This summer has been full of interesting expansion news from several California breweries, including Lagunitas in Petaluma — which recently opened a Chicago tasting room — and Sierra Nevada, which has an expansive North Carolina brewery that is already releasing product.
But none of the announcements made in the last month have been more historic, ambitious and exciting than the moves two San Diego breweries are making, not just on the other side of the country, but on the other side of the world.
The first comes from Stone Brewing Company — the 18-year-old Escondido powerhouse with an empire of company stores and taprooms — which recently announced plans to open a two-acre brewery and restaurant complex in Berlin, Germany. The second comes from Stone's San Diego neighbor Green Flash Brewery, which starting this month will be releasing to the European market fresh batches of its signature West Coast IPA, brewed and bottled at old-world Belgian brewery St. Feuillien.
Though Stone will be the first American craft brewery to make a direct investment in building infrastructure overseas, both breweries' plans to bring hoppy, SoCal beers to European consumers signal a dramatic shift in once-traditional palates and are indicators of the now-global dominance of American craft beer.
According to the Brewers Association, American exports of craft beer to Europe increased 46% between 2012 and 2013, a huge jump compared to growth from the previous year, when exports grew by only 5.6%. These numbers might explain why some of America's largest craft brands are now developing strategies to increase their presence in the world's most historic beer countries, some of which have themselves influenced the American take on the craft.
“Stone’s future European home will serve as the company’s international hub; a central location promoting goodwill and quality craft beer spanning the globe,” said Stone President and co-founder Steve Wagner. “With this expansion comes our commitment to brewing bold, aggressive, hop-forward beers in a country with a long history rooted in the art of brewing.”
For Green Flash, creating a partnership with a world-class Belgian brewery was the logical next step in their efforts to satiate growing demand for fresh American-style IPAs, which in addition to not traveling well (the hops lose luster within a month of brewing, and it can sometimes take even longer than that for a keg to get to Europe from California), are far more citrusy and bitter than their European counterparts.
After collaborating with St. Feuillien on several special-release beers over the years, Green Flash asked if they could work together to brew batches of their year-round West Coast IPA. For the last year, Brewmaster Chuck Silva has been traveling to Belgium to perfect the recipe with imported ingredients. The first 240 hectoliters (204 barrels) of West Coast IPA are currently in bottles and kegs being shipped to countries including the U.K., Norway, Denmark, Italy, Germany and France. It's the first batch of fresh IPAs to be brewed by an American brewery in Europe.
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“We’ve been pursuing European distribution of West Coast IPA for some time, however the obvious challenges in delivering fresh IPA to the region have been a huge roadblock,” says Mike Hinkley. “After testing various export scenarios on a small scale, it became apparent that the quality of our IPA when transported to Europe was not ideal and cost-prohibitive for consumers. We were not satisfied with the customer experience and felt we had to come up with a better solution.”
Stone's Berlin outpost won't be ready for customers until late 2015, but construction is already underway to convert the old 1901 gasworks plant into a second version of the company's sprawling Escondido complex, including another Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens location as well as a massive packaging and distribution center.