In 1999 I hiked San Elijo Lagoon with my physics TA. When we arrived back at the cars, one of his friends produced a bulbous brown glass jug and asked, “Who wants some delicious beer.” That was a shocking and revelatory moment for me. Before that day I had never seen beer stored in a such a large vessel, and I had never heard anyone describe beer as “delicious”. More importantly, I had never tasted real beer. My life was forever changed.
The following month I made the trek up to Stone Brewing; then located in a remote warehouse in San Marcos. I bought my own growler, which came filled with Stone Pale Ale. The rich caramel and floral flavors were so compelling, I began buying 6-packs whenever I could find them. By now we all know and love hops, but back then they were new.
Since that day I have never looked back, and neither has Stone Brewing. Stone has relentlessly pursued a business model that any sensible person would have to doom to failure. They began brewing great beer in the US; at the time a veritable backwater of the brewing world. They set up shop in San Diego; a backwater of the brewing backwater. They began brewing beers with unreasonable amounts of hops. And did they do all this with some sissy “consumer education” program? No. They printed right on the bottle, “If you don’t like this beer you’re a dumbass”, and other such inspirational phrases.
Today Stone is the 14 th largest craft brewery in the US. In fact, craft brewery is a term that was invented, in part, by Stone growing out of its “micro” status (along with Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, and the like). They supply beer to 36 states, producing over 100,000 barrels of beer each year. And they just keep growing.
Today’s media blitz was to announce that Stone is expanding, by a factor of approximately 5. That’s right, Stone Brewing is poised to grow 5x larger. They are opening a tasting room and merchandise store in South Park. They are opening a new Stone Brewery and Beer Garden in Liberty Station. They are taking over the La Milpa Farm in Escondido to grow their own produce and some meats. They are expanding their current facility by 10%. They are starting a catering business. They are building a new production facility next door to their current location, which will double their floor space. They are buying the 6 adjacent acres to the Escondido facility, to provide space for their new barrel aging rooms, office space, event venues, and hotel.
What? Yes, Stone is building a “boutique” hotel, with 40-50 rooms. Soon you can actually sleep at Stone. And all this expansion means that Stone will be producing close to 500,000 barrels per year by 2013. Founder Greg Koch says that when they started, he hoped to someday grow to the size of Anchor Brewing, approximately 100,000 barrels a year. Now they are moving into uncharted waters.
They are not stopping there either. Stone is in negotiations to open a European brewery. The potential sites are Berlin or Bruges. They will be the first American craft brewery to open in Europe. Koch jokes that most people think the idea is crazy and/or arrogant, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Since their beginnings, Koch has driven Stone in directions most would have thought not possible. He follows his passion and instinct, and so far it appears to be paying off. At the blitz Koch was asked how much a night at the hotel would cost, and whether they had done calculations and analysis.
“Calculations and analysis?” Koch asked, “You don’t know Stone very well do you.”