Killing Ketchup: Death to the Red Devil

Back in 2006, when we decided to branch into the restaurant business, we admittedly didn’t know a lot about what we were getting ourselves into. Up until that point, we had breathed, slept, ate and, of course, drank beer and only beer. But one thing we did know was that quality was going to be at the forefront of our foray into the restaurant biz, and that so long as we held fast to that and our personal philosophies on how to provide said quality, we’d be alright…and so would fans who came to visit. Fast forward seven plus years and you’ll see we’ve done a damn good job (becoming the highest volume joint in the region), and as we predicted, the vast majority of our restaurateur successes have come from staying true to ourselves and our ethics.

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A Call for Online Civility

In addition to the obvious mission of fighting to make exceptional beer available to the people and freeing shelf space from the white knuckled “Me me me!” grip of the industrialized fizzy yellow facsimile of beer in the process, I’ve always strived to leverage my position to make positive changes within the craft beer culture.

Some know me to be fairly vocal, and yes, even a bit disruptive at times. To that, I say, “Thanks for noticing. I’ll take those as compliments.” In my opinion, it’s the responsibility of people in craft brewing to be stewards of our industry and help move things in the right direction—by sheer force of will if necessary. (It’s taken a lot more than great beer to get our industry this far. If not, all us craft beer guys would have turned totally fat and lazy by now.) Truth be told, there continues to be room for craft breweries to improve our collective efforts and keep this wonderful thing we love called “craft beer” going.

But to put the onus solely on those in the business of making beer would be short-sighted. There’s also a lot beer fans can do to keep craft something we can all enjoy and be both proud of and excited about. Quite often it can all come down to acceptance, civility, understanding and, dare I say it, basic courtesy. The beautiful thing is that, even with diverse opinions and perspectives, this civility is not only possible, but bonus, our industry flourishes best when civility is a leading attribute.
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Stone to open a Brewery in Europe?

Greg Koch

This is a very exciting project for Steve and me…and all of us at Stone Brewing. We’re going to be learning quite a bit with this endeavor, first and foremost: Will we be welcome? We’re approaching this with no assumptions other than we’d like to consider any and all options (other than having our beers contract brewed by another brewery, as that’s simply not our style). Many of the countries of Europe have great brewing traditions. Some countries are also currently experiencing a bit of a resurgence of small, independent (and independent thinking) breweries. As anyone knows that has visited the Stone Brewing Co. and our attached restaurant – the Stone World Bistro & Gardens – where we have more Guest taps than we do of Stone, we enjoy sharing the camaraderie of great craft beers. We look forward to joining in the fight in Europe by doing our part to add to the growing trend towards unique, flavorful artisanal beers, as opposed to the mass-blandification efforts characterized by megabrand sameness!


Beer vs. Wine Dinner — And the Winner is…

Greg Koch
Thought you might like to learn about the results of the recent epic “Beer vs. Wine Dinner” at the Rancho Bernardo Inn’s highly regarded “El Bizcocho” restaurant.

First, a short recap of what the dinner was all about….

  • The recent October 16, 2009 dinner was the third in a 3-year series.
  • The premise is simple: A multi-course fine-dining dinner served with a specially selected wine to go with each course, as well as a specially selected beer. All the attendees of the dinner get a specially prepared card to mark their preference for each course – either the beer or the wine. At the end of the dinner, the results are tallied and the one winner is announced based on the total number of votes for the evening.  “Wine” was represented by Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Barry Wiss of Napa’s Trinchero Family Estates.  Barry has flown down from Napa each year to participate in the challenge.  Neither I nor Barry had any say in the creation of the menu — each year it was presented to us with a “Gentlemen, here you go…do your best!”
  • In October 2007, “Beer” won. However, it was very close. Beer took three of the courses and wine won three. Yet, beer edged out with more total votes during the evening. This dinner was captured on film and an entertaining documentary was created by our friends at Redtail Media (the same team that created the viral I Am A Craft Brewer video with me). The “Beer vs. Wine 2007″ doc is on the promotional Stone DVD. If you haven’t found the opportunity to view it yet, grab the DVD and watch it. I think you’ll find it quite well done and entertaining. If you haven’t gotten one yet, it can be obtained at the Stone Store either at the brewery, or online here.
  • This clip is a preview of the beginning of that 2007 documentary:
    And this 30-second clip featuring Chef Gavin Kaysen is from the middle of the 2007 documentary:
  • In October 2008, “Wine” won. Again, very close with three courses to three courses, with wine winning more total votes in the evening. Again, documentary footage was shot, but it has not yet been edited. This 30-second promo spot was created. Hell, even knowing the results doesn’t stop you from wanting to see the whole match after watching this punchy spot:
  • Thus, Friday, October 16th, 2009’s dinner was going to determine the “best two out of three” winner. The rubber match. The champion. Once more, our documentary film making friends at Redtail Media captured the action. While it may take several months for them to get the editing done, both the 2008 dinner and Friday’s dinner will be edited into episodes.

OK, so without further ado, I’ll now reveal the results: BEER! Yes, beer won the night. This time, it was so close that they had to recount…twice. Turned out WAY too close for comfort for me, but ultimately it was indeed Beer that won…and just by ONE vote.

This is a big deal. The premise of the dinner–the motivation for me to do it–was to prove a point. I intentionally picked a wine-centric fine dining chef-driven restaurant for the Beer vs. Wine Dinner. I wanted to show that even in this “hostile territory” the ability of great craft beer to pair amazingly with great food was equal, or better, to that of fine wine. And we succeeded. We ALL succeeded.  This includes YOU because we are all a very important part of the craft brewing movement and we are collectively showing the world how wonderful and amazing the world of great craft beer can be.

I’d like to give special thanks to our Head Brewer, Mitch Steele, as he helped pick the selections with me for the beer pairings for each of the dinners.

You can view the grueling tasting and selection process in these two “Greg’s vBlog” clips (you’ll see that we should get a Medal of Valor or something for our willingness to self-sacrifice for the betterment of craft beer):

This year, we were further aided by the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens’ Beverage Coordinator, Dr. Bill, and his educated and insightful palate in the decision making process. Ultimately, we succeeded in our mission. We demonstrated that craft beer is to be reckoned with in the culinary world. You and I already knew that, and now even more people will have the opportunity to know it!

Here’s a picture that was shot just moments after the results were announced and I was given the trophy. Standing next to me is Barry Wiss of Trinchero Family Estates, the Napa-based Sommelier challenger who flew down for the event:

All in all we all had a terrific time.  I gotta hand it to the wine guys, they were consummate good sports.  Barry didn’t skip a beat in offering a genuine “Congrats!” when the voting results were announced, and even went on to tell me that the Beer vs. Wine dinners had really opened his eyes to the depth and complexity in the world of great beer.  Barry’s compatriot at Trinchero, Chris Siconolfi, emailed me the next day writing “Thank you for the competition and the partnership last night, it is like we all agreed, at the end of the day it is about opening the consumers’ eyes and educating on the fact that beer and wine pair amazingly well with food.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Stay tuned as the Beer vs. Wine saga WILL continue.  Barry and Chris have invited me to conduct a soon-to-be-scheduled Beer vs. Wine Dinner in the heart of Napa wine country.  I can’t wait.  And I’m gonna go in swinging.

Hey, just ’cause we’re all friendly and everything, and we are, doesn’t mean I’m going to pull any punches.  When I go, I’ll go to win!

Winner Greg Koch with Executive Chef Judd Canepari and Barry Wiss of Napa's Trinchero Family Estates

Winner Greg Koch with Executive Chef Judd Canepari and Barry Wiss of Napa's Trinchero Family Estates

Greg Koch, CEO & co-founder

Stone Brewing Co.

Bistro Feedback – We Get All Kinds…Even Some Good

We get a lot of feedback of all sorts. We respond to 99% of it. I don’t have the opportunity to do that much of the responding…trying to do my job and all of helping Steve to run the company…but from time to time I do get the chance to have a bit of a dialog. Often, the ones that come to me are the ones that deal with the philosophies and menu choices that we have for the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. Since I was the main driver behind the menu and philosophies, sometimes I’m the best to respond. So, when I can, I do.

This is one such short email thread that I thought I’d share.  It has some similarities to other email conversations, so it seemed relevant.



From: Rod M. Sent: Tue 2/10/2009 9:44 AM
To: Greg Koch
Cc: Frank Busic
Subject: RE: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
View As Web Page
From: Rod M.
Sent: Monday, February 09, 2009 3:50 PM
To: Stone Brewing

Had lunch today at your brewery, and as always enjoyed the beer.

That said, the food is over priced and the portions are too small. I suppose if you served normal food portions, the price might be about right. Whereas we do understand the concept of keeping out the riff raff by charging high prices, beer drinking is for the working classes also.

The thought of serving a $5.99 cheese burger lunch might send chills up your spine, but you may even get more people to show up. The dining room was 2/3 empty while we were there. I am just a dirt archaeologist, so what do I know about business (especially in today’s economic climate).


From: Greg Koch []
Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 8:42 AM
To: Rod M.
Subject: RE: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens

Rod, Thanks much for the feedback. It’s much appreciated. If you don’t mind, I’ll respond with an equally straightforward response.

First off, glad that you enjoy our beer. We know that it’s quite a bit more expensive than the generic industrial alternatives, and that you’re among the relatively small percentage of people who appreciate it and are willing to pay for something better. The truth is that most don’t ‘get’ specialty beers, and don’t see the value in them. However, that fact is changing and more and more people are getting turned on to the “affordable luxury” that great craft beer represents.

Regarding the prices of our food, I can assure you that it is not overpriced. A bold statement perhaps, but I can explain. I make that statement based upon the fact that our food cost percentages tend to skew higher than is typical in the restaurant business. In other words, the cost of our raw ingredients makes up a higher percentage of the cost of the finished plate than what the restaurant business considers is the right percentage. Most restaurants’ profitability on a plate of food is higher than ours. Why? Because the ingredients we buy cost significantly more than typical commodity foodstuffs.

You see, when we decided to build the restaurant and have folks over to our house (that’s how I see it…you’re an honored guest that is coming into our home, the brewery), I felt that I should research food and the food system. So I did. I read introductory level tomes such as Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and then moved on to more weighty books such as Food Politics, and The Ethics Of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.

What I learned was not pretty. True, I had long been on the side of the Slow Food movement but I will admit that I did not know the full depth that is the travesty of our food system in the United States. And I do not use the word “travesty” lightly.

In short, I came to the realization that we could not in good conscience participate in the commodity food system. Pre-processed foods? No. High fructose corn syrup? We enacted a complete ban. Factory meats? No way! Tasteless veggies that travel countless miles to get here? Absolutely not. Instead, we opted to prepare everything from scratch in our kitchen, source out higher quality ingredients, use all-natural meats and source our produce from local, small organic farmers.

The sad fact is that once you step outside of the industrialized food system, costs skyrocket dramatically. However, we believe that the value is indeed there.

The percentage of income that we spent on food has gone down dramatically in recent years, as illustrated in this pdf: This otherwise generic article on the subject is especially relevant as a result of the three “comments” posted by readers at the end of it: Conversely, the cost of our health care has skyrocketed. In fact it’s flip flopped with food costs since 1960. What we used to spend on food, we now spend on health care.

That there’s a connection between the health of our food, and the health of our population and planet is not a terribly new line of thought. However, most of our populace still seems to either not recognize this, or not want to recognize this. Yet, there is light. There are growing movements that are seeking to reverse the decline of the health of our people and our planet.

Please know that our philosophies are not geared towards “keeping out the riff raff.” While I might admit that a lower “riff raff” quotient might be overall desirable (it’s no secret that we’re not an establishment that caters to drunkards or hooligans), our goal has always been to do what we feel is right.

You are correct that the thought of a $6.99 hamburger does indeed send a chill up my spine, but not for the reason that you may have thought. The true reason would be the slashing and burning of our food philosophy and ethics that would be required to get there. I just won’t do that to our guests.

When you came yesterday, you may have noticed that you arrived on a day of torrential downpour. As you may know, Southern Californians are wholly unprepared and uncomfortable with rain events, and especially with blustery ones. Yesterday was especially blustery. It did indeed affect our lunch business yesterday. The modest crowd would be attributed to the fact that it was the Monday before Valentines (the restaurant business often takes a slight dip before and after major dining occasions such as Valentines, New Years, Mothers Day, etc.), and raining cats and dogs.

I am happy to report that our restaurant business went up by 20% in 2008, vs. 2007. Business remains solid in the early part of 2009. While not everyone ‘gets’ — or heck, even likes — what we do, there is indeed a significant number of people who are voting with their fork and dollar, and coming. And coming often.

My apologies for the long response, but as I felt that your concerns were quite understandable, I thought you deserved to know our perspectives.

In closing, I’d like to ask you to view the Food Declaration when you get a chance. Hopefully, you’ll consider signing it and passing on the word. The health of our nation depends on it!




Greg Koch, CEO
Stone Brewing Co.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
1999 Citracado Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92029
760.471.4999 x1102

From: Rod M.

Mr. Koch,

Thank you for your response. I respect your enthusiasm and passion. Perhaps
more importantly, I like your beer. And, I get it. Healthy food, healthy
people, healthy planet. Some of us support the farmer’s market every Sunday
morning, and buy everything available that is organically produced. By the
way, in reading the food declaration attachment I did not read in the 12
principles a specific advocation for foods that are organically produced
(and are pesticide free).

In the meantime, the baby back ribs and cheese soup we ordered, while made
from scratch and from (and in support of) local farmer resources, would
cause my doctor to give me a severe reprimand based on the saturated fat
content. But perhaps that is all I was saying, once in a while we need a fun
break, and do the things we are not supposed to do while having a craft brew
— at an affordable price. It cost the two us $55 for lunch with tip,
including two tasters and two 8 oz beers. Our lunch would be defined as a
large bowl of soup, a scoop of hummus (we shared), and the smallest baby
back ribs I have seen in my entire life. I recommend that you have the staff
inform “guests” up front that there is a charge for every taster and not
just state that yes we will happily give you a taste of any beer you want.
We live AND learn.

The upshot is that we cannot afford lunch at the brewery on a regular basis.
Perhaps we will just drink and skip the food? Thank you again for your


PS- I am sincerely happy for you that business for Stone continues to go up.

North County Times Writes About Stone

Greg Koch
It’s very cool that our local newspaper, the North County Times, is running a story today about Beer Advocate Magazine’s pronouncement that Stone ranked at the #1 spot on their list “According to the numbers, the most popular and highest-rated brewers — ever.”

I wrote a blog post about it a couple weeks ago.  Nice that the North County Times decided to cover it as well.

I don’t think that the world around us will change all that much, but every little bit helps.  Most local folks in North County and the rest of San Diego will continue about their lives unaware of the incredible — and world-famous — craft beer scene in their own backyard.  However, the ranks of the in-the-know does continue to grow.  Usually incrementally on a day by day basis, but sometimes more on a leaps and bounds basis with the help of the extra push of our local media.  We are quite thankful of that.  The number of amazing, artisanal, fresh, local choices in nearly all things food and drink in San Diego County grows constantly.  It is a real renaissance.  Not just here, but all over the US.  The degrees vary of course.  In some areas it’s more rooted and advanced, and in some it’s less.  And one of the areas that San Diego County absolutely excels at is craft beer.  No, not just at Stone.  Not by any stretch.  We are just part of the wonderful craft brewing community here.



We Rock. Hard. (And it’s not even me saying it this time.)

BeerAdvocate Cover

BeerAdvocate Cover

I got the new BeerAdvocate Magazine last week.  Cool.  I always enjoy reading it.  New happenings, interesting perspectives, current goings on…it’s a good read.  Love the visual tone too, and this time I thought it was especially cool that the mag featured my friend Kjetil Jikiun on the cover.  Also cool that the shot just so happened to have been taken at our brewery.  Also cool that Kjetil just so happened to be at our brewery to brew the stunning Jolly Pumpkin / Nøgne-Ø / Stone Special Holiday Ale with Ron Jefferies from Jolly Pumpkin and our own Mitch Steele.

I always scan / thumb through the magazine first, looking to see what pops out, then sit down and read it later when I’ve got more time.  This time the scanning began as usual, but then a little more than half way I stopped on one of the features and began muttering expletives.  Loudly.

Odd when you consider the fact that I was actually quite happy.  Very happy.  I suppose you’d have to call them “Muttered Expletives of Joy.”

Yeah, whatever. Bottom line is that I was stoked.

In the current edition, BeerAdvocate magazine announced their annual “Highest Rated” list.  Usually, it’s a look at the “current” ratings, and we’ve always placed well (read: top one or two or three).

This time, they ranked the breweries “According to the numbers, the most popular and highest-rated brewers — ever.”

Over the last few days, I’ve been showing people my copy of the magazine, reading the same quote above from the copy, and then handing them the magazine while saying “I can’t quite make out the words on the list itself…can you tell me what it says?”  Heh.  I think it might be a while before that gets old.  To me.

Well, I can’t do that here on this blog post…or maybe I can.  Perhaps I could ever-so-humbly ask you to please read to me what the brewery was that made the top of that list …I can’t quite make it out….