Stone Brewing – Berlin | Beer for the Ages

The closing party of Berlin Beer Week 2017 was in full swing at the impressively spacious European headquarters of the legendary craft beer makers, Stone Brewing.  It was here I met Greg Koch, co-founder of the brewery and all-round beer genius. With his massive beard and serious demeanour, he looked like he’d just wandered out of a distillery somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. It’s only when he spoke that he revealed his laconic, playful west coast humour.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

Greg was born in Long Beach, California but grew up in the small town of Pataskala, Ohio. This also happens to be about 15 minutes away from Granville, where our photographer, Oliver and I went to college.

“I grew up in an area where we thought of beer the same way pretty much anyone in the US thought of beer at that time. It was this fizzy, yellow, industrial stuff. We didn’t call it fizzy, yellow, industrial stuff….we called it beer, it’s all we knew.”

It’s what Greg grew up with and for him, this type of beer was representative of the world. It wasn’t until he moved to Los Angeles in the mid 80’s to go to music school that his whole perception of beer shifted. He recalls the moment clearly.

“I was in this hole-in-a-wall punk bar in the warehouse district of Los Angeles, called Al’s Bar. It was the first time I tried Anchor Steam. I had two reactions at that time. One, I was so excited that beer could actually taste that good! Two, I was angry that all my previous beer drinking years were stolen from me by the lies of the man telling me the other stuff was beer!”

In the late 80’s it wasn’t exactly easy to learn how to make beer. The market was dominated by the Millers and Budweiser’s of the world, and the internet had yet to link craft brewers across the world. Despite the barriers, Greg was determined, so he visited breweries, attended festivals, and threw himself into the world of beer.

Greg and Steve initially met in the music industry in 1989. Greg was involved with the music production and management. He also built music rehearsal facilities, some of which he still owns in downtown Los Angeles.

Stone Brewery | Greg Koch & Steve Wagner | Die Welt

“I was also a wannabe guitar player… I stink! Steve was the real musician, he was part of a folk-rock band called the Balancing Act and they put out three records on I.R.S. records”

They would eventually reconnect at a Beer Sensory Evaluation class at University of California, Davis. They started talking about beer and found a common passion in brewing. By 1995, the two had formed a partnership dedicated to their shared passion. They wanted to make beer for a living, and they wanted to make it well.

“We both lived in LA for a long time and we both were looking to move on to other places and we both liked the idea of being in Southern California.”

Greg had very little experience with San Diego, but a gut feeling led him to look for a place on the northern part of the city. They eventually found the location they were looking for in San Marcos, which became the site of their first brewery.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

From the very beginning, Greg and Steve have been adamant about brewing the beer themselves. They couldn’t respect their product if they didn’t have a hand in making it.

“I like the truth to be easy to understand. If I was going to put a name on our beer, we were going to make it from our brewery, period!”

If they were going to do things from scratch, Greg and Steve needed the equipment. To get it, they borrowed, begged, and scraped together every last penny of their savings.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

“We put everything out there! If the company failed, we were going to fail!”

They were living and breathing their business. They couldn’t imagine making craft beer any other way. It’s a core part of their philosophy, which they carry with them, wherever they expand to.

The key difference for Greg between a true craft brewery and craft brewery owned by a larger company is simple. If a craft brewer fails does the industrial parent company fail? If the answer is no, then it is not a craft brewery. It’s what has driven the company’s fiercely independent streak. As craft breweries get bought out all across America by big corporations, Stone Brewing has never been tempted to sell out.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

“It was never about making money for us. We acknowledge the fact that you have to make money to keep the doors open. But for us it was never about making a buck… I still owe way more than I own, it’s been the case since the beginning. We re-invest everything into the company.”

Along with their strong independent streak, the Stone Brewing team are passionate about making beer styles that represent their mindset. Greg compares it to some of his favourite musicians.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

“The Rolling Stones, U2, Greatful Dead or Metallica have in common? They are all true to themselves. They weren’t trying to chase after popular sound. They instead created what was the popular sound. We wanted to be a band like that. We wanted to create beer for the ages and not just as the flavor of the month.”

It’s the foundation of Stone Brewing’s style. You won’t find a generic Pale Ale or Pilsner at their breweries. Their beers have character, passion and individuality. They don’t bend to trends or fads, and they’d rather discontinue a beer than change it.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

“We write the songs, and the people decide if they want to listen to them or how often they want to listen to them.”

The craft beer world is a lot different today, compared to when Stone started. The variety of options available are as diverse as wine. If you’re new in this world, it can be a bit daunting, but Greg believes the joy of beer is in discovering new flavours and experiences.

“It’s a wonderful discovery to learn about craft beer. In the journey of finding the beers your love, you will encounter a few you don’t like, and that’s ok.”

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

Stone is currently ranked as one of the top 10 largest craft brewers in America. In the summer of 2016 they opened their first brewery outside the United States, just outside of Berlin.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

Located 10 kilometers south of the city center in the heart of Mariendorf. It’s not the first place you’d think to find a craft beer paradise. Especially for the folks like myself living in Mitte, it seems like a lifetime away. It’s worth the trip though. The Stone Brewery is an experience you won’t find anywhere in the city centre.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

“I wanted to find an iconic property, one that was truly special. I fell in love with the place the first time I walked in. 7 years later and after visiting 130 locations in 9 countries, we finally made it all happen.”

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

The space is literally a campus, which holds a restaurant, event spaces, a 100 hectolitre brewhouse and packing/distribution facilities. There are plenty of places to hang out inside or outside, as you expand your craft beer knowledge by exploring their selection of 75 craft and artisanal beers on tap.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

This is Greg’s baby and he’s been intricately involved with the planning and design of the spaces. It feels like a mix of California and Berlin. The old trees freestanding around the interiors of the main hall were brought in from a construction site near the East Side Gallery.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

The bicycles that decorate the hall were donated by Berliners. The large concrete benches outside were created from slabs found outside Berlin’s most famous club, Berghain. It’s truly a labour of love.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook
Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

The blend of California with Berlin doesn’t stop with the design of the space. It’s in the food they serve as well. Robert Hilges is the Executive Chef and is in charge of the menu. Robert is a true Berliner and his previous experience ranges from Hofbräuhaus Berlin to the Ritz-Carlton Berlin.

Stone Brewery | Robert Hilges | TookTook

His menu is an eclectic mix of world cuisine, with ingredients sourced from local organic farms. Robert approaches the food the same way Greg approaches beer, with care, passion, and his own unique style. Some of the dishes have also incorporated Stone’s beer and each dish has a recommended beer pairing, to enhance your food experience. We had a chance to try a variety of dishes that Robert handpicked for us and these are some of our highlights.

Seared Shrimp Tacos

Stone Brewery | Seared Shrimp Tacos | TookTook

Seared Shrimp tacos with cabbage, white salsa, kohlrabi salad and avocado cilantro dressing. These are the kind of authentic tacos you can’t find anywhere else in Berlin. The Berliner Weisse was the perfect pairing for this one.

Salade niçoise

Stone Brewery | Niçoise Salad | TookTook

Niçoise style salad with wild caught salmon, tomato, cucumber, green beans, red onions, olivers, boiled egg, tempura vegetables, potato, romanesco and mushrooms. This was straight to the point, refreshing and partnered perfectly with the beer pairing.

Vegetarian Tempeh “Fuego Burger”

Stone Brewery | Vegetarian Tempeh “Fuego Burger” | TookTook

Crispy seared homemade tempeh burger with mushrooms, onions, aioli, melted cheddar cheese, sliced jalapeños with chili and dusted tortilla chips. It’s their number one seller and I’m not surprised at all. In a world of bland meat-substitute veggie burgers, this burger stands out as a lesson on how to make meat free junk food. It’s juicy, tender, packed with flavour and has nice spicy kick to it.

Bitter Sweet Roasted Chicken

Stone Brewery | Bitter Sweet Roasted Chicken | TookTook

Chicken marinated in chocolate, spicy Amarillo, seared potatoes, mini kale, caramelised dates and almonds. This dish has that extra bit of sophistication and inventiveness, which makes Stone’s food experience unique.

Stone Brewery | Greg Koch & Robert Hilges | TookTook

In a short period of time, Robert has been able to gain the trust of his colleagues. He has incorporated a few menu items from San Diego, to keep it brand consistent but Greg’s main requirements were flavour, uniqueness and creativity.

“He’s the first one here, the last one to go home. He’s always coming to me with an idea and I just absolutely love it. I am so proud of our food and what Robert and his team do for us”

Sustainability is also something Greg believes in. It’s a philosophy that applies to every part of their business, from food to beer to how they treat their employees.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

“I believe in the bottom line respect for people and our planet. Not everyone likes what we do and that is ok. It is however my duty to respect the planet by offering people that come here products that I personally respect.”

This applies from locally sourcing their food to how the brewery uses water. Today Stone Brewing is one of the most water efficient breweries in the world. This something Greg is very proud of and all his business decision revolve around what he can do to lower Stone’s carbon footprint. The decision not to serve any bottled water is one such example.

“We don’t offer bottle water here. We will give you brewing quality water for free in both still and sparkling, even though I can use it as a serious revenue source.”

Greg may be a bit seem a bit mellow these days, but inside he’s very much part of the rock ‘n’ roll generation. Whether it’s bottled water or the latest brew, he’s always willing to take risks and follow his gut, even if it means walking the more difficult path.

Stone Brewery | Mariendorf, Berlin | TookTook

“Everyday we’re pushing a boulder up a hill, it never gets easier, ever. Unless we sit back and decide to ride, but that’s never been part of our nature and after twenty-one years of doing this, it’s not a possibility. What we do is fun and I wouldn’t choose anything different.”

TookTook Stories

TookTook Stories covers the people behind the most exciting restaurants, bars and hotels from around the world. Running a restaurant or working in hospitality is incredibly hard. It takes more than a few visits to really be able to judge a quality of the experience. This is the reason why this is not a review. We only cover places we admire, with the focus to learn more about the background of the individuals, their work and what drives them.

Sachin Obaid

Chief Eating Officer, Mumbai

Food has always been a huge part of my childhood growing up. Every meal at home was a family meal in Saudi Arabia. The summer vacations I would spend at my Grandparents home in India was a lesson in eating seasonal, long before it has become in vogue.

It was not until I really started to travel, I was able to connect my affinity for food with searching for authentic local experiences. So, after a stint of working finance in New York and London and dabbling with various startup ventures, I have decided to follow my passion for food and travel to start TookTook in Berlin.
Oliver Moertl

Photographer, Berlin

As long as it's not spicy hot, I'll eat it! I love to experiment eating food from Michelin-stared restaurants to the mom-and-pop diner in a small town. But eating for pleasure is not the only reason why I consider myself a foodie. For 2 years now I have photographed chefs preparing, cooking and serving food across Europe. The images I take, help to tell their personal stories, to better explain why they cook the way they do.

Through these experiences, I’ve noticed one main thing, food brings people and cultures together, in a way very few things can. My hope is to share with you my images from the restaurants we cover and to share my personal experiences, so hopefully you could have the same experiences for your next meal!


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