We recently had the opportunity to chat briefly with Stone Brewing Co’s charismatic leader Greg Koch, and he shared his biggest fear about the state of the craft beer industry and had some words about beer snobs too.
Greg was in attendance at last weekend’s Stone Brewing tap take-over at Lucky Devils in Hollywood, and though he was mobbed by craft beer fans we were able to sit down with him for a couple of questions about craft beer.
We caught Greg’s eye as he walked by our table, and after a quick hello we asked him a question that prompted him to sitdown and talk with us for a few minutes: what does he think is the biggest challenge facing the craft beer industry? Greg thought for a moment then explained that the thing that worries him is how the industry, which is currently in a historic boom, will handle the inevitable contraction. What happens with some of the eager new brewery owners are faced with an extremely crowded market and big lease payments on their space and equipment? He worries that if all the new craft brewers are not 100% dedicated to making great beer those that are backed into the figurative corner and faced with losing their business might loosen their ethics instead.
Soon savvy craft beer drinkers may have to make more decisions like those in the Midwest have had to make when Goose Island was sold to AB-InBev: is craft beer really craft beer if the brewery is owned by corporate giants? With a limited supply of craft beer dollars to spend should they be spent on beer that ultimately makes money for the macro-brewers? Just where do you personally draw the line?
The days of a dichotomy between independent craft breweries and the macro-lager producing giants are numbered, and the grey-area of just who your craft beer dollars are supporting is going to get larger in the years to come. How will the industry that has historically stayed away from traditional marketing inform and educate their customers as the craft beer environment becomes increasingly influenced by the introduction of major corporate dollars and business practices?
These are some sober and worrying thoughts from a man who has certainly seen a lot in Stone Brewing’s 16 years, and they are worth thinking about before the line between craft and corporate breweries blurs any further.
Our follow-up question for Greg was simple, “What can the average craft beer enthusiast do to help improve the craft beer industry?” We were not surprised by the first part of Greg’s answer, but we did not expect the mini-rant that he launched into afterwards.
“Spread the gospel of craft beer,” he said, “and fight the notion that beer snobbery is a bad thing.”
He followed that statement by explaining that we need to fight the status quo that looks down on making a conscious choice about what we put into our bodies, be it craft beer or organic local produce. He said that setting a lowest-level of acceptance for what you eat and drink, by making a choice to not drink macro-lager or not eat fast food, should not be looked at as being a snob. If that is snobbery, then craft beer drinkers need to own it and embrace the idea that drinking craft beer is better than drinking what mega-corporations tell you that you want. Don’t let other’s opinions of your choices of what to consume influence your decisions.
Greg was clearly very passionate about the topic, and his message of acceptance and respect for an individual’s choices came across strong and clear. It is hard to not get excited (or more excited in our case) about craft beer after speaking with Greg, and we are looking forward to tackling these issues in more depth in the coming weeks.
If you want some more pithy insight from the Stone founder, you can read some highlights from a recent commencement speech that Greg delivered to Cuyamaca College.
We want to thank Greg for taking the time to sit down and chat with us! He’s been a figure that we’ve looked up to in the industry for many years, and we’ve been repeatedly impressed by his approachability and mix of laid-back-demeanor and passion for beer, food, and sustainability. We’d love to ask him some follow-up questions, and we promise to take better notes next time!
What do you think the best way for a craft beer fan to “spread the gospel” is? How can we fight the stigma of craft beer being “snobby?” Let hear your thoughts in the comments.