Brace yourselves, Twin Cities beer geeks. The celebrated hop-a-licious flavors of So Cal's Stone Brewing Co. are finally coming to Minnesota.
CEO and co-founder Greg Koch will be in town to commemorate Stone Brewing's arrival with a series of events at local beer-lover hangouts. Dubbed Stone Week, the festivities run from March 29 to April 2 (check www.stonebrew.com/stoneweek for details). Highlights include tap takeovers at the Muddy Pig and Stub and Herbs, the latter featuring 32 different Stone beers on tap, including the flagship Stone IPA and über-rare brews reserved for special occasions.
"It's kind of funny," Koch jokes, "I have to travel to Minnesota to be able to get some of these beers."
For most in the craft beer industry, beermaking is a labor of love, and Koch is no exception. His infatuation with better beers blossomed in the early '90s when he began assisting Stone's brewmaster and co-founder, Steve Wagner, with his home brewing ventures. Since then, the two have parlayed their beer geekdom into a wildly successful business, landing on Inc. Magazine's list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the United States in 2002 and 2003.
However, it wasn't always smooth sailing for the hop-minded duo. Founded in 1996, Stone was less than profitable in its nascent years, largely because of the high cost of self-distribution. Koch had at least one wholesaler nibbling, but after being strung along for months he was told they weren't interested in adding the Escondido, Calif., brewery. "What I heard was, 'You know what, we're going to let your company die,'" Koch recalls with despair still in his voice. "Because that's what we were doing, we were bleeding to death."
After persevering through the lean years, Stone's reputation has grown immensely and the accolades have been piling up. Stone Brewing has earned high praise from websites like RateBeer.com and was named the "All-Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth" by Beer Advocate magazine.
Currently, Koch plans to open a brewery in Europe, which would make Stone the first American craft brewer to do so. He said the company has narrowed its search for a site to two locations, one in Berlin and another in Bruges, Belgium. Koch expects to announce their decision in the coming months.
But are Europeans ready for the U.S. craft beer that has us Americans drooling over our pint glasses?
"Any traditional wisdom would tell you that I'm nuts," Koch said. "But I don't spend a lot of time with conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is for those who want to remain limited in what they think is possible."