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Craft beer brewery Stone Brewing opens first Asia outpost

By XU JUNQIAN in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-04 03:07
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Stone Brewing’s co-founder Greg Koch. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Located in a charming old warehouse that used to be occupied by one of China's most prominent pharmaceutical companies, the Stone Brewing bar and restaurant in a quiet neighborhood in western Shanghai is the brand's first outpost in Asia and a demonstration of how far an independent brewery can go despite not being backed by major parent companies.

The brewery's facility in the city is equipped with a state-of-the-art tap control panel, the first in Asia, that allows for the calibration of carbon dioxide and nitrogen mixes so that the beers taste exactly as they should. The brewery has also developed an uninterrupted cold chain delivery system that would allow it to transport its beers to China at a consistent temperature that ranges between 2 and 8 Celsius degrees.

Stone Brewing's co-founder Greg Koch is well-known in the beer industry for his refusal to sell out to "Big Beer" entities. In fact, Stone Brewing even set up True Craft, a $100 million craft beer angel investor, in 2016 to help small breweries with funding so that they do not have to give up majority ownership to grow.

"Stone Brewing will never sell out. Stone Brewing is sacrosanct," Koch told Fortune Magazine in 2015.

"We're not interested in participating in a cash grab. There are two ways of operating a business — commodity or artisan. We operate as an artisan. We make decisions based on our passions."

Founded in 1996 in San Marcos, California, Stone Brewing has grown from seven employees and an annual production of 800 barrels to 1,100 employees and 330,000 barrels in 2015. It is currently the ninth largest brewery by sales volumes in the United States.

China Daily USA spoke to Koch on the opening day of their Shanghai outpost.

Why bring Stone Brewing to China now?
It seems like a perfect time. We are here because we are inspired and we want to be here. It's like when you are an artist, you want to bring your work to the people and place that inspire you back. China and this location in Shanghai definitely qualify.

The things that inspire me are the local craft beer scene and the progress and changes happening in China. To me it's very difficult to put the decision-making process into concrete business terms such as the number of people drinking craft beer here. That's too clinical to me.

I only visited China for the first time two years ago. Being here sparked the idea of bringing Stone Brewing to a Chinese city.

What's the biggest challenge you have encountered with this latest expansion?
The single biggest challenge is to find the right location. We were initially 50/50 between Shanghai and Beijing. And we chose Shanghai when we found this location. It just feels right.


 Do you plan to open more branches in China?
There aren't such plans yet. I don't want to presume to know what the next three to five years is going to look like. I think our journey is not a well-paved path. We need to take a few steps and look around to decide whether we should turn left or right for the next step. We didn't have to come to China. This is a choice. It's not a part of some master plan.


How did you go about selecting the types of beer offered in Shanghai?
We are just being ourselves. If you go to our California taproom, you will find it's pretty much the same as the tap list here. We are not changing or trying to put on a different personality for Chinese drinkers.

We don't target. We do what we do, and it's up to you to decide whether you are going to pay an extra for our beer. If you are the person who would like to discover more flavors and characters, our job is to simply let you know that we exist.


Have you heard about Beer Lady in Shanghai (a middle-aged Shanghainese lady who sells more than 200 imported craft beers)?
Yes. It's fascinating. That's a place that takes the approach of having everything. It's a wonderful way for people to start their discovery of beer. I think what she does is great, and I don't mean to be disrespectful, but we are using a model of curation like in an art museum. We don't just take everything that exists and put it on the wall and say, "Okay, it's up to you to decide." Curated experiences are created by people who have an opinion and see the world from a unique perspective.

How do you think local consumers would perceive your brand?
A lot of consumers don't really know or ask about our standards of being dependable, realize the importance of freshness and our connection to local communities that we source our ingredients from. But that's okay. It's our job to tell them. But if they are interested to go a little bit deeper and learn about it, I want my consumers to feel proud about what they choose and be inspired. As an artisanal brand, we are also inspired by the great work of other people in the food and beverage industry.


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