Thank you Stone Brewing
Years ago, I penned a blog putting Stone Brewing and owner Greg Koch up on a pedestal for being a positive force and possibly the biggest influence for the latest wave of popularity in craft beer. I was privately taken behind the woodshed by an elder statesman of the industry who was insulted by me giving credit to the then-brash and obnoxious Stone Brewing, when everyone loves to wax poetic about the likes of pioneers New Albion Brewing, Anchor Brewing and Sierra Nevada. Well, now that Stone Brewing has done the inevitable and sold their business, which was largely based on marketing themselves as David in the modern-day David and Goliath, it’s time for me to ruffle some feathers with beer historians as I say farewell to Stone Brewing, the craft brewery from 1996 to 2022.
In no particular order, we can give Stone Brewing thanks for being positively influential:
Mitch Steele – While Stone Brewing’s beer program had a man named Lee Chase in the brew captain seat, US craft beer enthusiasts unanimously fell in love with Mitch Steele. The production brewing alumnus from Anheuser Busch joined Stone in 2006, and was put into the spotlight through Stone’s storytelling marketing. He instantly became everyone’s brother or uncle depending on your age. Mild mannered, humble and very passionate about what he is talented in doing. Mitch moved on in 2016 to found and lead New Realm Brewing. We may not know this treasure if it wasn’t for Stone.
Giving San Diego beer a national spotlight – In the early 2000s, there weren’t many California craft beers that were widely available. Off the top of my head, I can think of Sierra Nevada, Anchor Brewing, maybe Bear Republic? Many folks first sips of heavily hopped strong pale ale known to us as West Coast IPA or San Diego IPA was probably Stone IPA or Stone Ruination, giving a peek into the very cutting-edge beer market in Southern California.
The anniversary festival and beer trend – Many breweries celebrate their years of being in business with a big bash and with a release of commemorative beers. Stone made this wildly popular with an intimate, ticketed festival at their brewery until they outgrew that format and moved to a 2-3 day long festival at CSU San Marcos. This would coincide with a limited, one-off beer that would go into distribution, and as the joke goes, always something hoppy.
Helped make hops part of the conversation – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale might be the originally “hoppy beer” in my mind, but the way Stone Brewing presented original recipes of Stone IPA and Stone Ruination IPA, it brought hops into the casual conversation. While reading an entire story on the back of a bottle of Stone beer was a chore, hops such as Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, and Centennial were all given a stage and spotlight within Stone’s product marketing. Today, everyone states the magical hop blend on their labeling.
Put freshness in the conversation – We always check our milk with a glance of a label or a sniff test, and we’re mindful of keeping eggs in the fridge and in code, but as the popularity of craft beer began to rise, there wasn’t a difficult conversation about craft beer being a fresh, living, perishable good in the same way we treat almost any other food. Stone was bold enough to make freshness another talking point for their marketing. Up until a certain point, Stone insisted on cold chain from brewery to the consumer, meaning they would not stand for their beer not to be refrigerated at the warehouse or retailer. They date coded their beers. Then they took the conversation to a whole new level with Stone Enjoy By IPA. Putting the beer’s expiration date as the name and beer branding on a double IPA was brilliant and made other breweries, distributors and retailers take a hard look within.
Collaboration beers – In 2008, Stone Brewing released a Belgian Triple Ale brewed by AleSmith / Mikkeller / Stone Brewing. Let’s back up a moment. Stone is one of the coolest breweries at the time, AleSmith Brewing down the freeway was riding high on the ratings websites but who is Mikkeller? Well, Stone would introduce this character to us and introduce the concept of cool breweries teaming up to make a collaboration beer. Breweries like J. Wakefield, Horus Aged Ales, Green Cheek Beer Co., Alvarado St. Brewery, and on and on and on have kept this tradition alive.
Things definitely got weird towards the end with Stone Brewing as an overgrown craft brewery, but their positive contributions to the good beer movement should absolutely be their legacy. Looking forward to the “ACTSHULLY” type comments along with the passionate love or hate.