Posted on April 5, 2019
My heart is broken. It’ll mend, but I’m gonna let it be broke for a bit.
I love Berlin. And when you love something, it’s bound to frustrate you at times. Times like right about now.
Today we announce we are transferring the ownership of the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Berlin facility to our friends at Brewdog. Brewdog has agreed to adopt what we’ve built, and they will make it their own.
Since that day I first walked onto the historic gasworks property at the beginning of the decade, we accomplished some great things in Berlin. And we struggled greatly.
We started Stone in 1996 because we weren’t OK with the status quo of beer in the U.S. We felt Americans deserved better, so we brewed it for them. When we saw much of Germany stuck in a similar status quo of cheap beer, we were convinced we could help. As it stands now, German beer prices are the cheapest in Western Europe. As most of us know from life, the best things are rarely the cheapest.
Amazing beer is being brewed by amazing brewers all over the country. Unfortunately, according to the stats, most Germans are still ignoring these wonderful beers and buying the cheap stuff.
It’s changing. Slowly, yes, but changing all the same.
We invested a significant portion of a decade and significant millions building Stone Berlin. And it didn’t work out. These things hurt and these things happen. This one happened. And this one hurts a lot.
Even though we didn’t succeed with the big plan, we count our many successes. We met a whole new country of craft beer fans, converted new converts. We created an international beer destination in Bierland. The Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Berlin was named the “Top Beer & Food Destination in Germany.” Stone IPA was rated the #1 IPA in the country.
Awards and accolades are awesome and humbling. Unfortunately they aren’t enough. To feed a beast like Stone Berlin, we needed volume. The sheer cost of building and maintaining Stone Berlin to our standards didn’t let us grow it slowly. Sometimes you gotta realize when your dream is becoming a threat to your greater good.
Let’s be clear. Stone will continue to be distributed around Europe, currently available in 26 countries. And Stone is still very much in Germany, distributed in a good portion of the nation. We have made many converts there, and we will get them good beer. Some of it will also still be brewed at the same location. The brewers have been extensively trained by us, in our ways. But the facility itself—that grand ole 1901 gasworks property with the lovely old bones—will be under the stewardship of a different (and great) craft beer company.
I thank our wonderful team. Anything we contributed to beer culture in Berlin was carried out by them, every day and night. They shook the hands, poured the pints, delivered the sermon, spoke the tongues. I know they learned about craft beer and its entrepreneurial business culture, developed experiences and skills that they’ll be able to take into the world and create good. When you have to say goodbye to your friends it hurts, but knowing they’re equipped makes it easier.
And I made many great friends.
Stone Berlin was one of the most difficult and frustrating things I’ve ever done. The city and its few-yet-mighty craft beer fans are world-class. Yet, against professional counsel, I’m going to express one very specific frustration with Berlin. I say this because I love the city, and want it to thrive. And nothing ever thrived in an environment where people choose silence over honesty.
The truth is, the construction industry in Berlin is broken. Yes, there’s a lot of bureaucracy. The U.S. has more than a bit of that, so we were prepared for it. The real challenge was the tendency of our contractors to stop everything when a problem arose. The refrain I heard over and over was, “These things take time.”
Got a question? Stop everything. Unanticipated challenge? Stop everything. Review the contracts. Stop everything. Reconsider. Throw the baby out with the bathwater. But most of all, stop everything.
Any time you attempt to build something with the size and scope of Stone Berlin, you’re going to run into unexpected challenges. My career is nothing if not a long list of them. But we’ve been able to grow Stone Brewing because we figure it out as quickly as possible. We always keep moving, keep working. We never stop. Never. And trust me, we’re no problem-solving geniuses. We consult smarter people, accept acceptable solutions, just get it done.
Our Berlin contractors simply couldn’t or wouldn’t do this. It cost us dearly. After talking with fellow business owners in Berlin, seems we’re not alone in that experience. The documentary film “The Beer Jesus from America” chronicled our journey in getting the place built and opened, and in it you can see some of the struggles I’m talking about.
There, I said it. At the end of the day, the responsibility falls on me. That’s my job. I take the bullet. But I’m a real person who experienced a real, systemic problem in a city I love. If you know anything about me, you know I’m going to say it.
Maybe we should’ve started smaller, aimed for the tree line instead of the stars. I know there will be countless people with I Told You So’s. If you run into one, give ‘em a nickel for me. Like broken clocks, naysayers end up being right sometimes.
In our careers at Stone, we’ve been fortunate to be right a lot more than we we’ve been wrong. I’ll be the first to say we’ve messed up plenty. For me, being right “more often than not” is the most I could ever hope for. Sure, you hope the times you’re wrong will go by largely unnoticed. But living life out loud makes it so that won’t always be the case.
We’ll always be able to say we tried. Hard. With passionate heart and focus. Sometimes that’s not enough, and this is one of those times.
I take heart knowing that the beer scene in Berlin is significantly better today than it was in 2014 when we first announced our project. There are dozens more craft beer bars (there were zero when I first came to Berlin in 2011), breweries, and Berlin-based craft beer brands. The Berliner Weisse style has had a resurgence, and there are more IPAs, Pale Ales, and small-batch traditional German lagers in Berlin than there have been in decades.
The year we started in San Diego, we were about the 15th brewery to open in the county. There were also only about 15 bars and restaurants who focused on craft and specialty beers. Today in San Diego, there are 150 breweries, and more than 1,000 bars and restaurants with 10 beers or more on tap. It is from this culture of beer selection, range, and quality that we saw our vision. This helped drive us to create a destination with the largest selection of draft beer in German history. We’re incredibly proud of that big number because it means big diversity and, almost always, bigger quality.
Hopefully the diversity continues. Berlin has a million more people than San Diego, yet today there are only about 15-20 breweries, and about 20 bars and restaurants that offer more than 10 beers on tap. Brewdog is one of them. We were two of them. And now Stone is one and Brewdog is two. The city is thankfully not left with ‘less’ as a result of this transition.
Occasionally I’ll meet a German who feels the need to try to gently explain to me that American beer is junk. I nod and respond with my own observation: Most Germans think American beer is no good, and most Americans think that German wine is no good. Neither are true.
The silver lining in conversations like this is the conversation itself. People are beginning to talk about beer diversity in Berlin and other parts of Germany, and Europe. I am thrilled that we’ve been a part of it. Our Stone Brewing Tap Room Prenzlauerberg will continue to operate and proudly welcome guests to take a peek into a world of choice—more choices, and for some, better choices.
These kinds of choices aren’t cheap. Great art isn’t cheap. Great beer isn’t cheap. Great things aren’t cheap.
Months after opening their brewery, Brewdog co-founder James Watt and I met the first time when he came to San Diego in 2007 to visit our newly opened Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. He brought beer. Two years later Steve and I traveled to Fraserburgh, Scotland to brew our first collaboration beer with James and his partner Martin Dickie at their brewery. Our history runs deep.
We wish our friends at Brewdog every success with the Mariendorf gasworks property. We loved it and brought it to life, and we know they’ll do the same in their own way. They will do great things. And from time to time, as we’ve done in the past, we’ll do some of those great things together.
Thanks to everyone who saw what we were trying to do, came, and shared a beer with us. There will be more opportunities. Promise.
- Greg Koch
Stone Brewing Executive Chairman & Co-Founder
The Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Berlin will remain open until the end of April, at which time formal ownership will be handed off to BrewDog. If you’d like to come by for a beer, a bite, to give us a hug, wish us well and thank us, or wag your finger with an I Told You So, do come by between now and then.
You can read the original blog post on the announcement of the Stone Brewing Berlin project here: https://www.stonebrewing.com/blog/venues/2014/greg-koch-announces-stone-brewing-co-berlin