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As Koch Steps Down, He Expects New Stone CEO To Continue ‘Amazing’ Journey

Stone Brewing’s new chief executive officer officially starts Tuesday. However, before the changing of the guard, KPBS spoke with Stone’s co-founder and current CEO, Greg Koch.

Photo by KPBS Staff

Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing, talks about his company's success in this undated photo.

San Diego’s Stone Brewing has a motto: “Be amazing!” Staying true to that motto has allowed for the company to develop its lush one-acre beer garden at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido, among many other accomplishments, according to Koch.

"Literally, any decision, small, medium or large ... the question to yourself, what is the more amazing thing to do? The more amazing answer, the more sustainable, the more quality, etc. — do that. There you go,” Koch said. “Do that. And that helps us be amazing and that helps us be what we've grown into."

That is also how Koch and his partner, Steve Wagner, have grown Stone from a microbrewery to one of the largest craft-beer companies in the world.

Stone was started 20 years ago by Wagner — a former home brewer and Stone's first brewmaster — and Koch, a self-described beer geek and entrepreneur. Koch said it's their passion for making good beer that has guided them since the beginning.

Stone, which employees more than 1,200 people, is still growing. Last year, Stone brewed more than 325,000 barrels of beer — a 13.4 percent increase over 2014.

In addition to a 12,000-square-foot brewery and restaurant in Escondido, Stone has an even bigger location in Point Loma. The craft brewer also has a presence in Pasadena and Richmond, Virginia. Its Berlin, Germany location opened in December.

Koch said no project is too big for Stone Brewing.

“We have these qualitative standards that we have set and they are in stone and unmovable,” he said. “So as long as we approach every expansion and every project with that ideal, we're good. And we have — and I think the proof is in the pudding — that we kept those standards pretty well."

Now, Stone is bringing those standards to the hospitality industry with the announcement of the Stone Hotel project.

“We're going to bring a lot of what we've learned as far as really great hospitality, creating those 'wow' moments for people,” he said.

Koch said Stone has been growing an average of 40 percent year over year. But, he said, that's in no way an indication that they're getting closer to selling out to big beer.

"I will never sell out to big beer,” Koch said. “You can count on that."

He thinks of craft beer as a revolution of quality and said Stone is more about the art of making quality beer, not marketing numbers.

Photo caption: A photo shows the 1996 opening of Stone Brewing.

Photo credit: Greg Koch

A photo shows the 1996 opening of Stone Brewing.

Koch has been at the helm since Stone opened in San Diego in 1996. Now, he said, he's piloted the business side of the company as far as he can take it. He wants to focus on the art, taste, color and layers that make a beer Stone.

Koch is handing the business reins to Dominic Engels, who does not come from the world of hops. Engels ran the European and Middle East operation for pomegranate juice-maker POM Wonderful and Wonderful Pistachios. Most recently, Engels served as president of POM Wonderful.

Koch and Wagner are counting on Engels to take Stone farther than the two of them: friends who built an international brand out of their mutual appreciation for good beer. Koch said it all started by using the business plan of simply "be amazing."

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