A feast fit for a brewer: An interview with Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch

Founded in 1996, Stone Brewing had already generated a passionate fan base by 2011, when readers of Beer Advocate magazine voted them the " #1 All-Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth." We met with Stone's CEO Greg Koch on the beautiful grounds of the Stone World Bistro and Gardens in Berlin-Mariendorf. Over two glasses of refreshing Stone Tangerine IPA we chatted about - you guessed it – beer.

A guest post for Omnified by Hana and Hugh Eckermann

Hana Eckermann finished her M.A. in English Language and Literature at Charles University Prague and her MA in Internal Communication studies at Kingston University London, but spent the last 20 years in Berlin. As a passionate photographer, she loves exploring urban landscapes and stories, some featured in galleries in Berlin and Wernigerode. From 2016 to 2017 prepared short features for NPR Berlin’s “Life in Berlin” series about craft beer events in Berlin, her other passion.

Hugh Eckermann came to Berlin 30 years ago, directly after majoring in Radio, Television and Film studies at the University of Maryland. After working at East Carolina University and University of Maryland radio stations developing and presenting regular music shows, he devoted his first years in Berlin to create alternative film and multimedia installations. Hugh is fascinated by the craft beer scene in Berlin, which he has been following since 2014. He co-worked on the craft beer events short features for NPR Berlin’s “Life in Berlin” series.

Founded in 1996, Stone Brewing had already generated a passionate fan base by 2011, when readers of Beer Advocate Magazine voted them the “#1 All-Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth.” Fittingly, their crown is decorated with many precious stones. Among them: Greg Koch receiving the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, and the numerous accolades for their beers, including the 2018 gold medal from Meininger’s International Craft Beer Awards for the Stone IPA and Ruination IPA (both brewed here in Berlin.)

We met with Greg on the beautiful grounds of the Stone World Bistro and Gardens in Berlin-Mariendorf. Over two glasses of refreshing Stone Tangerine IPA we chatted about – you guessed it – beer.

Greg Koch (GK): The Beer Advocate recognition is the most incredible accolade we have ever gotten and may ever get. You know the award I think is really special, is that Stone World Bistro and Gardens here in Berlin was named the Best Beer and Culinary experience in the entire country.

Hana Eckerman (HaE): The idea of pairing food and beer is relatively new and it certainly needs a bit of evangelical work to establish it.

GK: I have been known for evangelizing from time to time…guilty as charged…

HaE: You have a special event today: the Brewer’s Dinner. Another “precious stone.” As far as I remember, you were the first ones to host such an event in Berlin, back in 2016. How would you describe the Brewer’s Dinner?

GK: You are going to look at the flavor profiles of the particular beers and match them with characteristics in the food so you get an interesting culinary experience. And you would want to hear some anecdotes about the brewery and some stories behind the beers.

HaE: Somebody described the Brewer’s Dinner as a “gathering of friends or community who enjoy beer and food.”

GK: …Right, including the friends who have not met yet.

 

 

HaE: Exactly, there are actually a lot of people who met at the Brewer’s Dinner and became friends.

GK: [During the] first course and beer round, the tables are more quiet and reserved and certainly by the third course the conversation is flowing free …that’s why they call beer “a social liberty.”

Food and beer pairings are either complementary or contrasting. For example, a hoppy IPA beer cuts through the heat of a spicy dish (contrasting), and a rich and creamy stout beer enhances the smoothness of a chocolate dessert (complementary.)

Today’s menu highlights flavors from Greek cuisine, since the special guest brewer is Kjetil Jikiun – a Norwegian pilot who became the first craft brewer in Norway, and recently founded Solo Beer in Crete.

 

 

GK: A Greek-style pumpkin taco – now is there such a thing really in the world other than here?

At Stone’s Brewer’s Dinner, creative approach is the key engine. Apart from a vivid color palette, the tacos explored various textures: crunchy corn tortilla and red cabbage, creamy red salsa, soft pumpkin tsatsiki and gyros, and are paired with Solo HARMONY Kölsch and Stone Prenzlauer Bock. The second course presents iced tomato-cucumber soup with a moscardini mini octopus skewer, baked jalapeños and feta cheese.

There is no such thing as a Greek salad, explains Kjetil. In Greece, it’s called “farmers salad,” and has been prepared for farm workers for centuries.
Kjetil has played on the heritage of this familiar dish by matching it with Saison beer, which in its origin is a beer made for Belgian farm workers.

 

 

The main course, a dry-aged beef filet, is cooked to perfection and accompanied by pumpkin cream, potato croquettes, baked plum and truffle jus – heavenly when paired with the Ripper Pale Ale by Stone and Solo’s Imperial Stout by Solo. The philosophy behind the latter, as Kjetil explains, is to create a “full body, rich, packed with flavors, try to focus on coffee and chocolate more than on soya sauce and licorice…”

If beer is communication, as Kjetil says, then the dessert course of a lemon tarte with apricot sorbet, raspberry and pistachio tells you a fairy tale with a mischievous twist: the fruit explosion on your tongue is enhanced by Stone’s I’m Peach Double IPA, and it’s easy to forget about the high alcohol content in this beer. That is, until later, when your bike does not want to ride straight…

And speaking of fairy tales, I crave a happy ending:

HaE: I love the Stone logo. And I understand you are using the gargoyle to ward off the evil spirits of beer – like pasteurization, using all kinds of chemicals… Does the gargoyle do a good job?

 

 

GK: He’s got one job, and we have not seen him fail yet. He reflects our philosophy and sends a very clear message: we are pretty fierce when it comes to our standards – our qualitative standards and our philosophical standards – and they are unbudgeable. This is what we are all about.

HaE: Thank God! And I’ll cheers to that.

Photos and Audio by Hana and Hugh Eckermann 

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