A talk with Greg Koch; plus, the perfect beer for Thanksgiving

Bottles and cans and just clap your hands
By LOU PAPINEAU  |  November 10, 2011

REBEL YELL Koch at Stone.
Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, the founders of the revered Stone Brewing Co., both cite Anchor Steam as their gateway beer to the wonderful world of craft (Koch: "A little light bulb went off in my head, like, 'Wow, beer can taste like this?' "; Wagner: "Like Greg, I had a bit of an epiphany. This was a beer that stood apart — it actually tasted like something!"). Beer drinkers from coast to coast are thankful that the inspiration led them to their career path. In the new book, The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance, the duo (with Randy Clemens, and other members of the team) cheekily relate their hop-driven success story (Stone is the 14th largest craft brewery and 23rd largest overall brewery in the US). The narrative is supplemented with behind-the-pint tales of every beer that they've released (the backstory of the groundbreaking Arrogant Bastard Ale is very entertaining), plus recipes from their World Bistro & Gardens and 18 homebrew blueprints (from the flagship Pale Ale to Old Guardian Barley Wine).

Here are a couple of choice passages from the book:

"In August 1997, we released Stone IPA to celebrate our first anniversary. IPAs are almost de rigueur now for most breweries, but, at the time, drinking an IPA was a new experience for a lot of people's palates. Bitter, yes, but the fresh flavors and aromas that came from the hops — the citrus, piney, grassy, floral bouquet — who knew beer could taste like this? Hopheads were being born, and Stone was certainly one of the delivery rooms."

And some wisdom from "Dr." Bill Sysak, Stone's beverage supervisor, from the "Beer How-Tos" chapter: "Don't allow yourself to get so caught up in the pomp and circumstance of it all that you flat out forget how to just allow yourself to enjoy a good friggin' beer without completely overthinking it."

Two weeks ago, Greg's book tour brought him to Providence. He addressed a class at Johnson & Wales, signed books at Bottles, and hoisted a few at the Wild Colonial. A few days after his visit, I caught up with him via e-mail re: his time in 02903, a few things beer, and his penchant for launching himself into crowds at beer events:

I'M GLAD PROVIDENCE WAS ON YOUR ITINERARY. WEARE WORTHY! WHAT MADE OUR TOWN A DESTINATION FOR YOU? It was a combination of elements that helped the stars to align. One significant factor was that it had simply been too long since I'd last had the chance to visit Providence. I felt I was overdue to return considering how much I really like the city.

DID YOU MEET ANY PROMISING YOUNG BREWERS AT JOHNSON & WALES? I really enjoyed the talk with the students at Johnson & Wales. It's always refreshing and invigorating to engage with young minds that are in the midst of their learning curves. Hungry for knowledge and hungry to engage. I was also impressed by the brewing team. They're making some very creative beers, and are really passionate about great beer . . . It was related to me that school administration doesn't understand the craft brewing world, and that beer education in the curriculum is rather underrepresented, which is an opportunity for improvement.

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