Every U.S. state seems to have at least one craft brewery that defines the region and its culture. Even though the craft beer explosion has increased the number of breweries by a large percentage, there is often one brewery that stands out above the rest as a symbol of its respective area of the nation. California has more craft breweries than any other state and while Anchor and Sierra Nevada are certainly well- respected and highly influential, the craft brewery that truly says what California is all about is none other than Stone Brewing, an Escondido landmark and one of the most influential breweries in the country.
Known for its big, bold, hop- accented beers and eye- catching bomber bottles, Stone Brewing has a following that approaches cult- like proportions among its followers. One of the men behind the remarkable success of Stone Brewing is co- founder Greg Koch, former home brewer, beer geek, and all- around good guy who loves craft beer and loves to create unique and often eccentric beer products for Stone’s fanatical fans. I caught up with Greg Koch on a recent visit of his to Houston and had the chance to find out more about the man behind one of the nation’s most successful craft breweries and gain his unique insights on the craft beer industry. Here are my questions and his thoughtful responses to each:
What was your first craft beer experience? What got you interested in craft beer as a profession?
My first experience was with Anchor Steam in the 1980’s. It was an epiphany for me and that is when I first got my taste of what beer could be. I had discovered something amazing. I then discovered Sierra Nevada and started to visit small breweries in California and going to festivals. I became indoctrinated in craft beer.
The craft beer industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. Do you see the industry sustaining such a rapid level of growth for much longer?
I think there will be some dips, but only a small correction. I think the industry will still grow overall. Beers at present are so awesomely delicious that as more people discover them, they will gravitate toward them. I can’t imagine it any other way.
We all know the big brewers are facing declining market share. What do you think they will do to deal with the craft beer threat?
I think the large brewers have shown their colors well. They are selling less, but are making money by trying to beat their big brewer competition. They are using a commodity approach vs. an artisanal approach. Those who use a commodity approach won’t change their spots. They will just keep looking for ways to grow.
Recent trends include a move back to canning. Do you think Stone will ever follow suit, at least on a limited basis?
It is entirely possible. We could make a move like that. It is a good possibility.
Stone Brewing is an Escondido landmark of sorts and the beer is presently brewed only at that location. Do you foresee a contract arrangement or a new Stone Brewery being built in a different U.S. state?
It is possible. If growth trends continue, then yes. Not sure where it would be, but a new brewery is possible.
Have you had a chance to sample any of the beer produced here in the Houston area? Any standouts?
Ask me later (laughs). I dropped by the Drink of Ages radio show earlier and tried some beer. I have known about Saint Arnold and (owner) Brock Wagner for a long time, but know little else.
Which breweries would you include among your personal favorites, excluding Stone, of course?
It’s a laundry list. There is a long list of breweries I think are awesome. I have given up trying to make a list of favorites. I like the discovery and I continue to try new products, definitely try to find new things. There are so many great breweries. The idea that there should be a favorite, I have worked against that idea. It no longer seems pertinent.
What is the main obstacle standing between Stone Brewing and world domination?
I have a disinterest in dominating anything. Stone is all about doing our personal best. We don’t want to be the only choice, we want to keep present choices and expand them. Dominating is not what we want. Excellence is what we focus on.
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