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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Greg Koch Responds

I called out Greg Koch, founder and impresario at Stone Brewing, last week over historical comments he made in a video over at the New School. I got the long response to that you see below. I'll leave the comments open, but watch them pretty closely. If you want to take a personal shot at Greg, me, or anyone, have the courage to sign your name--otherwise I'll delete it. Greg has taken the opportunity to open this up to conversation--and I appreciate the time and effort--so let's keep things on the high road, shall we? I'll give this post over to Greg and respond in comments.


Jeff (and everyone), thanks for the conversation. I find conversations about my favorite subject (craft beer of course!) to always be invigorating and intriguing. And, on some, but-usually-quite-rare occasions, to be controversial. In this case, it seems to be the latter, but should it? Did my comments really qualify? Well, let’s take a look…

First off, you state “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.” It’s certainly true that I’ve gotten some critiques over the years. Such is the reality of putting yourself out there on a regular basis. However, I actually try NOT to say controversial things most of the time. Some might be surprised, but one of my personal challenges is wearing my heart on my sleeve a bit. I think I allow myself to get too bummed out by critiques and mischaracterizations to be honest. Even small ones sometimes kick me to the curb. I lay there a bit, stew occasionally, but then get up, brush off, and remind myself its just part of the equation. My other choice is to just stay home, or perhaps to pretend that I’m less passionate about this biz than I am and keep outta the conversation. Faced with those choices, I guess I’d best just continue to learn how to take the hits, ‘cause I’m just not the type to stay home or be a shrinking violet.

But really? “Without the slightest filter” and “very often impolitic”? I think my occasionally “out there” persona coupled with naming a beer “Arrogant Bastard Ale” back in 1997 may be skewing the perception of me a bit, but alas, so be it. I do wonder what examples you might cite however. Of the easily over 300 vids I’ve shot and uploaded to the interwebs over the years (this being one of the first), or others have, probably less than a dozen involve a megaphone or crowd surfing, and probably only a small handful more have me saying anything that 9 out of 10 folks would be considered controversial.

Regarding my statement in Ezra’s interview about Arrogant Bastard Ale:

Forgive me for being an old-schooler here, but I suppose I could have referenced the current GABF category and what they now call an “Imperial Red Ale” rather than what used to be called an “American Strong Ale.” The latter, as a style description, has become a bit wide in its perception, and thus has been narrowed-down with more specific style categories. I am well aware of Hair of the Dog and their terrific beers. Hair of the Dog Rose was the first beer I ever consumed at our “not yet ours” warehouse/future brewery location on Mata Way in San Marcos, CA when I had the keys to it for the weekend in late 1995 (so that Steve and I could draw chalk circles on the warehouse floor to help us determine how we might lay out our brewery if we were to sign a lease on the space). Years late--around the year 2000--we started distributing other brands of beer in SoCal in addition to our own, and I was able to convince Alan Sprints to allow us to represent his terrific beers in our region (sadly, due to perhaps being too far ahead of the curve, either in our learning curve as a young wholesaler or in the knowledge curve of SoCal craft beer consumers, we were not able to make a success with HotD…sure wish we had the privilege to represent those great beers in our portfolio today). All that being said, suggesting that a 7.2%abv super hoppy red ale with elevated IBUs (Arrogant Bastard Ale) is in the same category as a 10% deep golden ale with more modest IBUs (Fred) is a stretch I wouldn’t make.

When it came out, Arrogant Bastard Ale was the only uber-hoppy (for the time in 1997 that is, not so much considered “uber-hoppy” by today’s standards) strong red ale of its kind that I am aware of (we didn’t have BeerAdvocate or RateBeer available to us back then to help us know the details of nearly every beer that was being brewed in the US). Is it possible that there was another big, hoppy, strong red ale being brewed somewhere by someone? Absolutely. Was Arrogant Bastard Ale the first one that really hit the radar? Yes, I believe so. When it came out, it was a very unique beer. There was very little at that time that occupied the space between the pale ales and red ales and barley wines.

On my statements about Stone IPA

In the interview I said…
“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 that there are any other west coast [style] IPAs that have been in production, full time, longer…that I’m aware of. But I could be wrong and I always accept that if there’s some piece of information out there that I didn’t know.”

A few moments later I said: “I was always influenced on the way. I can’t ever say that we’ve done things that weren’t influenced by others.”

First, of course, it would depend on one’s definition as to a “west coast-style IPA.” Does Bridgeport IPA (a longtime favorite of mine, by the way!) at 5.5%abv & 50 IBUs fall into that category? The company must not have thought so, as according to their website, in 1997 they chose to enter it into the GABF in the “Classic English Style Pale Ale” category winning a Gold medal, and in 1999 they entered it into the GABF’s American Style Pale Ale category and won a silver. Presumably they likely entered it in other years as well, but under what categories I do not know. Bridgeport’s own website describes the beer as “…citrusy aroma and full hop flavor, while downplaying the bitterness.”

I don’t think most folks feel that a “west coast-style IPA” downplays bitterness.

Currently, the GABF does not have a “west coast-style IPA” category, so we’ll need to look at the “American Style IPA” for our reference in the matter. ABV range is 6.3%-7.5% and IBUs range from 50-70, which, interestingly, puts Stone IPA out of the range of those style guidelines since it’s around 77 IBUs (and one of the characteristics IMO, that puts it into the “west coast” style range).

Click to continue reading...


  1. Greg, thank you for taking the time to respond. I know you're a busy man who can't respond to every crank on the internet--so thanks for taking the time with this one. (Reminds me of this cartoon.)

    I'm sticking to my guns on this one, though. While I will readily admit to Stone's wide influence in craft brewing, it's not because you made beers the world had never seen before. It was because you made them well, helped create a brand new market for them (before Stone, as you note, lighter, less assertive craft beers dominated the market), and were an industry leader in promoting them. The beers you brewed had been brewed before, though perhaps to nowhere near the commercial success you brought to them. To me, that's Stone's legacy, and it's one most breweries in the world would kill for.

    Cheers to you, too--

  2. Thanks for this long reply---great reading.

    Have to agree with his feelings about the tenor of the interview. Ezra is decidedly (granted, IMO) not a good interviewer and does come off as a bit of an asshole with an axe to grind and his whole attitude and his body language are pretty antagonistic, IMO.

    Not the biggest Stone fan, but his detailed and passionate response are pretty respectable.

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  4. Again, let's keep it clean, folks. Cowardly, expletive-filled, anonymous personal attacks are doomed to a short life. We're all friends here, and disagreement poses no great threat to us or the beer we love--I'm sure we can keep it civil if we try.

  5. Jeff, you stated that you stand by your guns and don't think that Stone made beers that were never seen before. How do you respond to Greg's Imperial Red Ale assertion? Who else was making a beer like that at that time?

  6. James in Arkansas9:06 PM, January 22, 2012

    Stone may make great beers, but for some reason they are staying away from some mid south states. Stone is no where to be found in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Greg, I challange you to bring Stone to the mid south!!

  7. Jeff, I know your point is about the history of IPA, etc. and on this I agree with you more than Greg. However, there is a much bigger issue here which I assume will be reflected in the comments and that is the personalities of Ezra and Greg.

    Ezra and Greg "are who they are" and they both seem to be very proud of that fact. In Greg's case I think he has a lot of good reasons to be very proud. The environmental accomplishments are noteworthy in particular. I have a job which focuses on improving natural resource efficiencies. I cannot tell you how valuable it is to have real life case studies to point to like Stone (HUB is another good example).

    As far as Ezra I don’t need to resort to name calling I can simply state the facts. I think it is pretty clear that his Blog focuses on three main things: Self-promotion, promotion of friends and character assignation of enemies (he only recently removed his “enemies” list and said himself he was reluctant to do so but was persuaded to do so by friends). He can submit some pretty interesting “news breaking” type posts but again these are focused on the promotion of self and friends. This is my opinion others may disagree. I will say that the “behind the pint” segments are nice. Unfortunately, I think this gets lost in his “strip club beer tour” personality.

    Stone’s beer is really good as far as I am concerned and their collaboration stuff points to them being inclusive not exclusive. Whether you find their marketing over the top or not in the end it is all about what is in the glass and this is where they shine.

  8. One towering example that just occurred to me on the IPA side: Sierra Nevada Celebration. They have fiddled with the recipe over the years, but it's always been an IPA with juicy, West Coast hops--the very definition of the style, if such a thing would exist. (Style geeks may note that it's listed under IPA in the BJCP.) I also looked at a couple old books to jog my memory and on the West Coast, Buffalo Bill's made Alimony Ale, variously listed as 72-100 IBUs and 7.2%. Famous in its day and definitely pre-Stone. If you use the search engine Greg identifies, you can see lots of West Coast winners in the IPA category over the years.

    (Part of Greg's claims involve regular-rotation beers in continuous production, but I'm not obliged to accept this standard of novelty. The Wright Brothers aren't in business anymore, and yet still they get credit for flying first. )

    Shawn, the red ales issue. I'm not going to dig through the archives to try to find strong ales that were amber-red in the olden days but not called imperial red ales because the style didn't exist. Americans had been making craft ales for twenty years by the time Arrogant Bastard came around; did none of them make a strong red ale? It's possible, but I don't find it plausible. (If we put a Martin Cornell on the case, I'm guessing he'd find quite a few examples.) It obviously wasn't the first strong ale, which was Greg's initial comment.

    Ted, I'm going to skip commenting on Ezra. I didn't mean for my post to have anything to do with interpersonal dynamics between two people who are not me. Besides which, I know and like Ezra and find your characterization of his blog unfair. I have never met Greg Koch, but my guess is that if I do, I'll like him, too.

  9. It just seems that whenever Stone is brought up, it's with a negative connotation. Maybe my brain is just cherry-picking, but it seems like the posts are about their personalities and not their beer. Sure, the personalities are strong, and some people don't like them, but how about some posts on their beer? It seems like a lot of people have an ax to grind with them.

    Plus, the comment on Ezra's blog - have you read The New School blog? Do you think that's any better? I had to stop reading it because of the childish, demeaning things that were posted there.

  10. Perhaps a bit off-topic but related to "first-of-a-style" claims, I hadn't read the beer descriptions on the recently revamped Anchor website until Greg pointed it out and you linked to it, but how does Liberty Ale claim to be either the "...the first modern American IPA brewed after prohibition..." or "...the first modern American dry-hopped ale"?

    When does this "modern" period start, and if it's well after Repeal, why then mention "after prohibition"? There were a number of US India Pale Ales brewed after Repeal (and even more "stock ales"), and many ales and beers that were dry hopped. Two that still existed when Liberty hit the market were Falstaff's Ballantine India Pale Ale and Ortlieb's Nueweiler Cream Ale (which was dry-hopped).

    Does "modern" mean simply after Maytag bought Anchor, so roughly the "craft era", or after the introduction of Cascade hops in the '70's?

    Maytag, by the way, stated "...I did not think of an India Pale Ale when I made it" in his interview with Lew Bryson here

  11. Arguing about the first brewery that made the first style of a popular style of beer is trivial and pointless. It is like arguing about who created punk music. No one really knows. Craft beers were in its infancy . However Greg Koch is right to a point as he was one of the first to bring psychotically-hopped beers to a wide reaching audience.

  12. I may have misunderstood the comment, but it sounded like you were saying that Sierra Nevada Celebration is a west-coast style IPA. Not even close. Great, great, beer, but to me it is mildly hoppy, at best (and that is if you can find a fresh one).

  13. @Jim: lupulin shift aside, I don't think I'd call 65 IBU 'mildly' hoppy. As far as I know SN's never called Celebration a west coast IPA, but I think Jeff may be onto something in pointing to it as one of the progenitors of the 'style'.

  14. Debates on who did what first, what style is this, and personality clashes do not affect my enjoyment of Stone in the least. All I know is that Stone is a great brewery and is more than willing to try something different. Keep it up Greg.

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  16. I really don't even understand the tactics taken in these videos. I don't mean to insult the interviewer, but I just watched the second video of this series and nearly an entire half hour was spent arguing about Black IPA vs CDA. You have the CEO of one of the country's most successful craft brewing companies sitting in front of you and THAT'S what you ask him about? And it's drawn out over the course of 27+ minutes? A topic that few people in this country even care about? I just don't get it.