Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Brew & A with Stone Brewing's Greg Koch

We kick off our new Q&A series (Brew & A) with none other than Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Co.. Greg was one of the first brewers to have a sit down interview in the BBA studios and one of the most vocal advocates for craft beer. We thought it would be appropriate if he were to be our first Brew & A. He graciously accepted and we sent him a few questions. Greg Koch is about to take a 6-month sabbatical away from Stone and plans to travel and disconnect, we thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions from us.
courtesy of Stone Brewing Co.

Better Beer Authority (BBA):Looking back on 2013 Stone had a massive year! With the opening of the airport location, 74 beers released, a new packaging hall, what are some of the things that Stone fans can look forward to in 2014?
Greg Koch (GK): Well, we certainly have a lot to look forward to in the coming year. There will be a great slate of exciting announcements and developments from Stone Brewing, but unfortunately none are quite yet ready for prime time, so, I can only make promises that it’s going to be another exciting, development-filled year for the Stone Brewing Co.

BBA: It seems as if the Enjoy By series (#2 rated beer forthe BBA in 2012) is releasing a new edition about every month. After a full year of doing this, what have you learned about this project and where do you see this going in the future?
GK: Stone Enjoy By IPA certainly has been a tremendously fun project for us and really helping to showcase the advantages and character available in ├╝ber fresh beer. We will continue to brew our famous Stone Enjoy By IPA recipe throughout 2014 with releases scattered throughout the year both across the calendar and its availability nationwide.

BBA: We’ve just started seeing the first of the Quingenti Millilitre Series in the Northern Virginia market (Crime and Punishment) will beers from this series start seeing a greater distribution?
GK: Yes, Crime and Punishment were the first two 500ml beers from our new specialty bottling line which allowed us to fill, cork and cage 500ml bottles in a greater volume than we were previously able to do.

This new bottling line allows for both better packaging quality and greater availability to fans. So we do expect that more releases will be coming out in 2014, and they will be more widely available.

The next one will be Stygian Descent: Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA aged in Templeton Rye Barrels. We, however, have not announced a release date yet.

BBA: Along those lines, it seems that you are infatuated with brewing with peppers, perhaps starting with 11.11.11. Have you reached the potential for brewing with peppers or do you have big hot plans for the future?
GK: Actually, the first batches of Crime and Punishment were produced several years ago, and we created Stone Smoked Porter w/Chipotle Peppers back in 2006. In my experience of 25 years of first being a craft beer enthusiast and zealot to then becoming a professional, every time I think I’ve seen the limits of anything in craft beer I’ve been proven wrong. Sometimes we ourselves smash through those limits, so no; I don't think I’ve seen any limits in craft beer including limits in peppers.

In fact, we just began brewing an exciting collaboration beer last week with our friend Johnathan Wakefield ofJ Wakefield Brewing in Miami, Florida. Jonathan flew out to brew with me and our brewing manager, Kris Ketcham, on our 10bbl system at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station.

That style will be a Berliner Weisse with tropical fruit and hot peppers. Sort of a Berliner Weisse meets tropical hot salsa, and I think the combination of flavors is going to be something unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a beer before and be quite unique. Unfortunately it’s a very small batch, just 10 barrels at Liberty Station, so people won't have the opportunity to see that one outside of our walls.

BBA:  With all of the new breweries opening up not only in San Diego but around the country, how does Stone as an “old school” craft brewery fit into the new wave of craft beer drinkers and breweries?
GK: That's kind of interesting to be considered in terms of “old school” because we were "new school" for so long now. I think when we look back through the perspectives and larger spectrum of history, Stone was in the second main wave of the middle-late 1990s. There are certainly a lot of newer, smaller, younger breweries that have opened up in recent years. Our relevance in the community is based on the relevance of the things we do, the projects we create, the beers we brew, so I’m not concerned about our relevance because I know that we have some really fun new beers on the docket for 2014 and beyond. We are just as inspired by what’s going on out in the craft brewing world as the younger craft brewers are, and it’s fun for us to continue to play and experience our art in new ways.

BBA:  On that note are you seeing a drop or rise in quality with all of the breweries opening up?
GK:  Both, actually. On an overall basis: the quality of craft beer has risen over the last couple of decades and risen rather nicely. It’s now unusual that you pick up a random craft beer and have something that is a complete mess. It's more typical to have something that is at least tasty, if not always especially unique or creative.

However there are also ones that are especially unique and creative, which really makes for a continued exciting landscape for craft beer enthusiasts… of which I definitely count myself.

BBA:  When you came to our set in 2011, you were promoting your book, The Craft of Stone Brewing CO., how was that experience and would you publish another book?
GK:  The experience was phenomenal and the reactions and reviews from fans of the book were beyond my expectations. It was exciting to officially add the word Author to my own personal resume of accomplishments. In fact I released two books that year the other one, being a collaborative effort with writer Matt Allen called The Brewers Apprentice.

Would I write another book? Thanks for asking that, I have no current plans. I’ve often heard of writing, publishing, or bringing forth a book analogized to birthing. While I can never speak directly on birthing due to my male status on this planet, I can say that it is a tremendously challenging process it takes an incredible amount of time and focus and some hand wringing to boot. That’s a little melodramatic … maybe not really hand wringing. Will I publish another book? No current plans, but who knows maybe someday.

courtesy of Stone Brewing Co.
BBA:You are about to go on a several month sabbatical and disconnecting from the digital world (very jealous), is this because you miss your beard and don’t want anyone to see you until it is at a respectable length again?
GK:  Well, plenty have seen me without a beard as that’s one of the things that will happen if you have a media event when you go shave for a fundraising campaign such as Movember. One advantage I have though is whether bearded or un-bearded the phrase "devilishly handsome" is thrown out there a fair amount. The sabbatical is of course designed to really get the head clear. I've had my head down for the last 18 years, and it’s going to be nice to look up and experience a world from another perspective. A perspective other than entrepreneur-constantly-turning-people-on-to-great-craft beer, although that part is so ingrained in my DNA that it may be impossible to lose that characteristic… not that I want to lose it anyway.


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