Thursday, June 18, 2009

Goose Down & Horsepower

During the Craft Brewers Convention in Boston this past April Greg Koch from Stone Brewing Co gave the keynote address entitled “I am a Craft Brewer.” If you have 45 min, you can view it here. Since then a mixtape-ish ode to the speech featuring a bunch of industry notables was made. You can view it here.

Unquestionably the pride in the community and craft comes through very strongly and a lot of talented guys that have devoted themselves to thoughtfully making beer get rightfully recognized, but…. I get lost when Koch's speech focuses on the overlord nature of the macro brewers and their dominance. What’s with all the whining? It’s like heading out to the playground when you’re a kid and getting whaled on by a kid that’s bigger than you. You don’t go rat him out to the teacher or sit there and cry about it, you lip up, get up, and hit the bigger kid in the head with a board. At the very least, you grab your dignity and move on.

I’m not sure how dragging down the other guy creates upward mobility. I’m grateful the big guys make beer that’s indistinguishable and strives to offend the fewest consumers. “Fizzy Yellow Beer,” is pretty great if you ask me. Fizzy, yellow beer and huge marketing campaigns give little shit breweries like my own a point of differentiation that works out pretty nicely; we want to make beer with strong characteristics and have no money for marketing campaigns. There’s a beautiful balance and a differentiation that's useful.

In the end I would hope that people aim to treat their senses to the best time they can. If knocking back eighteen Miller Lite’s tonight is really the thing that flips your switch, well, then enjoy it.

In my opinion, trying to get people feeling that big is bad and marketing campaigns muddle your mind is fine and dandy, but appealing to people’s sense of worth and enjoyment seems to make more sense.

If you sleep at my home for a night and before bed I offer you two pillows, one is thin, stuffed with twigs and covered in latex. The other is stuffed with down, hypoallergenic, and covered in a case sewn with an innumerable thread count. You’re going with latter - lets face it. Beer is no different. Some just offer richer experience. You might have to work harder to find the one that offers your reward, but it’s out there.

You’re going to the car dealership because your Ford Pinto just took a shit. You show up at the car lot, take the new Focus out for a cruise, then work out the numbers on a used Neon and realize it’s a great buy. Then pulling through the lot is brand new Porsche 911 Turbo. A guy hops out and says he’d like to offer it to you, but it’s just a little more money than the Neon. The Porsche might get horrendous gas mileage, but it’s a sleek, road-eating piece of mechanical wonder, and you’d be a jackass to walk away from it. Craft beer is this mechanical wonder designed with quality craftsmanship, uncompromisingly seeking your pleasure.

If you want to sleep on twigs and latex and drive your Neon home in the morning, then go ahead. As for me, I’ll be resting my head in comfort and hugging the turns in the 911.

Half Acre Beer Co
Chicago, IL


out with the old said...

here here!!

seeandyspin said...

excellent blarg, i completely agree with your sentiment.

R. Zach Thomas said...


Half Acre: The Porsche of Beer

Steve said...

Went to Three Floyds last night in my Camry Hybrid; there were also two Priuses in the parking lot. Not a Porsche to be seen!

I rest my head in comfort at night knowing that my beer and car are both delicious and eco-friendlier.

Gabriel said...

Steve, no one is suggesting we all run out and buy Porsches, and it's certainly not an issue of sustainability, it's about being thoughtful and getting what you want and deserve out of any choice.

Daniel said...

I never would've guessed that Koch was a whiner.

stonegreg said...

Just stumbled across your blog post. Thanks for the perspectives!

A small clarification on a couple items if you don't mind....

1) The "I Am A Craft Brewer" video was not made after the speech, it was made in advance of the speech and premiered at the beginning of the speech.

2) I don't recall whining! ;-]-= I do recall setting up the closing part of my speech "as if" I was starting to whine, then turning it around to demonstrate that many of the things that a craft brewer 'might' whine about were actually advantages of being a craft brewer.

I also don't recall exactly "dragging down" the antics of the so-called big guys, although I do admit to poking fun a bit as well as calling out what I believe are questionable activities. If you're a craft brewer engages in similar things, then my comments stand for you too. It's the questionable activities that I call out, not necessarily the size. This is why I spent time in the speech encouraging craft brewers to take the high road with their business practices. Being from Chicago, you would be aware of many of these "questionable activities" as Chicago is known for many of its old-school-under-the-table aspects of business dealings.

BTW, when I'm not riding my bike from my house to the bus stop and loading it on the bus to ride to stop closest to the brewery and riding the rest of the way (which is not often enough I will freely admit), I drive my Prius. I sold my BMW Z4 3.0 in favor of the Prius. I like the Prius MUCH better. It might be arguable that I had my mid life crisis five years ago when I bought the Z4. I think I'm over it now and as such, there won't be any Porsches in my future. ;-]-=

Seriously, I look forward to enjoying your beers when we're all out in Chicago for the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference. Chicago is an awesome beer town that's now got quite a number of players...brewers, retailers, and wholesalers...that play on the ethical level and quality level and the beer scene has improved a great deal as a result. Awesome.

Congrats on the new storefront! If I'm lucky, I'll be able to come by for a Daisy Cutter or two!


Greg Koch
Stone Brewing Co.

Gabriel said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment on the post Greg. OK, you weren’t whining….ok,ok.

You’re right, Chicago is dirty beer town, so I do have a window into this -- although you guys have been slugging out in the trenches for far longer than me -- one day I might be an angry SOB picketing out front of AB in St. Louis ranting this and that. And today I realize their faults and how their goals don't resemble my own.

In your opinion, though, don't you think that time and "success" can be a very tricky thing to deal with. I never met Adolphus Busch or any of the other cats that founded some of today's massive brewing co's, but they might have been just as passionate about quality beer and the process of making it as you, maybe not. However their companies have been through generations of varied dynamics and times of prohibition, many company leaders with various sets of motivations, the necessity of dealing with shareholders, customers, international culture etc, etc. Budweiser might have looked and felt much like Stone at it's same point in it's own history, but as time went on and new folks came to the helm that might not have cared to protect the integrity of this or that and instead strive for larger profits, etc.

My point is, when you kicked off Stone you had a little quirky brewing co that struggled to figure it all out, then you figured it out and it grew, and continues to grow. Now you've got a relatively large company making beer with integrity that has a place on the national/ international stage. You've done all this without compromising your own ideas about things and treating others with respect. Now what happens when you continue to grow and it's harder to grab market share? What happens when it's not you at the helm and the new person a bit more eager to grab a bigger piece of the pie and greater margin per case? What happens in 85 years when no one that's working at Stone has any connection to you, your current team or that little quirky brewing co that you started all this years ago?

I'm not pretending that I know, or that Stone will be the next AB, just that companies of all kind that have been around for 100+ years morph and compete and develop a set of survival skills. It just seems to me that for AB or Miller / Coors or whoever to continue to exist they need to be exactly what they are, for better or worse. They built themselves into a corner, a corner that might be hard to sty out of with enough time and "success."

I agree with you and your stance and run our little brewing co in this same way. I just think it's easy to point the finger. I also know that many smaller brewers, including myself, use distribution networks that were established by macro brewers and hire folks from larger brewing co's to utilize their knowledge in efficiency and process.

Last but not least, and it seems a lot of folks grabbed on to this one: I have no attachment to Porsches and certainly don't advise people to get one or condone their gas efficiency. I was using that model vehicle to illustrate a point.

Gabriel said...

and the rest...

Porsche's are badass automobiles that, like it or not, would thrash a Prius in any measurable aspect(except fuel efficiency) and I appreciate them like a quality, craft beer that aims to blow your hair back just the same. We all should consume less and do our best to destroy the earth less than we do -- but lets have the best time we can while doing to.

I am glad that you snapped out of the your midlife crisis, but who knows what time and additional success could bring -- maybe a Porsche.

I respect Stone and what you guys do.. I would consider myself and Half Acre lucky if we achieve half the success you guys have while conducting ourselves with integrity. I'll see you at our brewery in 2010 and I'll pour you a Daisy Cutter personally.


Half Acre Beer Co