Every year, the week of Great American Beer Festival means a plethora of exciting beer events in Denver. And along with those events come all sorts of visitors: festival attendees, brewers, speakers, beer reps, and more. Thursday night I had the amazing opportunity to meet and talk to the CEO and co-founder of one of the best craft breweries in the country, Stone Brewing Co.‘s Greg Koch. I met up with Greg downtown where we chatted over a beer. Read on for my exclusive interview.
CBG: I’m not going to ask about how Stone got started as that question comes up in almost every interview with you, so anyone who likes Stone has probably heard the answer many times. One thing I’m particularly interested in are the collaborations you’ve been doing the past five years. Do you seek out other brewers to work with, or do they come to you?
GK: Yes [laughs]. In this industry you certainly develop a lot of friendships and you meet people at events like the Great American Beer Festival and otherwise, and I tend to be a big beer geek these days, just like I always have been. You notice who’s doing really interesting things or you just see a friend that you really respect and conversations happen, and that’s when you decide to do a collaboration.
CBG: Usually when I come across collaborations they’re between just two breweries. Is there any certain reason all of the Stone collaborations have three brewers?
GK: There is a reason. And that reason is I specifically wanted to set it up so that the aspect of creativity and unpredictability was emphasized. Not that you can’t get that with just one brewer or with two. But with three brewers it guarantees that that’s kind-of going to be the case. We’ve taken ourselves in very interesting directions that I would have never imagined. It’s a format for left-turns.
CBG: What have you learned from partnering with so many different brewers?
GK: Part of what we’ve learned is what’s possible. Because after you’re in this business for a number of years you start to think that maybe you ‘know,’ which is a mistake to start thinking you know, because you don’t know. In fact, the more time I’ve spent in this industry the more I realize that I don’t know and I will never know, and it’s an awesome thing. I don’t want to know it all. I love continual discovery. So I’ve learned from this process that it’s so much about unbounded creativity. Every time I think that there’s some idea that won’t work there’s somebody out there to prove me wrong, which is awesome.
CBG: Sour beers seem to be a big trend right now. Do you have any interest in adding a sour as a seasonal, or even year-round release?
GK: I love the idea of doing a sour at some point. We’ll have to wait and see. But I like the way you think.
CBG: I’d like to talk about beer blogs for a moment. Over the past few years they’ve become huge. Any city with any number of craft breweries has a lot of beer bloggers. There are regular people like me who have unrelated day jobs who blog on the side just for fun, and then there are some who have been able to make a living of it. Do you have any thoughts on how blogging might affect the business of craft beer, or maybe a message for us as we try to spread the word about craft beer?
GK: Sure. There’s no question that beer blogging is an important part of the overall equation in spreading the message. Whether it’s traditional journalism, or blogging, or home brewing, home brew shops, bars, restaurants, craft brewers, wholesalers…we’re all a part of this equation. And beer blogging is great because it will often cover stuff that the mainstream media doesn’t pay very much attention to. Beer blogging is best, certainly, when it’s passion driven and not just trying to get click-throughs. We’re in an age of yellow journalism–it’s shocking headlines and out-of-context or misquotes. It’s a shame; it doesn’t represent the blogger well or the craft beer industry but sometimes it’ll get extra click-throughs so that they can get their money. As with craft beer itself, the best of craft beer is about brewers that are just following their passion and doing their best job and not trying to necessarily be commercialized, people are gravitating toward their work because their work is excellent. The same goes for blogging: the best bloggers become known for good writing, thorough research, insightful perspectives, and information. So, as the phrase goes, with great power comes great responsibility. So there’s always good and bad. There’s a lot of great beer bloggers out there, and there’s some kind-of irresponsible stuff going on.
CBG: Are there any breweries or specific types of beer you’d like to try at GABF?
GK: I tend to just go the way the wind blows at GABF and have sort-of random discoveries. Of course I’m talking to people and if I’m hearing that there’s some thread of ‘Oh, you’ve got to try x or y or z,'” as well as you notice who’s got the long lines and then you say ‘Hey, what’s going on there, why are people lined up?’
CBG: If you have any free time during your stay, is there anything you’d like to see or do here in Colorado?
GK: I want to hit the Botanical Gardens; I’ve been wanting to go for years and never had the time. I’m not 100% certain I’m going to get to go this year, but I’m going to try to figure out how to get over there.
CBG: So far (at time of interview) you’ve raised over $5000 for men’s health through the Movember Foundation. How are you feeling about the possibility of parting with your beard, at least temporarily?
GK: It’s truly mixed feelings. Part of me definitely does not want to get rid of it. But I’m a man of my word, so if I raise the minimum $15,000–and I’m trying to do it too; in fact I have a stack of these in my pocket [hands me an official Movember card]. While I don’t really want to get rid of it, I am working to make sure that I do. So please spread the word. It’s for charity after all. If I can’t self-sacrifice my beard for somebody else’s prostate, where are my priorities?
CBG: I’ve read you’re taking a sabbatical early next year. Are you looking forward to six interview-free months?
GK: It’s not the interviews; it’s the e-mails, it’s just being connected all the time.
CBG: I would imagine all of that is pretty much round-the-clock for someone in your position.
GK: It has been for the entire time. E-mails are the last thing I do before I go to bed and the first thing I do when I wake up. I’m looking forward to breaking this cycle, and hopefully having it stay broken to some degree when I return so I can focus on people and things, and the world.
CBG: That’s all I have. Thank you!