Friday was a big day for craft beer news in Berlin with BrewDog announcing it has reached an agreement to acquire Stone Brewing’s Berlin Brewery.
Founder Greg Koch caused quite a stir when he announced Stone’s arrival in Berlin. Emerging from what would become the Stone Berlin World Bistro & Gardens on a forklift truck, Koch dropped a large boulder on a pyramid of beer. “Stone is coming to Europe. Stone is coming to Germany. And more specifically, Stone is coming to BERLIN!”, he declared.
His preachings on Stone’s “simple philosophies and ideals”, his pledge to bring “Europe a taste of our vision for craft beer” and, probably in no small part, his long hair and beard lead to a local tabloid labelling him “The Beer Jesus From America”.
BrewDog co-founder James Watt was in the crowd that day and was most likely equal parts envious and admiring of Stone’s ambitious plans for the former gasworks in Berlin Mariendorf.
Fast forward five years and Koch has had to admit that his vision for Berlin and drive to establish Stone Brewing as a tour de force in Europe has failed. Come 1 May ownership of the historic red brick giant and its 100HL brewing system and canning line, awe-inspiring taproom and 5,000m2 gardens will be transferred to BrewDog.
Stone’s View: “Too big, too bold, too soon”
In a statement on the Stone website, Greg Koch acknowledged that his plans for Berlin were just too ambitious.
The sheer cost of building and maintaining Stone Berlin to our standards didn’t let us grow it slowly. Sometimes you gotta realize when your dream is becoming a threat to your greater good.
He went on to add:
Maybe we should’ve started smaller, aimed for the tree line instead of the stars.
Although he conceded that the buck stops with him, Koch also felt that there were others who should shoulder some of the responsibility. In what is a slightly bizarre rant he goes on to place much of the blame at the feet of the German construction industry.
The truth is, the construction industry in Berlin is broken. Yes, there’s a lot of bureaucracy. The U.S. has more than a bit of that, so we were prepared for it. The real challenge was the tendency of our contractors to stop everything when a problem arose.
Now, one look at the Berlin Airport saga tells us that Berlin has its share of issues with construction but Koch’s suggestion that the whole industry is broken is surely a stretch. The issues he encountered were certainly costly and frustrating but who is to say that another contractor would have acted in the same way.
The Future for Stone in Europe
The closure of their Berlin brewery isn’t the end for Stone in Europe though. Things will just be done on a smaller scale now.
Their taproom in Prenzlauer Berg will remain open so Berlin fans will still be able to drink their favourite Stone beers on tap. And most of the beer for the MUCH smaller bar on the picturesque Oderberger Strasse will still be brewed in Berlin. As part of the acquisition BrewDog has agreed to take over brewing for Stone at the Mariendorf site.
That beer will also be distributed throughout Germany and the rest of Europe. This contract brewing arrangement will obviously reduce Stone’s overhead. But more importantly perhaps allow them to concentrate on freshness.
This tweet form @thinreaper is a prime example of the issues a craft brewery faces when scaling up for high volumes for sale in supermarkets.
“Way too long” is putting it mildly! Took this photo this morning. I tweeted them about this 3 months ago too, still on the shelf today. pic.twitter.com/ELG9Xyjlr1— thinreaper (@thinreaper) March 31, 2019
Stone has had some time now to identify the difficulties of expanding into the European market, especially in Germany, and has the opportunity to adjust their strategy accordingly
BrewDog’s View: “We want to make our new Berlin brewery the hub for the craft beer movement”
The statement from James Watt on the BrewDog website outlined some of their plans for the new location.
After a certain time for evaluation we will be closed for a little bit as we turn the building into a BrewDog space, similar to the vibe we have created at our Columbus brewery.
He went on to promise:
… a huge opening party, as well as hosting an epic European AGM for our Equity Punks there later in 2019 and also making Berlin the next destination for BrewDog Airlines.
Perhaps the most significant news for the Berlin craft beer community is BrewDog’s plan to support Berlin’s brewers.
We will be launching the ‘Berlin Craft Collective’ in the 10HL pilot brewery at the Mariendorf site. We will essentially be giving the pilot system over to the craft brewers of Berlin to help them either start their brewing journey or scale up their business. As well as helping them brew on our system, we will also showcase their beers in all of our German bars.
The Future for BrewDog in Europe
For Scottish brewer BrewDog, this concludes a long search for a brewing facility in Europe and is a time-effective way to guarantee their supply chain on the continent as Brexit looms (we all assume). And BrewDog is no stranger to Germany, having opened its BrewDog Mitte bar in 2016 with a new location in Hamburg’s St Pauli due to open in the summer.
Last week also brought news that BrewDog is searching for a location for a new DogHouse Hotel in London. A concept they launched in Columbus, Ohio in 2017. A hint of things to come in Berlin, perhaps? Though there will certainly be lots of bureaucratic hoops to jump through before any such plan could come to fruition. But it does mean the vague chance of a BrewDog shower fridge in the Haupstadt.
Stone Brewing Berlin and BrewDog Berlin: What Was and What Will Be
While the project ultimately failed, it is important to point out that Stone Brewing breathed new life into what was a derelict industrial site. The buildings were restored sympathetically and the brewery, restaurant and gardens is a truly beautiful place.
Stone’s arrival also brought much needed publicity for craft beer and they offered welcome support to small breweries like Vagabund Brauerei. While the brewery has its detractors, the craft beer scene in Berlin is richer for its presence.
Comparisons can be drawn between BrewDog’s rise in the UK and Stone’s in the US and both have a sometimes (or maybe often) confrontational approach. BrewDog will have to take steps to make sure their German trajectory doesn’t follow a similar path. BrewDog has experienced astronomical growth and the sale of a 22% stake to private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners in 2017, paired with £67m in crowdfunding via their Equity for Punks scheme has swelled their coffers. But even their pockets are not bottomless.
For the sake of Berlin, let’s hope the venture proves a success. BrewDog will be looking to put their own stamp on their new brewery and bar but it will most definitely remain a must-visit for beer geeks in Berlin.