How Arrogant Bastard brewer’s Berlin try-out became ‘beer’s biggest flop’
Beerista: Germans were unimpressed when Stone Brewing brought coals to Newcastle
Sobering experience?: Greg Koch at Stone Brewing in Berlin in 2016. Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty
“Too big, too bold, too soon.” That’s how Greg Koch, founder of California’s Stone Brewing, has described its ambitious Berlin experiment, which closed last month. “Beer industry’s biggest flop,” ran a headline on a German culinary website a few days later.
Stone’s €25 million investment in a home of good beer was always going to be a bit of a gamble. In a country with no shortage of pride when it comes to the national drink, the US brewery’s brazen approach was never going to go down well.
Stone, the maker of Arrogant Bastard Ale, wanted to help Germany escape its “status quo of cheap beer”. In 2014 it announced plans to set up a huge brewery and taproom in Berlin, just as things were starting to get interesting on the European craft-beer scene. But demand for its product was lower than expected, it seems, with the German brewery operating at a fraction of its capacity. (In 2018 Stone Berlin brewed about 20,000 hectolitres, or 3.5 million pints. That’s less than some of the bigger Irish microbreweries.)
I visited Stone’s World Bistro & Gardens, set on a historic gasworks site in the Mariendorf district of south Berlin, a few years ago. It was hard not to be impressed by the gigantic nature of it all – the lush outdoor area, its vast indoor space – and the beers were top notch. I did wonder, however, if Berliners (most of whom don’t have cars, unlike Californians) would trek this far from the city centre for the experience. And the beer was very pricey by Berlin standards. When Koch decried Germans for “buying the cheap stuff” he seemed to forget that, although many German beers may be low cost, they’re often high quality.
BrewDog will take over Stone’s brewery in Berlin – no doubt Brexit has been factored into that move – so it will be interesting to see if the Scottish brewer’s approach has any more sway with the locals.