San Diego craft beer legends Stone Brewing recently opened a brewery in Berlin, Germany located somewhere between the sprawling neighborhoods of Mariendorf and Lankwitz. While the focus is unashamedly on beer, beer's focus has never been more attuned to coffee, events like the annual Good Beer Hunting Uppers & Downers coffee beer festival can attest. Here in Berlin, Stone has teamed up with local roaster Five Elephant Coffee to supply coffee for a variety of new brewing projects—and surely to taste a brew or two along the way. I wanted to get in on the tasting as well, so I sat down to talk with both sides about collaboration and craft.
Situated on a former gasworks facility, Stone Berlin started production in September last year and opened in April with the launch of their Library Bar, though construction of the restaurant and beer garden continues. At present, there are 25 beer taps with Stone beer from Berlin and the US, plus rotating guest craft beers, other beverages, food, and coffee supplied by Five Elephant.
While craft beer “still is a new concept for many Germans,” says Clinton Doiron, Associate Service Manager at Stone Berlin, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. The brewery is located in a convergence of neighborhoods in what was once West Berlin, a residential area that skews a bit older in terms of population—this is not the youthful bacchanal of Neukölln or Kreuzberg. Many neighbors are excited to see it open nearby, Doiron tells me, and several have visited repeatedly to work through the entire beer list.
While Germany is renowned for beer, many of the country's brews are produced in mass quantities by corporate entities. Stone is a fiercely independent beer company, and in fact, Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch is leading the charge for craft breweries to receive investment without “selling out” via his True Craft angel investment firm. Here at Stone Berlin, this results in an offering of flavors that are far outside the norm for typical beer in Berlin. To start, the Stone IPA (6.9% ABV) has a grapefruit and orange rind aroma and smooth but distinct mouthfeel that Doiron describes as “piney or resin.” The Stone Cali-Belgique IPA (6.9%) tastes of banana and stone fruit, with a pleasant citrus aftertaste. The Stone Vanilla Porter (5.9%) has an aroma of vanilla and malt, combined with a lingering sweetness. I finished with an Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2%) with notes of passion fruit and toasted malt, and the Stone Ruination Double IPA (8.5%) which had a mild aroma of grapes and apple, but an intensely bitter aftertaste. All these, plus runs of special batches, are brewed throughout the year in Berlin.
One brew worth a closer look is the elaborately named “Stone Xocoveza for the Holidays & the New Year”. Inspired by Mexican hot chocolate, this mocha stout was brewed using Five Elephant's Guatemala La Dulce Memoria coffee, cacao nibs, and spices. The Berlin version was first brewed last year and Doiron vividly describes it as having a cinnamon-like spiciness. It isn't available right now, but another Xocoveza will be brewed and released in late 2016. It's a perfect German-Mexican American Christmas beer.
The connection between Stone Berlin and Five Elephant began last year after Greg Koch, Stone Brewing CEO and co-founder, reached out after getting to know their coffee. At first, they were asked to develop the coffee program for the new brewery, explains Kristopher Schackman, owner and head roaster at Five Elephant. Before long, they were selected to supply the coffee being added to the first Berlin brew—the Stone Xocoveza.
In speaking to Doiron and Schackman, it is clear why the Stone team felt an affinity for Five Elephant. Stone Brewing is committed to running a socially responsible business, using regional and organic suppliers where possible, and saw a similar dedication in the coffee roaster. Schackman has found responsible coffee sourcing to be a topic with its own critical challenges. For the last five years, Five Elephant has been working with Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza (FAF) in Brazil, who are working to establish a sustainability index for coffee sourcing. Over the next year, a team of FAF and Five Elephant staff will start collecting data and testing the index. The careful selection of suppliers is a cornerstone issue for both companies.
American-born Schackman is the perfect fit for a project like Stone Berlin, here in this very international city of expats and fellow travelers. The collaboration is not only a matter of combined dedication to taste, but highlights for both sides the importance of the challenges of sustainability, independence, and a shared commitment to constant improvement of both product and process—something all of Berlin can surely raise a glass to.
Ben Johnston is a freelance writer and photographer. This is Ben Johnston's first feature for Sprudge.