Here at Empty Growler, we will occasionally give others a platform for their writing. So when Sean Curry approached us with the opportunity to interview Stone’s Greg Koch, it sounded like a perfect marriage. Enjoy this great piece that Sean put together.
The Crying Game: My night with Greg Koch
By Sean Curry aka Kissinger
As a homebrewer in Chicago, I get to see the many nano- and micro-breweries move through the process of becoming successful production facilities. In addition to being the new hot spot for beer growth, Chicago is a large beer market for a lot of craft breweries around the US, which allows me to sample the fruits of many breweries beers.
Over the past 2 years, I’ve become a big fan of Stone Brewing Company out of Escondido, CA. Stone Brewing recently celebrated their second year in the Chicago Market by hosting two talks featuring Stone CEO and founder Greg Koch, as well as the total tap takeover at Timothy O’Toole’s two Chicago location. I had the good fortune to attend the Friday, March 20 talk at the Round Lake Cultural Center in Round Lake, IL, and scored a private dinner meeting with Greg Koch for myself, local beer geek Jessica Murphy (girlslikebeertoo.net) and her hubby/photographer.
The evening began by picking up Jessica and her hubby Chris at Haymarket Brew Pub in Chicago’s River West Neighborhood. The usual hour drive only took 45 minutes, which allowed us to get checked in, say hello to fellow beer bloggers Chitown OnTap and ChicagoBeerGeeks, and enjoy a refreshing Stone IPA. Amidst conversing about how excited we all were to hear Greg speak, we were able to get some insight into the evening before being ushered into the auditorium. Jessica, Chris and I were fortunate to sit at the VIPA tables to hear the talk.
With Metallica playing in the background, Greg made his entrance and upon reaching the podium began by reading from their flagship beer “Arrogant Bastard’s” label: “This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest you stick so safer and more familiar territory – maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this. “
Imagine every beer geek picking up a bottle of Arrogant Bastard for the first time and reading that label in their own voice, and then hearing the Jean Luc Picard of beer read this label in his own words. Now to hear Greg say these words not only gives more meaning to the mantra of Arrogant Bastard, but shows the power of the voice that Stone Brewing has, or can have, in the craft beer world. Half way through reading he cracks open the bottle, pours himself a glass, and raises it in toast to the crowd. Greg shares with us the Arrogant Bastard toast, “Here’s to me.”
Now some of you reading this may feel that this is a condescending and sardonic approach to marketing a product, as well as a new book, “The Craft of Stone.” But in my opinion, this is the voice that is aiding in getting craft beer into more of the glasses and fridges of beer consumers around our country. Koch is very active in getting people to stop drinking the fizzy yellow beer that gets pimped with every sporting event and award show, trying to increase the diversity and taste that is poured into our glasses. It is the style of his voice and his thoughts on the craft beer industry that can help move it past the 8% share hold in the beer market that craft beer currently holds.
The talk was a great history of how Stone survived from the beginning of its opening in 1996 to the success it’s become today, and a sneak-peek into the future of soon-to-be-built Stone Hotel and Conference Center. But it was at a private dinner after the talk where Jessica and I were able to ask Greg the questions about Big Beer and the current movement of craft breweries in America.
Jessica started off the conversation asking his thoughts about big beer companies creating smaller craft divisions to research what people like to drink, such as the expansion of Blue Moon, creation of Shock Tock flavors, and how the American consumer reacts to tastes of beer. Koch asked the group, ‘You’ve seen the movie the Crying game, correct? If you really don’t care about the taste of your beer, then go ahead and turn off the lights, get into bed, and have some sweet lovin’.” I interpreted this to mean that if you really care about what goes into your mouth, then take the time to research what’s out there, find what you like, and make your decisions based on what you like and not what’s “popular.”
I think this is perfect for our generation—we want to know where our food comes from, how it’s been grown, and who’s touched it before it makes it to our table. As a homebrewer, I get to control all the ingredients that go into my brew—where they came from and how they are used. I appreciate it when the makers of my food and beer take the same care. As the dinner conversation progressed, we spoke about Greg’s desire to have the fresh food movement become mainstream. He elaborated on the Stone Bistro Garden’s use of locally sourced fresh foods (Stone is a vegan brewery), and the recently hosted fresh dinner where food came in fresh that day, was prepared, and paired with a variety of Stone beers that night.
As we continued to discuss the fresh movement, questions turn to distribution and why the Chicago market cannot get all of Stone’s beers. It was eluded that some of them wouldn’t’ be as fresh as they should be after traveling from CA to the Midwest. This is one of the virtues of Stone Brewing that I respect: they are particular to their brand and their taste in how they mark their bottles, and encourage consumers to report any bad tastes or flaws in their beers. One of the things that I took not only from Greg’s talk but also our dinner conversation is that he is very adamant in sharing craft beer not only made by Stone but also by other CA region craft breweries. This has led to one of the reasons why he formed Stone Distribution, and why he has multiple guest taps at the Bistro Bar—often times more guest taps than Stone taps. It is this mentality of sharing that Stone Brewing and Greg Koch embody that makes it easier for us consumers and homebrewers to seek and produce great craft beers and food.
As a homebrewer, I was exited to see at the end of “The Craft of Stone” that the authors had included some of the famous recipes taken from the bistro gardens, as well as Stone beers, for adventurous readers to attempt to recreate these great dishes and beers in their own kitchens. All in all, my night with Greg Koch has made me a bigger fan of Stone Brewing, and has garnered more respect for his voice in the craft beer revolution.
For more insight into Greg Koch’s thought into distribution of his beer, check out Jessica Murphy’s write up of our dinner www.girlslikebeertoo.com. She was able to capture some of Greg’s more insightful thoughts about craft breweries pulling out of certain distribution regions, and another giving up shares to Big Beer, in an effort to help improve production.