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Just Beer, No Bullshit他山之石,可攻玉否?

· pub talk

What should you expect when you sit down to speak to two beerheads who chose a gargoyle for a logo? What kind of guys name their brew ‘Arrogant Bastard Ale’?

Sitting down for a chat, we aren’t surprised by co-founder Greg Koch’s big and brash beard. The pint in co-founder Steve Wagner’s hand makes sense. What strikes with immediacy, though, is their wellspring of enthusiasm to talk about their life’s work: really good beer.

The brand they founded together, Stone Brewing Co., is renowned for its bold, flavorful and largely hop-centric beers. Stone has earned a reputation for brewing outstanding, unique beers from their headquarters in Escondido, California. Although Stone has come a long way to climb to the top of the world’s beer rankings, Greg and Steve have made sure that some things never change.

(Steve Wagner (左 left), 联合创始人兼总裁 president & co-founder of Stone Brewing.

Greg Koch, 联合创始人兼执行主席 executive chairman & co-founder of Stone Brewing. )

这是一个平凡的周日下午,上海11月的天气竟然湿而且黏,就像一锅即将上炉的麦汁。我们穿着短袖站在上海的World of Beer门口,一股不来自于天气的躁动,把两位姗姗而来的贵客席卷到了面前。

位于南加州的精酿厂牌Stone,便是是这两位的杰作。这个面海而居却以石为名的精酿帝国,连续11年被财富500评为全球5000家增长最快的私企。称他们为独立精酿界的标杆,实属多余。然而等闲如我,也无法将亿万身家与眼前两位平易近人甚至不修边幅的创始人联系起来。这家酒厂有多不平凡,除了之前写过的Stone简史,从下面3个小常识可以略窥一二:

  • Stone在97年将一款淡色艾尔命名为“傲慢的混蛋(Arrogant Bastard)“,比地下嘻哈叫嚣“老子吃火锅你吃火锅底料”早了整整20年

  • Stone在90年代一手缔造的西岸风格IPA,如今独当一面成为权威精酿机构BJCP的风格典范

  • 尽管争议不断,Stone始终用面目可憎的滴水神兽(Gargoyle)作为酒厂标志,以告诫所有“对啤酒有害之物”退步三尺。

Why beer?

水落石出

Beer is just a drink, right? Not for the Stone Brewing guys.

The guys take the big question - “Why beer?” - the same way they take every question we throw their way. They’re earnest and passionate, they’re emotional and genuine.

Recalling the first time he had a ‘real’ beer, Greg says, “I felt like I’d been lied to.” After a lifetime of watery, mass-produced lagers, one sip had Greg chasing craft beer down the rabbit hole. “How do I become a part of this?” he had asked himself.

“I want to join the fight.”

Enter Steve, the level-headed brewmaster who fueled Greg’s burning desire to leap into the fray.

“I remember drinking Anchor and Sierra Nevada,” Steve remembers. “One of the guys I was in a band with was a home brewer.”

Fate joined Steve’s even keel with Greg’s flame stoker. It was time to brew some beer.

我们的第一个问题很无聊-- “为什么选择啤酒?”

Greg一如既往毫不掩饰对“大啤酒”的蔑视:“当我第一次喝到真正的啤酒,我觉得之前那些年都白活了。”味淡如水的商业拉格告诉我们啤酒本该如此,但偏偏事与愿违:“我要成为精酿的一份子,从那一刻起。”

“我要为啤酒而战”

向来温婉的Steve也向我们透露了他的情怀: “Anchor和Sierra Nevada都是让我最初印象深刻的啤酒。当时我又刚好接触了家酿。”

一份因热爱开始的事业,就这样走过了21年。

A dynamic duo

叠石为山

Though their partnership has evolved over the course of a long career, it’s clear that some traits remain constant.

We give them a few options to analogize the way they relate to each other. Is it a good cop / bad cop scenario? Is he the Wayne to your Garth? The Lucy to your Ethel?

They finally settle on Han Solo and Chewbacca. While Greg is ready to run all over kingdom come with his big ideas, Steve is there to bring Greg back down to Planet Earth and the task at hand. Watching them interact, you can almost see in your mind’s eye Han Solo hatching a crazy plan while Chewbacca stands by, yowling and shaking his head with worry. (To be fair, if the comparison were based on facial hair alone, Greg and his beard would surely take the Chewy role.)

Like all great partnerships, Greg and Steve function best as a pair. While Steve keeps a steady hand on the reins, Greg leads the charge off into the wild blue beer yonder.

很难用只字片语形容Greg和Steve的关系,仅仅一席之间,就能看出长年合作让彼此心照不宣的默契。但也正是这种默契,让两人在镜头前有些尴尬,仿佛不知如何用语言表达一个眼神本可以传达的意思。

许多媒体常常将Stone的两个创始人形容为“黑猫/白猫”,“红脸/白脸”,甚至于“幕前/幕后”的协作关系。但当Greg说:“我有一个精酿梦,Steve的工作就是让我的梦想成真。当然他也是那个,在我发动攻击的时候,告诉我不要浪费子弹的家伙。” 我们终于知道,一个安如磐石的角色,在这场战役里的重要性。

The Stone personality

石破天惊

Building a brand is a little bit like birthing a child. You do your best to raise it right, to help it become everything you aspire for it to be. For some companies, a brand grows out of control, into the prodigal child. Greg, Steve and their team have been more fortunate. They’ve cultivated a grown-up brand that truly reflects their values, their hopes and their dreams. How did they pull it off?

Their strategy, it seems, has been to stick to no “strategy” at all.

If that’s the case, then what does the Stone brand boil down to?

“As a beer geek, what would I want?” Greg says.

There’s absolutely no crowd-pleasing happening here. There’s no catering to the masses. There’s only brewing beers that, as Greg puts it, “we’re really stoked about personally.”

“What if we just told the truth, what if we were transparent, what if we just did what we believed in?”

Apparently listening to their inner beer geeks paid off, even when it was painful at times. They recall the early days when the world was shocked by strong, hoppy ales, when their volumes were low and they had no choice but to distribute their own beers. The result of self-distribution - and helping other small breweries distribute once Stone got on their own two feet - hasn’t just been about survival. It’s granted Stone control over their own destiny.

如果说Stone诞生之初的90年代,美国啤酒市场打的尚且是“风味战”,那21世纪以后,随着四千多家酒厂的崛起,一场益发残酷的“市场战”开始了。许多酒厂尚未成熟便直奔主题:如何顺应消费市场? 然而此时的Stone,偏偏又交出了不一样的答卷:

“何不如实相告?我们只做自己喜欢的啤酒,关市场屁事!”

“消费者永远不知道他们想要什么,直到你把这杯酒端到他们面前。”是不是听起来很耳熟?然而随着Greg一句“作为精酿极客,我知道我们要什么。” Stone经销公司于1997年成立了-- 与Stone瓶啤销售并驾齐驱,同时为多个新进厂牌提供经销渠道,让更多人喝上不同风味的新鲜啤酒。数年间,加州俨然成为了全国甚至世界的精酿圣地。

So...China next?

投石问路

In fact, distribution still has its pains. Even as beer drinkers around the world thirst for a taste of Stone, Greg and Steve don’t compromise over control of their destiny. The demand here in China would be plenty enough to simply throw open a brewhouse or restaurant, or allow distributors to hawk their bottles and kegs across the country. But they won’t do it that way.

“We’re focused on doing it right,” says steady Steve. “We’re choosing a slower path to growth here, but that’s fine with us.” The beer will get here when it can get here the right way: With a verifiably full cold chain to make sure that every sip is fresh.

So, craft beer drinkers of China: patience is a virtue. Besides, the longer the waiting, the sweeter the sip. (Or hoppier, as it were.)

这一次的中国之行,Stone带来了14款空运生啤+6款限量瓶啤,破了中国精酿史上多个记录。从南加到北京,直线距离9600公里,船运航程最短约需两周。然而我们喝到的这批Stone新鲜生啤,灌装日期都是10月。Stone空运到港的这批酒,比当年马可波罗进贡的大饼可有诚意多了。

如此大手笔,不难让人期待酒厂接下来的大动作。然而Steve的一番话仿佛当头冷水:“我们要慢慢来,虽然已经找到了把酒新鲜运到中国的诀窍,但是每一步都有可能出错,必须经过一段时间严格测试。”

How will they win over China?

他山之石,可攻玉否

A lot of money has been spent (and wasted) on localizing brands for the Chinese consumer. Stone says: fuck it.

“We’re ensuring all of the qualitative standards, and we’re putting the beer in front of you,” says Greg. “It’s up to you whether you like it or not.” (Now we’re starting to understand the ‘Arrogant Bastard’ name.)

Greg’s complete and total rejection of the notion of modifying the Stone ‘message’ for the audience - Chinese or American, male or female - is the keystone of the Stone brand.

Perhaps that’s the great irony of this whole conversation. As Greg and Steve continue to draw from their wellspring of pure love for their craft to respond to our questions on marketing strategies - “Just the beer ma’am, and nothing but” - we can’t help but wonder, isn’t this their brand? A true, proud, and unfettered dedication to making beer they love?

(仅上海站就有超过200位粉丝及啤酒爱好者参与当天的Stone活动。Over 200 Stone fans and beer enthusiasts joined the Stone China Tour in Shanghai.)

中国市场是否真如期待般蓬勃,尚且不得而知。但Stone的入市,也许是不少精酿人隧道尽头的光芒。随着小酒厂不断被天价收购的消息,慢慢放下戒心而拥抱资本的精酿人,能否坚守当初的信念,为独立与多样性而战

“我们保证不惜一切酿造好啤酒,喜不喜欢,那是你的选择。不管是男是女,是老是少,我们相信好的品味是相同的。”21年过后,市场印证了Stone创始人Greg的这番信念。中国有耐心走过另一个21载吗?谁又将是中国精酿的精神领袖?这一切却都是Stone无法解答的问题。

Fighting the power

衔石填海

It’s a rare person who has the privilege to pursue their passion and make a living without compromising on their art. It’s a veritable miracle that Greg and Steve have been able to grow theirs into to one of the world’s most beloved beer brands.

Can this growth for true craft beer continue? Can others succeed in the same path Stone has trail blazed?

“We’re always under threat,” Greg leaps to say while Steve shakes his head in earnest agreement.

Over twenty years later, and both Greg and Steve are still in the trenches of this fight.

“The forces of commerce go towards the lowest common denominator,” Greg explains. “Even when a movement hits a high point, the industrialized system wants to buy it, make it cheaper, and make a lot of money off of it.”

But the boys aren’t giving up any time soon. Stone will continue to fight the good fight. And Greg and Steve hope the history books remember them that way.

“I want people to say, ‘They fucking brought it,’” fantasizes Greg.

“They brought it, they cared - they never stopped caring. In fact, they held onto it with a care that turned their knuckles white.”

“If we work a few more years,” Steve imagines, “they’ll say ‘Stone: they brought it, but they forgot where they put it.’”

Cheers to many more years of Steve, Greg and Stone leading the fight for real craft beer.

千锤万凿出深山,烈火焚烧若等闲。

时间,仿佛是Stone给我们唯一的答案。21年很短,可是21年也很长啊。我们最后的问题是-- “历史要怎样记住你们呢?”

“我要世人说,‘这帮家伙做到了’” Greg 抢先说--

“他们做到了,他们握紧双拳直到指尖发白。他们不遗余力,因为世间再没人比他们在乎。”

“无需数载,历史终将忘记Stone所做的一切,我们也行将老去。” Steve说完,两人相视一笑。

杯中有酒,无需多言。期待下个二十一年。干杯Stone!

ABOUT STONE BREWING

Founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, Stone Brewing has come a long way since opening up in San Diego, California in 1996. We have been listed on the Inc. 500 | 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies list 11 times, and has been called the “All-time Top Brewery on Planet Earth” by BeerAdvocate magazine twice. Stone Brewing is the ninth-largest craft brewer in the U.S. and with our breweries in Richmond, Virginia & Berlin, Germany, we join artisanal brewers across the world in the quest to show the public that there are more…and better…choices beyond the world of industrial beer.

For more info, please visit: www.stonebrewing.com

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