Rolling Stone (Stone Week In Chicago)
Without question, Stone Brewing is on a roll. Recently crowned Beer Advocate’s #1 “All-Time Top Brewer”, Stone descended on Chicago for a record setting product launch.
Stone Beer Week consisted of 35 events over 7 days that introduced the Chicago market to Stone goodness. CEO Greg Koch, Brew master Steve Wagner, and the Stone team were on hand at the events to usher in their distinctive line of beer to the thirsty masses.
The week officially kicked off at The Twisted Spoke where Stone commandeered all 20 taps and served up Stone Smoke Porter sausage. The turnout was insane and by 6 o’clock the bar was at fever pitch. With up to a 45 minute wait at the bar you might think things could go south but they didn’t. The bar staff kept at it serving pint after pint. I enjoyed rare treats like Vertical Epic 09 09 09 and 2007 Old Guardian Barley Wine in addition to their year round offerings. Eventually things calmed down, somewhat, and people enjoyed an excellent spring evening and a plethora of choice beers.
The night and week were just getting started for CEO and Co-Founder Greg Koch. With appearances later that night at The Hop Leaf and Kuma’s, Koch embarked on a week that he described as “INTENSE.” A Facebook post from Stone announced that based on the week’s sales alone, Chicago had become the 3rd largest market for Stone. I spoke with Koch about the challenges of maintaining ethics in a tough and often unfair marketplace. His response was to the point, “If I’m going to speak out on some of the nonsense that goes on in the industry, then we better damn well be clean ourselves. I think that the success of the Stone Brewing roll-out in Chicago is a testament to what you can do if you do it right.” They have offered no discounts and gave away no free product. Yet as Koch conveyed, “The Lincoln Park Whole Foods had their single best day of sales on Easter Sunday when we did our promotion there. Better than Super Bowl, and Easter Sunday is not considered to be a beer-buying occasion typically!” Still Stone’s future in Chicago will face the same challenges that are encountered by other craft brewers trying to grow their business in the Windy City. With large wholesalers at play who are not wholly committed to the craft beer segment, earning tap handles at the city’s established outlets is not always easy or fair. In response Koch had this to say, “Our collective biggest challenge is to keep an eye on what got us here. To not forget that quality, character, innovation, and integrity are the elements that turned folks onto our great beers. This is relevant in all aspects of our business…from brewing, to marketing, to sales, and so on. We need to remember that we got here together, and that we will thrive and grow together.”
I also asked him about the recent proliferation of breweries in Chicago and what insight he might have towards achieving success amongst strong competition. His response echoed that of noted author and expert on Chicago’s brewing history, Randy Mosher. Koch’s responded, “A new craft brewer to the market really needs to follow their heart, and their own muse. I recommend that they do what THEY really want to do, and don’t try to follow any particular market trend. At our very best, we’re artisans…and we make our own market trends!” As the week came to a close with Stone beers on the shelves and at the tap, I wondered how Chicago’s rolling out of the barrels compared to other new markets. In the words of Koch, “You can say that Chicago is incomparable!” No argument here Greg.