Stone Brewing Berlin on a recent Saturday
Stone Brewing announced this week that it would be closing its brewery in Berlin. The announcement cited insufficient business, and also discussed the problems the company had in getting the brewery constructed in the first place. Greg Koch, the Stone Brewing CEO, said in his blog post announcing the move, that “the construction industry in Berlin is broken” and that the many delays in construction cost the company time and money (and, judging from the tone of the post, considerable aggravation). The long-delayed construction of the new Berlin-Brandenburg airport would seem to provide evidence for Koch’s assertion. That would seem to be supported as well by the growing housing crisis in the city.
On the other hand, I suspect cultural factors are at play as well. Germans have a long and proud tradition of beer brewing (and beer drinking). Traditionally, beer from the US has been seen as clearly inferior to German brews. There was a big uproar in Germany at the 2006 World Cup when only Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser (an official sponsor) was proposed to be served at the games. In fact, until the craft beer movement of the last decade, Budweiser was representative of the quality of US beers, that is, clearly inferior to German beer. The booming craft beer industry in the US has changed that situation, with American beers now winning many international awards. Craft breweries tend to experiment and innovate with small batch releases; they produce a wide variety of beers from strong IPA’s (with many Northeast and Brut styles recently) to sours (gose) and Belgian styles such as saisons. I suspect that a common German reaction to Stone’s coming to Berlin was why would they, in effect, want to bring coal to Newcastle, i.e. offer (inferior) American beer to compete with (superior) German beer. That impression of inferiority was likely strengthened by the fact that Stones was making their beer available in cans. In Germany serious beer comes in bottles.
I visited the Berlin Stone brewery when I was in Berlin last month. In talking to the bartender there, he admitted that they were having trouble breaking through to German beer drinkers, who by and large know what they like and that is traditional German lager or Hefeweizen, not the stronger and more flavorful craft beers. He told me he was married to a German and had several times taken over Stone beer to his father-in-law, who had no interest in even trying it. When I visited the brewery, the very large restaurant and multiple bars were nearly empty – on a Saturday. The bartender also told me that part of the delay in construction was because the building was historic, an old Gasworks from 1901, and so they had special regulations to adhere to in doing renovation. Stone’s has a brewery here in Richmond and they have run up against a similar issue in starting work on transforming an old James River terminal into a restaurant. Meanwhile, the company just opened a taproom in Shanghai. It remains to be seen how Chinese beer drinkers will react to Stone IPA and the company’s other brews. Interestingly, the Chinese beer most consider the best is from the Tsingtao Brewery, founded in 1903 by – German settlers.
If you see beer being poured over someone’s feet, what would be your reaction? In Thailand, this is disparaging action and part of a protest against a prominent beer brand, Singha. It’s not a protest concerning the quality of the product – Singha is a well-known brand. It concerns comments from Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, 28, the Singha beer heiress who was quoted last month in a widely circulated article saying that many Thais lack a “true understanding” of democracy, “especially in the rural areas.” This comes from a NY Times article published this week-end. She was reacting to the continued support for the current government, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, brother of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, from Thais in the poor, rural areas of the country. The Singha heiress is part of the group trying to oust the Prime Minister. In contrast to what one normally expects from protests – namely a call for more democracy, the rich and powerful in Thailand are calling for less democracy, “The demonstrators want a hiatus from democracy, replacing it with rule by a ‘people’s council’ selected from various professions in the country. Many say they yearn for a return to the absolute monarchy because Thailand is not ready for democracy.”
The Thai protest against the government is reminiscent of last year’s action in Egypt, ousting a legally and democratically elected leader, President Mohamed Morsi. Of course, the situation in Thailand and Egypt are quite different, but they do point to a worrisome trend, away from changing leaders through elections, and instead forcing them out through a military coup or other actions.
Chip Butty – not at the Olympics!
Big bucks win over cultural preferences. There’s a ruckus in England over food at the 2012 Olympics, specifically the well-beloved Chips (French Fries). Seems that McDonald’s as an official sponsor has exclusive rights to sell fries at the Olympics. Only approved exception is fish and chips, no luck if you feel like sausage and chips, egg and chips, lasagna and chips, steak and chips or even the famous chip sandwich (Chip Butty, popular in York). Part of the problem is that the skinny McD’s fries are not the style the Brits like – they prefer fat and greasy.
Reminds me of the uproar in Germany at the 2006 World Cup when originally only Budweiser (an official sponsor) was allowed to be served at the games being played in Germany, quite a slap in the face to German beer drinkers. There is actually an excellent Budweiser beer, however it’s not the Anheuser-Busch brew but rather the original Budweiser from Budvar, in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately for beer drinkers, the relationship between the FIFA, which puts on the World Cup, and Anheuser-Busch InBev recently was extended to 2022. It remains to be seen, however, if beer will even be served at the 2014 championship in Brazil, since beer at soccer stadiums there has been banned since 2003 (too much alcohol-fueled violence). Same ban applies in Russia, the sponsor for 2018.
Side note: There will be a new world’s largest McDonald’s for the London Olympics, taking over from the McDonald’s in Pushkin Square, Moscow. I visited that McD’s a couple of years ago – quite an operation there. I went to have an American breakfast – which I have to say I enjoyed immensely, as a break from Russian food. I have to admit as well that I have also visited the second busiest McD’s world-wide – at the Karlstor in Munich. I enjoyed the chance to have a beer with my “Royale with Cheese”.
Today I ate at J.W. Chen’s in South Bend, Indiana. After being seated, the waitress asked if she could bring me something to drink. I ordered the standard Chinese beer imported to the US, “Tsingtao” but used the standard Mandarin pronunciation for 青岛 which is Qīngdǎo. A little later, the owner/chef came out of the kitchen, sat down at my table, asked me what kinds of Chinese food I liked, and suggested a couple of dishes not on the menu. Something similar happened to me a while back at an Asian restaurant in Richmond, where I was eating lunch with my then boss. I again ordered Qīngdǎo. Shortly thereafter, the waiter broght out eating utensils for us, a fork for my boss, and chopsticks for me. Chinese people are so surprised (and delighted) when Westerners try to speak their language and even occassionally get the tones right (a rare occurrence for me), that their perception of you and attitude may change significantly.