Stone Brewing’s Koch on Europe, Iowa, challenges and succession

Greg Koch of Stone Brewing

Photo Credit: Stone Brewing

(Escondido, CA) – BeerPulse sat down with Stone Brewing Co-Founder and CEO, Greg Koch, while in San Diego. Another interview hitting the front page weeks after it took place. Enjoy…

On current challenges:

Koch says that they are finding challenges when it comes to infrastructure and people with all the new projects that are in development as part of an ambitious $26.6 million undertaking. To illustrate, they will be looking to hire approximately 150 people for just the Liberty Station brewpub/restaurant alone. Because the Liberty Station restaurant is being built on a historical site, they are hitting up against some obstacles in the approval process and are behind the initial timeline they set last year (hoped to open by early fall).

On trying to open a brewery in Europe:

“Right now, we have nothing going on in Europe though we have been trying.”

Koch says that they have visited over 100 sites in nine countries. They found a location in Brugge that is now off of the table. They also found a spot in Berlin that they have been negotiating on for over a year. “It seemed like it was just around the corner,” says Koch. “But it’s been elusive and quite frankly, frustrating. It looks like we’re going to have to start from square one again.”

“(Europe) seems really cool. I’m a Europhile. I would love to be part of the transformation of beer in Europe like we have been part of the transformation here in the U.S.. Frankly, they could use another voice. Another compatriot on the front lines in the battle for good beer.”

Koch acknowledges that Europe has a number of great breweries; he’d just like to go over, make some noise and help change the public perception.

On whether the struggle to open in Europe creates any potential for the East Coast:

“We don’t have any plans to open a second brewery in the U.S. other than the ten-barrel brewery going into Liberty Station.”

On new markets and growth:

VP Sales, Arlan Arnsten, was in Iowa talking to distributors but nothing has been finalized. They have just had “talks” so far. “We always do our best to serve our existing customers before opening up new markets. It’s one of our core beliefs.” Stone IPA continues to be a workhorse for them from a sales standpoint.

On new releases:

Koch doesn’t have much to offer for info (well, the brewery has since laid out a schedule for June) but he mentions that he is looking forward to the June return of Saison Du Buff. They produce 360 barrels for a beer like that so it will get around the market. Koch recalls recently drinking the 2010 edition and saying that he was pleasantly surprised by how well it has held up for a beer under 7% ABV.

On Big Beer coming into Craft:

He doesn’t believe in the craft-bending phrase, “better beer.” It is all or nothing.

“We can talk about the difference between a craft brewer and a large company positioning some of its brands as being authentic craft. I believe that, from a consumer perspective, the truth should be easy to understand and not require special knowledge. Now, if I’ve made that statement, you can pretty much extrapolate the rest. Is it easy to understand where the beer is made, who it is made by, what it represents, why they made it and what their connection to the community is? I’ll let you answer that question for yourself but I think that the companies that are bringing positive influence to the industry are the ones that [meet those criteria].”

On environmental philosophies:

Koch doesn’t indicate any plans to take a broader role in movements around sustainability beyond what he is doing with Stone (as well as on a personal level).

“One of the things we’ve been able to do at Stone is lead by example. I try to add our voice to the collective voice. I want to help show people that treating your customers like they do have good taste and do care about the planet, their health, animal welfare and all these other issues is really important. I believe operating in that way is actually a very good business model. We’ve done everything the way that you are not supposed to do it [and have been successful]. If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution and I want to leave the world better than the way I found it.”

On succession:

In short, Koch doesn’t have a plan.

“I’m not going to sell out so because I’m not going to sell out, I’m going to die. That’s my exit plan. I’m a lifer.”

BP: So is there no chance that a prospective buyer out there shares your philosophies and would want to continue where you left off?

“I don’t know if I would say ‘No chance’ but I’d say that it’s hard to contemplate such a thing existing. I’m not motivated by money. I drive a Volt, I eat mostly organic food, I don’t like going to white table cloth restaurants and I fly coach. That’s never going to change. I’m 48. It’s too late in my life for me to suddenly adopt Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous which I don’t want.

I am, however, highly motivated by this incredible world of craft brewing which is what got me here in the first place. We are going to make sure to put things in place so as not to put the company in any sort of jeopardy when I’m gone. So, there has to be a succession plan from that perspective but as far as having a cash-out event for me, I don’t see it. No.”

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