Did Stone Brewing’s Berlin Beer Rally Send the Wrong Message?

stone-berlin-beer-bashingStone Brewing Company recently announced it’s opening the first American-owned craft brewery in Europe, located in an old gasworks facility in Berlin.
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As part of the announcement, a group of beer fans and European craft brewers gathered in front of the brewery’s main building and cheered as Greg Koch used a forklift to drop a huge boulder (you know, a Stone) on top a pyramid of watery European pilsners and lagers.
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The intended symbolism was clear; Stone will crush traditional mass-produced European beers.  But what about the unintended symbolism?
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While on the surface it seemed like a fairly harmless way to celebrate American craft beer’s first beachhead on European soil, the act of destruction may have said more than Stone intended.
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It’s not in the spirit of craft beer
beer-bashStone posted a gallery of pictures documenting the event on their Facebook page, and amongst the majority of people who thought the act was fun and harmless, there were a few who thought it didn’t reflect the craft beer ethos of “may the best beer win.”
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“Nothing like promoting your brand by putting others down.” posted one beer geek.  “Stuff like this that will make me turn my back on a brewery,” said another.  Thoughts like these could be found in other places across Facebook, where users had shared the gallery on their own walls.
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It appears to be a waste of funds for a brewery begging for cash
Others on Facebook took issue with the fact that Stone has launched an Indegogo campaign to raise a million dollars to help expedite the brewery’s construction, yet they have the funds to publicize the beer-bashing, gather the crowd, and play with boulders.
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“Enough money for this stunt but still asking the public for a million to fund the new brewery?” asked one frugal Facebooker.
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While it likely cost very little to try and make a splash with the locals, some Stone fans seem to be counting every penny, which is a little silly – this was at the launch event for the brewery, a hugely important occasion to let the world know Stone has landed.  It’s money well spent.
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It’s a little historically tone-deaf
A bunch of Americans once came to Berlin to “crush” the competition.  Sound familiar?  While it’s a stretch to compare smashing a bunch of beers to World War II, it’s perhaps not the best metaphor to introduce your All-American product to Germany.  Also, there’s something a little foreboding about a crowd of people rallying in Berlin to symbolically destroy products whose ideology they don’t agree with.  They did that 75 years ago in Germany – I saw it in an Indiana Jones movie.
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greg-riles-crowdI’m not saying that this little stunt was in any way close to a Nazi book burning (that’s a little dramatic!) or that it may have dredged up the horrors of World War II, but choosing to exclaim their arrival in such a manner gives the impression that Stone may be stone deaf when it comes to understanding the history and culture of the market they’ve just entered.
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Have the locals by, share some beers, talk about bringing bold flavors to Europe, roast a pig, plant a cherry tree, go wild, be rebels, whatever.  There are lots of ways to announce you’ve arrived without going beer bowling with a boulder.  As a matter of fact, this little gag was a tiny part of Greg’s well-crafted message at the event (you can read his speech here), and he could’ve made just as big of a splash without it.
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Stone will be Stone
All-in-all, I think this was a harmless little bit of fun, a chance for a brewery whose beers have words like “arrogant” and “self-righteous” in their names to introduce their swaggering, irreverent attitude to market full of conservative and traditional products.
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But they should be thoughtful about how they express themselves as they enter an entirely new culture – sometimes when you seek as much attention as Stone does, you attract the wrong kind.
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So what do you think?  Was this a cool way to introduce ze Germans to Stone’s punk-rock attitude?  A waste of beer?  In poor taste?  Exploitative of boulders? As always, let us know below!

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Categories: Beer, News

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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31 Comments on “Did Stone Brewing’s Berlin Beer Rally Send the Wrong Message?”

  1. billmilton
    August 1, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    I am never a fan of saying other products are bad as opposed to highlighting your own product…that said while the stunt was harmless I cannot see how it helped a European city not think of the proverbial “ugly American” running roughshod over their culture…
    Tell us why your brews are better…not put down your competition…

    • August 1, 2014 at 10:39 am #

      Hadn’t considered the “Ugly American” angle, but I should have!

      • August 1, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

        Running roughshod over their culture or their corporate beer culture?

        • August 1, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

          Whatever Euro Disney did…

  2. August 1, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    As a German lover of (some) German beers I don’t feeel offended by this stunt at all, but others may feel differently. “We are the new kids on the block and we will destroy what we don’t like” is the subliminal message, and this is not really a way to enter a competitive market. Yes, most mass produced German beers really are boring and watery. But don’t forget that most of the countless German traditional breweries are fairly small and could never have the international exposure some US or UK “craft beers” have…. . And as you righlty pointed out, Berlin is a very tricky place because of all the symbolism that may be associated here.

    • August 1, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      Stone actually had their event coordinator take a poll to see what people across Europe thought the best European beers were, and those were the ones Stone smashed. It’s one thing to say “try our beer – we think you’ll like it better than your favorite” and “your favorite beer sucks and should be CRUSHED BY A BOULDER!” One is engaging and persuasive, the other is a little grating and ugly.

  3. August 1, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    Like Bill said, my immediate reaction when seeing this was “ugly american.” Could have pulled off the same stunt and conveyed “stone likes crushing fizzy yellow beers” with a pile of American macros and avoided the entire “your favorite German beers suck” message. While the later message may be true, I’m not entirely sure that’s the best way to enter a foreign market and attract the locals.

    • August 1, 2014 at 11:57 am #

      Which, if I had read your post right above mine is basically what you just said, Jim. Glad we agree. :)

      • August 1, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

        Yes, you damn near quoted me, Chad!

    • August 1, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

      I like the “forget what you know about American beers!” approach better, because it’s not threatening anyone’s traditions while still sending a strong message.

  4. August 1, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    Like a little economic imperialism with your beer?

    Also, there are a lot of damn good German beers still being brewed. Are they saying those aren’t up to US standards? I’d take issue with that.

    • August 1, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      I think they’re not saying anything – they’re screaming “HERE COME THE ARROGANT AMERICANS!!!” and because their beer is good, they’ll probably do just fine.

    • August 1, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      I knew it would happen. Every time I read a post that compares American beers to German (sometimes British or Belgian), there’s always one guy who laughs it off as absurdity. “I was in Germany for a month this one time during college and there’s no way an American brewery can match what the Germans have been doing for centuries.” [goes back to sipping his skunked rice-adjunct lager from a green bottle]

      Look, I get that Germany has a long history of brewing, but German brewers are not nearly as adept at innovation in craft beer as Americans. I’m so tired of Germany getting all this credit for brewing great beer when their industrial swill is as bad as the other industrial swill on the market, Germans prefer Budweiser, and they have such stodgy brewing regulations.

      (Not meant as an attack on massage. This is just an issue that’s bothered me for a while.)

      • August 1, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

        German beers in Germany are glorious if you choose wisely, which means avoiding the “industrial swill” variety (the regional and local goodies are extremely enjoyable, especially when paired with local cuisine). While they lack the creativity and flair of American beers, they’re still decent, and don’t deserve to be crushed by a hermit with a forklift.

        • August 1, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

          I get that, but those weren’t the beers he crushed. In fact, I would bet money that Koch enjoys German craft beer as well.

        • August 1, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

          According to the written version of his speech, they were beers that people in Europe said were their favorites when polled by Stone’s event manager, not necessarily just Euro macro beers. It was “tell us your favorite beer and we’ll drop a boulder on it.”

      • August 1, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

        *massugu

        • August 1, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

          Thanks for clarifying – I thought you were just being pro rubdown.

  5. Rick M
    August 1, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Arrogance is the right word. Snobbery too, “You are stupid if you like that beer.”

    • August 1, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

      Yes, but Snobby Bastard sounds more like a wine, no? ;)

  6. August 1, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    Stone makes “Arrogant Bastard.” This stunt is totally in line with their ethos. And who cares?!

    • August 1, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

      Only thing is “Arrogant Bastard” could very well translate into ‘Ugly American” in German.

  7. August 2, 2014 at 6:50 am #

    I think the people of Berlin that care about craft beer/Stone brewing are just excited for Stone’s arrival and more local options, regardless of what he smashed. From the summaries I’ve seen, German press has been mostly positive – one article dubbed Greg as ‘beer jesus’. Article about German press reaction:

    http://beergraphs.com/bg/501-den-stein-ins-rollen-bringen-stone-brewing-in-berl/

    I think Stone got way more pushback from Americans about the indiegogo than they’re getting from this.

  8. August 2, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    Is it plausible that creating the image of “those arrogant Americans” could be a perfect branding opportunity for stone? I mean, Americans are perceived as arrogant and, well-indelicate, more often than not. Perhaps Stone is simply embracing the stereotype and running with it-it could possibly work, especially for those in Germany who don’t like their own culture. Every country (except perhaps America), has a great deal of self-doubt and is critical of itself. People may embrace Stone as the American rep. I’m not saying I like it, and as a Canadian I can finger-wag at the American aggressive culture, but while everyone in the world raves against it, we all kinda want a piece of it, since it is what has made America so very successful. This may be overcomplicating the idea of branding, but some brands are complex.

  9. August 2, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    The fact that we’re discussing this at such length means to me that the gimmick was successful. It could be argued that there’s no such thing as bad press. I agree with The Aspiring Gentleman that it is the perfect branding for Stone.

    I don’t think we should give Stone so much credit for creating a symbol of the “ugly American.” Americans are viewed as ugly already all over the world and I don’t think Stone has so much influence that they would either make the stereotype worse or have the opportunity to change it for the better. They will make great beer, without being beholden to the archaic German purity law, and will probably do quite well in Berlin as a result. It’s really all about the beer after all and not the fleeting, arrogant bastard gimmicks – which should probably just be taken with a sense of humor and a grain of salt.

    And enough with bringing up WWII every time Germany is involved! It was a dark time for Germany and the Germans I’ve spoken with seem to want to put this time behind them and move on. This analogy to WWII is simply ghost-symbolism – a result of sensitive, over-analytical American thinking, not reality.

  10. August 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    Reblogged this on THAT DANG OL' SHOW and commented:
    Never apologize for being great. Or American. .

  11. August 4, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    Could Stone have worked with the State Department on German intel first? With all the spying we are doing, surely Stone could have made a better decision.

  12. Ronaldo
    August 6, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    Stone is more mass produced than some of the beer smashed. Unnecessary stunt…

  13. August 7, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    The best craft beer is the beer you’re not drinking.

  14. August 31, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    @Jim, I appreciate the job you guys do in helping to continue the discussion of great beer (and sometimes not-so-great beer). I’m a fan of your work.

    Forgive me for being so late to the party! I have only just this morning come across this blog post (a month late), and read with interest the blog post and resulting comments.

    Thought I might add a couple clarifying comments of my own:

    * The beer smashed, as identified in the speech, was a selection of INTERNATIONAL industrial beer, including examples from America, Asia, and other European countries. It was NOT focused on German beer. Only industrial beers were on the stack.

    * Those commenting that it was principally Americans that were in a tizzy about the not-so-serious stunt are correct. The German audience (incl newspapers, and commenters) largely got the symbolism just fine. The symbolism I was going for was to smash the ‘idea’ of what so much of the populace thinks is ‘beer.’ Americans commenters were the quickest to throw out the terms “ugly American” and “Arrogant Bastard”…c’mon, it’s the name on TWO of the 74 different beers we brewed last year, and not even our biggest seller…people are a bit quick to view every single thing we do or say at Stone through the Arrogant Bastard lense, and I think anyone actually reading the speech would see that it was not arrogant at all, and that there was nothing ugly American about it.

    @Jim, in a comment post you recommend avoiding what you call “industrial swill” and then in the next sentence say that it doesn’t “deserve to be crushed by a hermit with a forklift.” I’d posit that if it’s worthy of being called ‘swill’ then it’s worthy of being crushed. Oh, and I’m not a hermit. Not exactly. Just fuzzy. ;-]-= I did find your blog post to be mostly balanced. As with most comments / reviews around a month ago, there is a bit of an over-focus IMO on the boulder drop, with at best a passing nod at the real message, but I realize we live in a youtube world and that’s what happens when people only watch the ‘attention getting bit.’

    * WWII references (which, as a commenter @Tanisha above nailed it in saying: “And enough with bringing up WWII every time Germany is involved! It was a dark time for Germany and the Germans I’ve spoken with seem to want to put this time behind them and move on. This analogy to WWII is simply ghost-symbolism – a result of sensitive, over-analytical American thinking, not reality.”).

    * @Zac – You nailed it. I am a big fan of countless non-industrial German beers. I just wish they were easier to find in Germany. Specialty and artisanal German beers are often FAR easier to find in the average American specialty beer shop than they are in the average German beer shop. That’s a shame.

    * I learned an important lesson with the IndieGoGo campaign: Sell beer, and offer up how you’ll spend some of the money earned = pissing off some folks. On the other hand, sell beer and don’t say a word about how you’ll spend the money earned = everybody happy. Interesting. Ultimately, those watching will notice that we responded by simplifying everything and removing the references to how we’d spend money…and we ended up with IndieGoGo’s highest earning event in their history. Go figure. My learning moment: Keep it simple Greg!

    * For those that have not actually read the speech…and I realize that many folks would rather just comment on a minute of antics rather than on the actual core message…please consider giving it a gander to understand what we were really going for. Or not. Totally your call.

    Cheers! -Greg Koch.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Drop It Like a Stone….. In Berlin | Brew Saga - August 3, 2014

    […] An interesting take on Stones current situation by the guys at Beer and Whiskey Brothers. […]

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