as always, did a great job making us (me, particularly) feel those emotional poles.
Those who frequented Stone Berlin and experienced the flush of exciting beers that has occurred in Berlin got the pleasure, as they deserved.
Greg and team got the pain, as could be true for any of us that put capital behind dreams and big ideas. Business reality can be cruel.
That aside, I'd like to raise my voice in support of Stone's vision of challenging the status quo in Berlin, or any market, in bringing new and flavorful ideas for the public to appreciate. The public benefits. Only the tired ideas are vanquished by new ideas. Old 'culture' is not destroyed by the challenge, it is simply scrutinized for relevance.
In founding Victory we saw a narrow opportunity while writing our business plan in 1994. We sought to apply our German training to craft beers that had the tradition, flavor and quality of European imports to the US, but beat those imports with the freshness advantage of local production. That was as big as we could see the consumer opportunity then. So, we might have a bit near-sighted but we are overjoyed at the opportunity that curious, quality-conscious beer consumers have handed us and all other craft brewers.
So if you think the challenge that Stone presented to Berlin beer culture was 'wrong,' then you also must think that it was wrong for Victory to challenge something like Bass Ale with HopDevil IPA or Heineken with Prima Pils.
After losing our first name choice Ron and I went for the name Victory as Teddy Roosevelt's words inspired us. He said, "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
Greg, Steve and the entire Stone Brewing team dared mighty things. They deserve more than pain for this effort. They deserve applause and respect, and I am here to offer that. Bravo!
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