Stone still fights establishment 20 years later

Brewery announces True Craft investment fund, celebrates Reinheitsverbot

At the Reinheitsverbot party at Stone Brewing Berlin, craft fans drink beers made using ingredients that fall outside the 500 year old Reinheitsgebot Bavarian beer purity law.
  • At the Reinheitsverbot party at Stone Brewing Berlin, craft fans drink beers made using ingredients that fall outside the 500 year old Reinheitsgebot Bavarian beer purity law.

The founders of Stone Brewing Co. went against the grain when they launched their craft-beer business 20 years ago, an effort that included fighting the beer establishment. Last week, outgoing CEO Greg Koch announced a new consortium pledging $100 million to help combat the influence of corporate money in the craft sector.

Stone Brewing Co.

1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido

Koch announced the True Craft consortium on April 29th, during a presentation at annual lecture series, the e.g. Conference. Its $100 million fund, staked by unnamed private investors, is earmarked for independent craft food and beverage companies.

"Commodity brewers have been quietly purchasing a number of craft breweries in a plan to steal craft away from its independent authenticity," he said during the presentation, referring to a Burbank Airport bar where every IPA being served came from former craft breweries like Golden Road, Elysian and 10 Barrel — all now owned by the world's largest beer company, AB InBev.

Such craft acquisition has been a major concern in the craft-beer industry, as highly visible companies including Ballast Point have been sold to corporate interests, and 10 Barrel plans to open an AB InBev-backed San Diego brewpub to compete with local brewers. Koch has been outspoken about his intention to keep Stone an independent company and characterized such corporate-owned businesses — which are legally required to prioritize the profits of shareholders — as the antithesis of craft beer's focus on quality of product. "Artisanal entrepreneurship is a different kind of system than publicly traded companies," he noted, “one that follows an ethos that involves passion, heart, and soul."

Koch described the True Craft program as an effort to provide an alternative investment platform wherein beer companies would receive an influx of cash in return for a minority, non-controlling stake in their company. "They can make their own decisions about their future," he said. "They can get financing and flexibility that they need to flourish while keeping their soul and control."

Via press release, Stone cofounder Steve Wagner echoed these sentiments: “This is about setting up a consortium so we can not just survive, but continue to thrive in a world in which craft is being co-opted by Big Beer." While Stone contends several craft-beer companies have already shown interest in selling stake to True Craft, no such partnerships have been announced.

In the meantime, Stone has taken a more playful approach in disrupting established German beer traditions. April 23rd marked the 500th anniversary of Reinheitsgebot, Bavaria's so-called "Purity Law" that limits beer ingredients to water, barley, and hops. While core beers produced at Stone's new Berlin brewery meet Reinheitsgebot standards, its seasonal beers feature coffee, vanilla, and other nontraditional flavorings.

So, Stone marked the anniversary at its brewery's newly opened Library Bar with a party dubbed Reinheitsverbot, or "purity ban," which exclusively served beers with additional ingredients. Koch said of the event, "Should someone wish to have their choices limited for them by a 500-year-old taxation law, then perhaps April 23 is not the best time to visit Stone."

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While I enjoy many of the local craft brews, Stone's are not among my favorites. I wish I liked his beers, but I find too many heavy handed, especially ABA. Sigh. If he succeeds, it will at least keep the big boys from turning all the craft beers they acquire into watered-down weasel whiz, utterly boring suds.

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