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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Greg Koch is Wrong

Yesterday, Ezra posted the first part of an interview he did with Stone Brewing's Greg Koch--the irrepressible, irreverent face for the rock n roll side of craft brewing. Many people have voiced criticisms of Greg because of his tendency to voice thoughts as they appear in his brain without the slightest filter--very often impolitic thoughts. This is not one of those criticisms. Rather, I take issue with his history:
"Stone IPA, is the longest full-time production West Coast-style IPA on the planet. We first came out with it in 1997 and have been producing it ever since. I don't think there are any other West Coast style IPAs that have been in production full time longer. That I'm aware of, and I could be wrong."
This is just not right. There are enough caveats in this statement that it's hard to know what Greg's claiming here, but in the inventory of my own drafty memory I can pull one out--BridgePort IPA, introduced in 1996. Perhaps this doesn't meet the narrow definition Greg wants to claim, but if he's looking to place Stone in the place of ur-IPA and craft beer influencer, it's just not persuasive. He continues:
"Arrogant Bastard, considered to be the progenitor of the American strong ale category, Stone Ruination IPA, the very first full-time production double IPA on the planet. Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, one of the most popular black IPAs and a beer that is credited for helping to popularize the segment. We were not the first by any stretch--of course Greg Noonan in Vermont in the early 1990s was creating black IPA. But we have had the opportunity to do some things that stuck and became perhaps somewhat influential in the craft brewing industry."
Again, from the memory attic, I trundle out Alan Sprints and his work with strong beers in the years before Stone, including Fred. American barley wines had been been been around years and years. The concept of "double IPA" is an American invention and narrow enough perhaps to support the claim Greg makes--but strong hoppy beers have been around forever and certainly weren't invented by Americans. And I have no doubt that if we had something more reliable than my memory, we could probably find examples of American beers that were earlier than Stone--after all, I came up with examples off the top of my mind. To his credit, Greg cites the history of dark, hoppy English ales made over a hundred years ago as evidence that black IPAs are nothing new. Surely he recognizes that there's nothing really new under the sun, right?

It is a peculiarly American instinct to want to be the first at anything. There's something alluring about staking your place in the short history of American craft brewing, and no harm in that. But to substantiate these claims requires ignoring the centuries of brewing that happened before American craft beer came on the scene, and probably excluding early examples by some other brewery--now perhaps defunct and unable to defend itself--that fails to meet the narrow definitions of style or region. Greg Koch helms one of the most successful breweries in the world and one of the most admired. That's pretty good.


  1. And I suspected those claims to be false but did not have the facts in front of me to back it up.

    Wait until Part 2 when we really get to debating.

  2. Also, the bit about how he's annoyed that people get upset when they say "beers are getting too hoppy, too pricey, etc."

    I agree with that part, that no matter how far the edge expands, the part they like is still intact. I have no qualms about brewers doing what we call "innovating," expand the boundary all you like.

    My problem, which he didn't touch on, is the incessant perpetuating of the idea that whatever's new, extreme and bold is automatically "better" or "the best."

  3. I'd be far more annoyed if the beer was not good and well priced - even with the baggage of the branding and that mouth going off every once in a while.

  4. You are certainly correct about Bridgeport IPA predating Stone IPA. Perhaps Greg would argue Bridgeport isn't true to style. Hmmm.

    I think ignoring or twisting history is common practice in America. We've gotten pretty damn good at it, too. Plenty of brewers are on board, thinking they're making beers that have never, ever been done before. Koch isn't alone. Maybe he just talks louder.

  5. To be fair, when he sez West Coast IPA, I think he means something much hoppier and stronger than Bridgeport IPA, or Harpoon IPA, which was around then, or Ballantine IPA for that matter. (FWIW, I think Liberty Ale, with its Cascade punch, trumps all here.)

    I think it's fair to say that Stone has been extremely influential in its way. And I imagine the Greg Kochs of the world see "Oregon Beer" as at times pedestrian when compared to his hopped-out laserbeam focus.

    But who gives a flying fuck, and who has the time to put up with a douche nozzle like Greg Koch for one second!!! Don't take the frickin' bait, people.

  6. #1 beer scene hater interviews the #1 beer scene capitalist.What is the real story here? Did any one feel like Greg was trying to say his company was the definite progenitor of 3 or 4 styles, or was he saying that his company probably played a large part in popularizing them? Is it bad to expand into hospitality? Is it not okay to have a wacky "cheese dick" type of personality(even if its just marketing)?

    After several months of hearing Ezra refer to Greg as "Greg Cock" in his blog, I couldn't help but feel the contempt during the interview.
    My question: Whats with the contempt Ezra? It's just beer right? I can't help but feel like this interview was just stirring the pot to create more media


  7. Yeah, to me "West Coast IPA" is almost its own style -- a hop bomb. I don't think he is talking about just an IPA by a West Coast brewery. No way in hell is Bridgeport IPA a West Coast IPA. Until Boneyard recently I don't think there was anything in Oregon that could quality as a West Coast IPA.

  8. To push back a bit. There's only one reason to make the claim of being first, and that's to establish your brewery as the source and inspiration. You can actually see it in the humbrag there: "we have had the opportunity to do some things that stuck and became perhaps somewhat influential in the craft brewing industry."

    As I said, I don't care if Greg claims to be the most bad-ass, best brewer in the world. When he claims to be the first, though, it's an objective statement and we can take it at face value. In order to make the claim, Greg offers two caveats--his beer was the first West Coast style IPA that is still in production. Why the caveats? Because that's the only way he can make the claim. Even then, it doesn't bear scrutiny. If you have to define a niche so small that it includes one juicy, hoppy IPA but not another, or one because it was brewed first but is no longer brewed, all claims of first are really pretty silly. Stone wasn't by any stretch the first and Greg should quit claiming it. "I could be wrong," he says, and I'm just confirming it.

    By the way, Hair of the Dog Fred was released about six weeks before Arrogant Bastard. Again, just the one example I happened to think of--I'm sure there are many more.

    To the extent Stone is an influential brewery--and it is--it's influence comes not from being the first at anything. To suggest so is revisionist history. Credit where credit is due, discredit where it's claimed improperly.

  9. Well said, Jeff. Personalities aside, facts are facts. Braggadocio aside, I appreciate his passion and commend Stone for their contributions (tasty, tasty contributions).

    That aside, am I the only one that thought, "What about Sierra Nevada?" when he mentioned a west coast IPA? It started in 1980-81! Or is that not considered (for some reason) a "West Coast" IPA? Not being sarcastic, that's an honest question.

  10. He created the internet too.

  11. I'm jumping in late here, but I have to say, assuming that one accepts 'West Coast IPA' as a style, Stone IPA isn't really a textbook example of it. Green Flash West Coast IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5 and others are more typical.

  12. Paul,

    I am getting really tired of hearing things like I am the biggest hater of PDX. It is patently absurd. Why dont you take a look at my site and do a count on how many negative to positive stories I have? A cursory glance at my postings shows not one for months. Any other critical industry like say a food critic and I would be being accused as being far too overly positive. But you do have a point in that there is not a lot of criticism here, I think its ok if I do it one in every 50 posts.

    Regarding the "cock" thing, its a joke, maybe a little immature but a joke non the less. Stone Brewing has got an enourmous amount of coverage on The New School and they thank me for it. I just got an email from Greg himself and their marketing guy thanking me. They dont take themselves as seriously as you do even. Everyone has been having a good laugh about it.

  13. Seems everyone's homerism has some blind spots.

  14. Who cares WHAT Cock I mean Koch says....

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  17. I agree that Bridgeport IPA does not fit within the West Coast Style. But there are others. Workhorse IPA (Laurelwood) is a hop bomb similar to Boneyard RPM and predates it by many years.

  18. Im not a Greg Koch fan...He likes to brag and talk a lot and it gets pretty annoying.