Sunday, August 7, 2011

Stone Brewing, a less-than-love letter

Stone Brewing came to Minnesota a couple of months ago after pulling out of nearby Wisconsin. Stone brews "extreme" beers which while certainly very decent, are not terribly exciting, and certainly aren't extreme in a post Pliny/Hopslam world.

BrewingTV interviewed some of the Stone guys, one of whom was Mitch Steele. About his past at Anheuser-Busch he said:

we were in an environment where the beers we brewed were very much marketing driven and very much competitive.

He inadvertently describes Stone's beers raison d'etre better than I could have. Budweiser, at least, has cost prohibitions on their beer which they have to deal with. Stone's are something that purely seem to be born in the marketing world. I have not had a drop of their beer since coming here, and after watching, I don't feel too bad about it. Greg Koch is a precocious snob, who would be lucky to be as brash and unappealing as his company's marketing is. You can watch him describe Stone's plans to build a brewery in Europe to save European beer drinkers from themselves and also to help build a world where white bread and freeze dried coffee don't exist. I am personally not a fan of freeze dried coffee and store bought bread, but I'm lucky to have the good fortune to be in that position. Most people simply don't have the luxury to buy boutique artisan products. Speaking at a time when unemployment here is at least 10%, the unawareness of any difference between luxury and necessity is a bit too much for this blogger.

Watch and decide for yourself.

Brewing TV - Episode 41: Stone Brewing Co. from Brewing TV on Vimeo.


  1. The problem with building a Stone brewery in Europe is that while it is true that many a European beer culture is entrenched and conservative, it is also true that the bog standard beers of Germany, the Czech Republic and Britain are a damned sight better than the bog standard beers of the US.

    In that video, Greg Koch comes across like some bloody evangelical missionary, intent on going to Europe, disregarding our traditions and view of the world in order to stoke his ego and bank balance.

  2. Unsurprisingly, I couldn't agree with you more. It's interesting (and disappointing) that in one generation small brewers in this country have gone from being inspired by and admiring of Europe's beer traditions to thinking they ought to supersede them.

    I'll also have to refresh my memory on European history, but as I recall, religious crusades into Europe have not fared well in the past... He may be in for a bit of a fight.

  3. Thanks for the imaginative ideas regarding what I've said and where I'm coming from. I always enjoy a good conversation on perspectives and philosophies!

    Please note that we're in a health care crisis here in the US. Some folks are recently realizing that there's actually a connection between what we eat and the health of our nation. 30 years ago we spent 7% of our income on health care, and 17% on food. Now those percentages have reversed. We MUST save ourselves, and each other. If you find my interest in the health of our citizens and our children snobby, well then so be it...I must accept that. I believe (as do many of today's health advocates) that it is not cheaper to eat cheap food...the 'hidden' costs of poor labor conditions, and health care costs borne by a poor diet...make it a more expensive proposition. If you have time, please watch Jamie Oliver's TED talk and then go on to watch his show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.

    Regarding Europe, you'd be hard pressed to find someone more reverent of Europe's great traditional beer scene. You should know that great traditional beer is virtually ignored by the populace. Please view this video blog I shot at Moeder Lambic...the beer bar with the most specialty/craft beer taps in the entire country of Belgium...for perspectives on this:

    It's important to also note that my comments were taken from a nearly hour-long talk. Was it necessary to select soundbites for the vid to keep it moving? Yes. Are all of the thoughts and perspectives I shared fleshed out in the edits? No, of course not. By chance were you there? If not, my apologies that we missed inviting you.

    Am I on a crusade? A strong word, but it could possibly fit. I'd bet that if we sat down over a beer we'd agree about 90%.



  4. Yeah, I think some of the comments from the video are taken WAY out of context. It looks to me more like genuine concern for overall life upgrade, rather than snobbery. And this can be done without "boutique artisan products".

    And if the whole world were to take on such a crusade, the cost would not be so extravagant. A perfect example is comparing the price of organic food 10 years ago to today. It's more available, so it becomes more affordable.

  5. I love Stone Brewery. When it comes to marketing, every brewery markets their beers and personally, I think Stone's marketing, graphics, and the way they approach communicating with the beer drinking public is great!

    Specifically, as it compares to TV and bill board ads featuring TnA to distract consumers from the mediocrity of their product in 12 oz cans or bottles.

    I could care less as to why Bud Miller Coors is brewing the equivalent of 'freeze dried coffee' and 'store bought bread.' If you're drinking craft beer regularly of course you are fortunate...for many reasons, including having the recreational income to pursue a lifestyle that includes craft brew.

    Furthermore providing a weak rationalization to AB Inbev like 'cost prohibitions' feels like another distraction. Have you not seen Beer Wars? I'd think most people who have would not be giving AB InBev any sort of justification, no matter how flimsy.

    They choose to make cheap beer and now with their market share dropping have started buying craft breweries.

    Is Stone's beer being brewed competitively? I for one hope so and in my humble estimation the proof is in the brewing. For me the great thing about craft beer is that there's so much more out there now for the consumer to choose from and if breweries push the envelope that's fine by me. I applaud Stone for doing just that.

    And if you think they aren't still at the cutting edge of extreme beers grab yourself a Belgo Anise, a Ruination or an Old Gaurdian (I'm really taking a shine to these) or even the Japanese Green Tea IPA they recently released.

    Price wise Stone is one of the better priced craft beers out there while being right there at the forefront of craft breweries in terms of quality and taste.

    Of course you could just be smug and rip someone who has been a trailblazer in our Nation's craft beer culture based on a flimsy premise and a knee jerk reaction to a 10 minute video. If you feel that way Cheers! But I don't get it.

    Jason Stinnett
    Beers In Paradise/

  6. I spent a few days at Stone brewery this weekend. The staff were the best and I love most of their beers. I always try as many beers as i can but I always come back to Stone. Being there and meeting those that work there has only made me a bigger fan of their work.

    Oh and nice pedobear logo you got there!

  7. Greg,
    thanks for taking the time to comment. I was not at the talk, to be fair, but I don't think that the video there aimed to twist your words and I don't think I misrepresented anything you said.

    And I agree that drinking good beer and eating good food is nice, but as someone who enjoys beer, I'm wary of anyone who wants everyone to conform to their aesthetic and to remove choices from me because of the supposed health risks (ie Jamie Owiver).

    All that being said, you and I probably agree on more things than not. Clearly we both care quite a bit about beer, we just seem to disagree on some of the messy details.


  8. Remove choice? Quite the opposite my friend!

    I am working to help my fellow American throw off the chains of oppression. To remove the shackles of low expectations. To free ourselves from the overlords of poor quality.

    Most Americans do not have a choice. You said it yourself. Only being able to afford poor quality, nutritionally devoid, cheap processed food indicates that you feel that many folks do NOT have a choice. And I would agree with you. And I think it’s wrong. There are too too many “food deserts” in America where our citizens either cannot afford, or do not actually have access to such important items as fresh vegetables. Instead, they only have access to cheap commodity food that drives them into obesity,* diabetes, heart disease and cancers.

    Let’s take a look at it, and you tell me what best constitutes “choice”:

    - The beer selection in the US in the late 1970’s with many brands of (essentially) the same product, or today’s stores with a near dizzying array of craft beers in styles, sizes and price ranges.

    - A store of the past with three kinds of cheese (the processed “yellow one,” the processed “swiss cheese” or the kind that comes in a can), or the more enlightened cheese selection with actual real cheeses (including ones from your neighboring farms that needn’t be fancy, but are very very real…and very very good for you, the local economy, for regional taste and character, etc.).

    - Shelves filled with freeze-dried coffee and, well, that’s about it? Or local coffee shops and roasters, with choices of varieties, ethical practices, local employment, and the creation of the “third room”…a place for local folks to meet and discuss local issues?

    - Tasteless tomatoes that come from slave-like labor, grown in Florida sand with excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides,** or any number of heirloom varieties (or hell, just locally grown varieties of ANY sort) in the normal, seasonal window?

    - You can look at myriads of other food and drink from wine (the #1 selling wine in the US in 1970 was Ripple), breads (ten brands of processed white, vs. local bakeries creating wide ranges of fresh, healthful breads), chocolates, meats, etc. etc. etc.

    Please, THINK THIS THROUGH before hurling accusations my way, or suggesting that work and words of my sort aren’t part of a positive progression.

    Think about it. As a commodity, poor quality, unhealthful, nutritionally poor item comes off the shelf, what happens? Does that shelf space sit empty? Of course not! In the beer world, we’ve seen an entire door devoted to multiple size packages of ONE or TWO commodity brands replaced by shelves filled with MANY more choices.

    Can folks that want to buy the cheap commodity brand still buy it? Yes. Will it go away? Certainly not in my lifetime. Will I stop decrying it / poking fun at it? Never! Too much fun....

    Now, do you think I stand for less choice, or more choice? For elitism, or for defending the right of the common man to have access to quality too?



    * Studies have shown that people eat more and more junk because their bodies are craving nutrition that is not found in the food that they eat. It is a devastating downward cycle. Please (please please) read this TIME Magazine cover story from August 2009:,9171,1917726,00.html

    ** Read the book Tomatoland by Barry Estabrooks

  9. Stone is doing the opposite of removing choice. After looking at your blog a bit I detect some regional tension and you know what? I love good beer no matter what part of the US it comes from.

    Nevertheless, if you love what CAMRA is doing in England but don't like Stone's beers (which based on some of your other entries doesn't really approximate 'extreme beers' which you've implied it should) that's okay...that's cool but some of your statements make me miss your point.

    In no way do I see Stone encouraging anyone to conform to an aesthetic or remove choices based on supposed health risks.

    Stone is one of the few businesses, at least in my mind, that represents compassionate/responsible Capitalism.

    Cheers Greg!

    Cheers to this blog also, even if I disagree with this entry! The discussion is still important!

  10. Pretty sure Greg/Stone owned this thread. Well played. Stone rules. See you at the 15th Anniversary celebration next week.

  11. I'd like to suggest that it's been awhile since Mr. Flagon of Ale had a good beer. Drink an Arrogant Bastard and come the crap down.

  12. Good discussion. As stonegreg correctly points out, we had to excerpt bits and pieces of his talk at the Happy Gnome this past March for the sake of flow in the episode. In the interest of adding some context back to those excerpts, below is a link to a video of his talk (much more fleshed out than in the episode, but still edited for length):

    Michael Dawson
    Brewing TV

  13. Greg just shut down your worthless blog.

    Game over.

  14. I'm actually mad at Greg. I am mad that he even commented on this worthless blog then posted about it on twitter . This caused me to click on it and waste priceless minutes of my day. Greg next time when it looks like crap do not respond simply flush and move on. This guy is hating.

  15. Flagone Shmlagone

  16. Hey folks. Please be polite. We all win from balanced, polite exchanges of information and ideas.


  17. Greg we are exercising our right to be arrogant bastards. I'd have to say you came back strong the 2nd time around. In a good way.

  18. stonegreg, you make some good points and I largely agree with you but I think that the larger issue of financial access is still a problem. Even though more choices for high quality beer/food/coffee exist now than ever before, there aren't necessarily more people who have real access to those options. I pay 10x more per pound for local cheddar at my co-op than I would in a grocery store: I can see that being a huge barrier for a lot of people, and I think it is. I don't think that options those people can afford should be removed, and to be fair, in your talk you did say that you wanted to see a world where people couldn't even remember the existence of processed foods etc: that sounds like the removal of choice to me.

    Frankly, I don't care what anyone else drinks or eats. It is unfortunate if they make poor choices, but the world is a complicated place and well, so it goes. Likewise, I don't want anyone to tell me what to eat or drink: that sounds a lot like evangelism. We wouldn't tolerate that type of treatment when it comes to religion or politics, I don't know why it should be ok when it comes to food and drink (things that actually matter).

    While we're assigning reading, everyone should read about Norman Borlaug, the man who saved a billion (yes, one billion) people by developing industrialized methods for food production.

    I'm not interested in eating those types of foods, if I have my druthers, but I'll be goddamned if I'll listen to anyone say that no one ELSE should have them either.

    Finally, I have enjoyed this conversation quite a bit, and thanks to everyone who had (or may have) something civil and thoughtful to say. I regret if I said anything to attack you personally, stonegreg.


  19. And anonymous, the whole "Arrogant Bastard" thing is supposed to be a bit tongue in cheek. Maybe you ought to study up on Stone's beers.

  20. It takes time to evolve. My wish is folks tuck their egos in a bit and open their minds. Life is too short not to. If you have friends outside your normal "thought circles" ask their opinion on whatever you're interested in and truly listen and consider what they have to say. If you don't have such friends, do yourself a favor and find one (or hopefully, many)...
    (from Berlin)

  21. Wow, you really have to love those tough talking anonymous posters.

    If you're big enough to be a jerk, you should be man enough to put a name to your comment.

    Comments like those are the main reason I ditched anonymous posting on Fuggled.