The turning point...

Original picture: Eduard Bröll.

I find myself sitting in front of a middle-aged skinny guy wearing a bob and a thick beard. He is repeatedly combing backward, almost unconsciously, as he talks. He also has a pair of stylish, vintage glasses that he seldom uses, but that provide him with a certain aura. Like a star. And the fact is that despite of his humbleness and nice manner, he actually is a star. Something that he will show in a few moments, pulling out a well worked and learned discourse, accompanied by an indifferent and casual posture: the one of a great lecturer, the kind that wins the sympathy of an entire auditorium with the first sentence.

"I'm still waiting for the turning point"

But now he carefully listens to the brewer of the brewpub in which we are having lunch, who enthusiastically explains him the full range of beers on offer at the moment. His only interruptions are due to small observations after a sip, or to inquire about certain details of a beer. His surprise or satisfaction, monitored by many of those present, are cause for excitement and smiles all around. It is not every day, indeed, that one of the two founders of Stone Brewing, Greg Koch, shows up at your place and gets to drink your beer.

Matt & Greg, commenting BlackLab's range of beers. Original picture: Alex Rivero.

I watch him intently. He eats very little. Hard to say if it is because of the -presumable- hangover after spending a night in town or if -as he says- it is a measure not to fall asleep during his speech. What can possibly pass through this guy's mind, who in the first decline of the microbrewery boom in the States founded one of the craft breweries that has had more influence throughout the world? I aim to get in his head for a while, to capture his expressions as well as his American accent, since in a few moments I will translate him live in two different events, before an attentive and specialised audience.

We talk casually and quietly. But instead of discussing the importance of his role in the world of beer, to my surprise, it is him who asks much about me, and the beer scene in Barcelona. I guess that, after all, we will be talking about him for the rest of the afternoon. But having dealt with several renowned brewers in the past, I can say that before starting to work I feel comfortable. I like this person.

Shortly before starting the first presentation, I shoot a question. Given my personal situation, I want to know the answer to it from a person who, no doubt, has found success pursuing his ambitions.

"Greg, throughout this journey, since you created Stone to present, and considering those first years of great uncertainty, which was the moment when you realised that your dream was to be fulfilled? Which was the turning point?

Greg looks at me intensely, perfectly comprehending the meaning of my words while letting out a slight smile and an approving nod, as if acknowledging my question as witty. After looking up for a few seconds, seeking the answer on the roof of BlackLab, he says:

"I hope we get there once Berlin and Montana are working at full capacity. For now, I'm still waiting for the turning point". 

At first I think that, as he would countlessly do during that spring afternoon, he has dodged my question with the skill of the good speaker, or the person who has already been asked all possible questions about his business. But reflecting briefly on his words, I find much more than that.

"For years we have been talking about the bubble, saturation and quality fails, but there is a stubborn reality"

It is without a doubt a character response; a motto we should all make our own. Reaching the turning point is to get close to the realisation of one's objectives... but where is the limit? Is it possible to reassess those goals on the go?

I am convinced that Greg would have keenly signed to reach the present state of things back in the late 90s, but he has been persistent and ambitious enough not to settle for what many would have regarded as more than good. Instead he continues his struggle to widen the Stone empire, to bring quality beer to the maximum number of people, while radically opposing multinationals and industry giants.

Locally, we might apply ourselves this same standard. We have spent years talking about the bubble, market saturation, quality failures... And reality stubbornly shows us that, year after year, we are more. And better. The variety and quality of beer we have right now is much more than we could have ever imagined, but we have to soak ourselves with this healthy ambition, constantly resetting our objectives. We must remain as nonconformist as we have been throughout this long and exciting journey.

To get reflections like the one gifted to me by the co-founder of Stone is one of the great things about meeting friendly, bold people who share their experiences and inspire others with their example and charisma. In the end, that is what it is all about: to walk together, to cooperate and to contribute with what each of us is good at.

Quoting Greg, once again: "It really is an awesome world, because beer inspires more beer!".

Salut i birra!


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