Turning dreams into reality is an arduous road, full of pitfalls. No one knows this better than Greg Koch — who helped usher in the craft beer movement as we know it in the United States. Back in ’96, Koch and brewer Steve Wagner opened up Stone Brewing in San Marcos, California with the now-retired but still iconic Stone Pale Ale. It’d be easy to say “and the rest is history” given the explosive growth craft beer has seen across the U.S. and the rest of the world in the decades since, but it’s never that easy.
We caught up with Koch recently to talk about a documentary that was made about the push to open Stone Berlin back in 2016. The two-year endeavor to build one of the largest craft breweries in Europe — in a country with a staunch view of what beer should be — was meticulously documented in The Beer Jesus From America. (The film’s name was derived from local Berlin tabloid headline that mocked Koch’s long beard and hair.) The documentary covers everything from the ground-breaking of Stone Berlin to the actual opening of the massive brewery, beer garden, and restaurant in the southern reaches of the city.
Beer Jesus — which is available to stream on Amazon Prime — does a good job handling the trial and errors of an American trying to open a massive beer-related project in a very-regulated German city. The film also touches on a moment in time when the perception of craft beer changed dramatically across Europe and became a little more mainstream, in many ways thanks to the work Koch and his team put into the region. Unfortunately, the film ends when Stone Berlin opens, which isn’t the whole story. By 2019, Stone decided to sell their brewery to Scotland’s Brewdog and retreat back to the U.S. with the brewing of Stone’s beer being carried on through a partnership with Brewdog. (I remember being there when Stone Berlin had their last weekend. I was also there when Brewdog reopened the doors with all new branding, menu, and beers a few months later, a fascinating story all its own.)
My conversation with Koch gave me a chance to check in on how his world has changed since the struggle to launch Stone Berlin. We hit on everything from the documentary to beer trends to the realities of a world shaped by COVID-19.
Zachary Hewitt is a Chicago-born California-based writer/editor with over six years of experience creating smart and compelling content for various high-profile brands, including Life & Style Weekly and the American Kennel Club. He considers himself a pop culture fanatic who spends way too much time binging shows on Netflix and scrolling through Twitter.