Craft beer brew­ery Stone Brew­ing opens first Asia out­post

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COVER STORY - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Lo­cated in a charm­ing old ware­house that used to be oc­cu­pied by one of China’s most prom­i­nent phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, the Stone Brew­ing bar and restau­rant in a quiet neigh­bor­hood in western Shang­hai is the brand’s first out­post in Asia and a demon­stra­tion of how far an in­de­pen­dent brew­ery can go de­spite not be­ing backed by ma­jor par­ent com­pa­nies.

The brew­ery’s fa­cil­ity in the city is equipped with a state-of-the-art tap con­trol panel, the first in Asia, that al­lows for the cal­i­bra­tion of car­bon diox­ide and ni­tro­gen mixes so that the beers taste ex­actly as they should. The brew­ery has also de­vel­oped an un­in­ter­rupted cold chain de­liv­ery sys­tem that would al­low it to trans­port its beers to China at a con­sis­tent tem­per­a­ture that ranges be­tween 2 and 8 C.

Stone Brew­ing’s co-founder Greg Koch is well-known in the beer in­dus­try for his re­fusal to sell out to “Big Beer” en­ti­ties. In fact, Stone Brew­ing even set up True Craft, a $100 mil­lion craft beer an­gel in­vestor, in 2016 to help small brew­eries with fund­ing so that they do not have to give up ma­jor­ity own­er­ship to grow.

“Stone Brew­ing will never sell out. Stone Brew­ing is sacro­sanct,” Koch told For­tune Mag­a­zine in 2015.

“We’re not in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in a cash grab. There are two ways of op­er­at­ing a busi­ness — com­mod­ity or ar­ti­san. We op­er­ate as an ar­ti­san. We make de­ci­sions based on our pas­sions.”

Founded in 1996 in San Mar­cos, Cal­i­for­nia, Stone Brew­ing has grown from seven em­ploy­ees and an an­nual pro­duc­tion of 800 bar­rels to 1,100 em­ploy­ees and 330,000 bar­rels in 2015. It is cur­rently the ninth largest brew­ery by sales vol­umes in the United States.

China Daily spoke to Koch on the open­ing day of their Shang­hai out­post.

It seems like a per­fect time. We are here be­cause we are in­spired and we want to be here. It’s like when you are an artist, you want to bring your work to the peo­ple and place that in­spire you back. China and this lo­ca­tion in Shang­hai def­i­nitely qual­ify.

The things that in­spire me are the lo­cal craft beer scene and the progress and changes hap­pen­ing in China. To me it’s very dif­fi­cult to put the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process into con­crete busi­ness terms such as the num­ber of peo­ple drink­ing craft beer here. That’s too clin­i­cal to me.

I only vis­ited China for the first time two years ago. Be­ing here sparked the idea of bring­ing Stone Brew­ing to a Chi­nese city.

The sin­gle big­gest chal­lenge is to find the right lo­ca­tion. We were ini­tially 50/50 be­tween Shang­hai and Bei­jing. And we chose Shang­hai when we found this lo­ca­tion. It just feels right. don’t want to pre­sume to know what the next three to five years is go­ing to look like. I think our jour­ney is not a well-paved path. We need to take a few steps and look around to de­cide whether we should turn left or right for the next step. We didn’t have to come to China. This is a choice. It’s not a part of some master plan.

We are just be­ing our­selves. If you go to our Cal­i­for­nia tap­room, you will find it’s pretty much the same as the tap list here. We are not chang­ing or try­ing to put on a dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity for Chi­nese drinkers.

We don’t tar­get. We do what we do, and it’s up to you to de­cide whether you are go­ing to pay an ex­tra for our beer. If you are the per­son who would like to dis­cover more fla­vors and char­ac­ters, our job is to sim­ply let you know that we ex­ist.

Yes. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing. That’s a place that takes the ap­proach of hav­ing ev­ery­thing. It’s a won­der­ful way for peo­ple to start their dis­cov­ery of beer. I think what she does is great, and I don’t mean to be dis­re­spect­ful, but we are us­ing a model of cu­ra­tion like in an art mu­seum. We don’t just take ev­ery­thing that ex­ists and put it on the wall and say, “Okay, it’s up to you to de­cide.” Cu­rated ex­pe­ri­ences are cre­ated by peo­ple who have an opin­ion and see the world from a unique per­spec­tive.

A lot of con­sumers don’t re­ally know or ask about our stan­dards of be­ing de­pend­able, re­al­ize the im­por­tance of fresh­ness and our con­nec­tion to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties that we source our in­gre­di­ents from. But that’s okay. It’s our job to tell them. But if they are in­ter­ested to go a lit­tle bit deeper and learn about it, I want my con­sumers to feel proud about what they choose and be in­spired. As an ar­ti­sanal brand, we are also in­spired by the great work of other peo­ple in the food and bev­er­age in­dus­try.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Stone Brew­ing’s co-founder Greg Koch.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The Stone Brew­ing bar and restau­rant in Shang­hai is equipped with a state-of-the-art tap con­trol panel that al­lows for the cal­i­bra­tion of car­bon diox­ide and ni­tro­gen mixes so that the beers taste ex­actly as they should.

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