On Thursday, June 13, Barley’s bar and restaurant in Greenville was officially awarded the title of Most Arrogant Bar in the U.S., a title bestowed annually by the Stone Brewing Co. to the bar that sells the most amount of a certain number of Stone beers. To celebrate the occasion, Barley’s tapped more than 30 rare and unique Stone kegs, and Stone CEO and Co-founder Greg Koch flew in from San Diego to present the plaque and greet fellow craft beer fans.
During his visit, Koch sat down with me for an hour-long interview on a variety of subjects related to the craft beer scene. In the second installment of that interview, I ask Koch about his recent comments on the shandy craze and get an epic earful in return.
Getting into your likes and dislikes, there’s been a lot of Internet chatter lately regarding your thoughts on shandies …
(Laughs heartily, then remarks “He laughs heartily.”) Can I set the record straight on that?
By all means, please do.
People spend way too much time on what they think I said rather than what I actually said. What I actually said was, that if you look at stats, if you pull back to the 50- or the 100,000-foot-view, and you pull back to the 10-year trend view, I think we’ll see that adulterated, sugar-added, flavorings-added beer styles are not what moves the beer industry forward. Instead, at a minimum it risks, but I think probably the sad reality is that it actually affects a negative change because we’re teaching folks that beer is something to be adulterated.
Look, for every single time that I will make a comment like that, then there’s a flurry of comments from people that give me anecdotal examples of, “Well, what about X, Y or Z did?” And these are maybe all perhaps legitimate examples. Like, if I would say something about adding fruit to beer. Well, hello, there are some amazing examples of traditional, really well-executed, amazingly deep, complex beers that have fruit in them, right? And I would consider myself amongst the enthusiasts. So, generally what I’m talking about is the lowest common denominator version. And of course in Twitter land, it’s hard to get all the caveats, right? That’s the nature of it. Most people understand perfectly well.
I consider myself a defender of craft beer, and that doesn’t mean somebody needs to agree with me. It’s fine if you don’t. But just realize that if you consider yourself a defender of craft beer that we’re all working together, and we can work together with somewhat different opinions sometimes, but we’re all trying to … you know, we’re fighting on the common front for access to great beer in our country, and actually in the world. This is a noble pursuit, in my opinion.
I really believe – and please note I just involuntarily put my hand on my chest (Note: He did.) – I really believe that this is a noble pursuit, that this is part of the greater good. If we are collectively working to pull ourselves out of the morass of low expectations, of these industrialized notion of food and beverage in our country. And this is a collective battle that we have to wage for our own salvation. Now, it may sound like I get a little preachy, and I get that because I use some … you know, I channel the fire and brimstone just a little bit, right? It’s just fun. It’s fun, good-natured, irreverent, it’s not to be taken too seriously. I believe the words that I say, but the context is for the little bit of fun in it. But I believe that we are pulling ourselves away from the industrialized notion of food and beverage and drink.
In 1952, when the TV dinner was introduced, it was considered an advancement. Fast forward to 2013. Fortunately, TV dinners are no longer considered anything anywhere close to an advancement. So we’re changing as a society with our expectations, of which craft beer is a part. And because people are so passionate about beer – which is a beautiful thing – beer is one of the tips of the wedge driving through this industrialized, commoditized, lowest common denominatorized world.
Every once in awhile, somebody will comment, “Greg wants to take X away from us,” or, “Greg thinks this.” And I put my head in my hands a little bit and say, “That’s not what it’s about.” I’m fighting for choice, not against choice. And the choice of crappy shit will never go away in our lifetimes, so if you feel like you want to defend crappy shit, you don’t need to because it doesn’t need defending and it will not go away in my lifetime. So, if you’ve got to take up arms against something or someone that wants to try and do something that they personally believe in in defense of crappy, industrialized shit, why are you doing that? It doesn’t require defending.
So, are you of the mind that you should drink what you like, do what you like but be knowledgeable about what you’re enjoying and – if you’re actually going to fight for it – know what you’re fighting for?
Oh, I can feel the Rush quote coming on (laughs). Here it is, baby: “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” And so, you can choose to be led by the nose via the TV or the whatever, or we can choose to follow our own nose and determine for ourselves. So I have this theory – which is unprovable – and that is if you take and imaginary, small, European town 200 to 300 years ago, and by some way we’re able to get inside a time machine … this town is making their own cheese, they’re raising their own cattle and their own sheep and goats and so on, and they make and cure their own meats and brew their own beer and make their own wine, and we get in our time machine and being them our modernized version of fluffy white bread, we bring them our modernized version of hot dogs and bologna and coffee – if they even had coffee, but this is just an imaginary scenario – and beer, and we set up shop, I would be amazed if we weren’t tarred and feathered within 24 hours of arriving from the people saying, “What the hell are you trying to sell us?” Go 200 years ago and try to sell somebody Cheetos and tell them it’s food.
It’s a boiling frog scenario; We’ve come to accept this as our norm. In fact, people defend it as people’s rights. It’s like (Mayor Michael) Bloomberg in New York. One of his initiatives in the past six months or a year has been sodas and the serving size, right? And people say, “Don’t take away my rights.” And I completely agree that we should not be able to take away the rights of the individual. We, as a society or a corporation, should not be able to take away the rights of a teenage or a student or a child … we should not be able to take away their rights to feel good about themselves. We should not take away their rights to be healthy. We should not take away their rights to not have diabetes and heart disease and all these diseases. And we should not take away the right to have self esteem and their ability to pay attention in class. But these rights have been taken from them by policies, Madison Avenue and the products that are being shoved down their throats.
And people are saying, “Oh! Personal responsibility! It’s personal responsibility!” So let’s look at like this (holds up hands like the Scales of Justice): On one hand, we have parents, educators and the local community on one side. They’re not that educated about the issue that often. Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not and sometimes they’re not always cohesive in their message. But when the corporations say, “Wait, this is the responsibility of the parents, the educators, the community to communicate to our children how to live and how to regulate themselves.” Did we just say “children” and “regulate themselves”? OK, fine. So, let’s look on the other hand of the Scales of Justice: We have governmental policies, we have lobbyists, we have subsidies, we have Madison Avenue with rock stars, pop stars, Beyonce, extreme sports stars, all this. Now tell me, if you’re holding your hands together and weighing things out, it’s gonna be like this (raises one hand over the other). Now, tell me your average 14 or 15 year old is well-poised to make decisions about their personal responsibility. Of course not. It’s our duty as adults to help guide them. That’s just society; it’s been that way for thousands of years. It’s just the reality. If we abdicate that responsibility to the television and Madison Avenue, and we say it’s under the guise of “personal responsibility” and “freedom,” that does not equate freedom. That equates being bound by chains, because these things are shown to be addictive.
So then people say, “But what about the slippery slope? Oh, Greg, the next thing you know, they’re going to take away our beer!” Hold on a second. Beer and alcohol are regulated. We have regulations. These regulations actually make sense. I will defend many of these regulations. I don’t agree with 100 percent all the time, but you can’t buy alcohol at any age, you can’t buy alcohol anywhere, you can’t drink it anywhere at any time, right? These are reasonable regulations. Now, I may think that if you’re 18 you should be able to drink, and I might have a different opinion about one particular point, but I don’t have an argument that says we shouldn’t be regulated, because we can look back at a time when we weren’t regulated or the regulations were much looser, and rampant alcoholism in our society was a huge problem. Before Prohibition, getting drunk in the streets was common at 10 a.m. Literally, there were cities and towns and communities that were shutting down because of the level of alcoholism. We might be hanging out here tonight having a beer too many, but we’re not collectively waking up, drinking a fifth of moonshine. And I think we can look at it and go, “Yeah, maybe that’s not so great. Maybe that doesn’t benefit us as an individual and as a society.” And so maybe we need to put regulations in that modify the ability for that to happen.
Stay tuned for the final installment of our interview.