Without a doubt, Germans are a beer-loving people. With more than 100 liters of beer consumption per capita annually, more than 1,500 breweries, and more than 6,000 beer brands, the market is closely eyed by foreign brands, and many have tried to capture a piece of the pie (or should I say, a sip from the Stein). San Diego-based craft beer maker Stone Brewery was one of them.
Stone Brewery, founded in 1996, had only taken a little more than a decade to become one of the ten largest craft beer makers in the US, and it had made the Inc. 500 | 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies list a total of ten times. Tempted by its success at home and through distributors abroad, the company’s CEO Greg Koch decided that Lager-drinking Germans were ready for American craft beer on a grand scale soon. The company invested 30 million US$ into a historic and equally impressive 43,000 sq. ft. 1901 gasworks complex, and started Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in the Mariendorf district of Berlin – a combined brewhouse, canning line, bottling line, taproom, and a lush outdoor beer garden. It opened to much fanfare in 2014, with Koch pulling a publicity stunt by dropping a small boulder on a collection of German beers, a symbol for his ambitions for the German market. He added, “Just as we breathe new life into this historic space, we will join the German and European craft brewers who together are breathing fresh air into this country’s, and this continent’s, storied brewing culture.” An apparently piqued Berlin newspaper mocked him as the “The Jesus of Beer of America” (which is also the title of a documentary on Stone’s Berlin adventure). Not even five years later, in April 2019, Stone Brewery gave up. Demand wasn’t there for their high-priced specialty brews. Stone sold the Berlin facility to Brewdog, a Scottish craft brewery which operates pubs around the world. The Stone Brewery had gravely misjudged German’s thirst for high-priced American craft beer and they had over-extended themselves financially. While Koch admitted that they went “too big, too bold, too soon”, he also found fault in the Germans. As the company was leaving Germany, he complained about the bureaucracy in Germany, and on his blog he ranted against the German construction industry: “The real challenge was the tendency of our contractors to stop everything when a problem arose. The refrain I heard over and over was, ‘These things take time.’ Got a question? Stop everything. Unanticipated challenge? Stop everything. Review the contracts. Stop everything. Reconsider. Throw the baby out with the bathwater. But most of all, stop everything!”. And he couldn’t help adding that Germans were “ignoring these wonderful beers and buying the cheap stuff.”
Stone Brewery will continue to distribute their beers in Germany through other channels, including their famous “Arrogant Bastard Ale”.