How California Is Changing the Way Germans Drink Beer

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A Berliner Weisse brewed by San Diego company Stone Brewing. (Beidi Zhang/KPCC)

'Tis the season for an Oktoberfest edition of your favorite brew. For years, Germany's celebration of all things beer has influenced brewing culture here in the U.S. But recently, the reverse is happening. American variations are pouring into beer's European heartland.

San Diego's Stone Brewing is the first American brewery to open in Europe. Known for its aggressively hoppy IPAs, the Southern California company wants to introduce Germans to a world beyond their traditional lagers and pilsners.

"Today we have just a cornucopia of choices that we have now literally taken for granted," said Stone co-founder and chairman Greg Koch.

Berlin has come catching up to do.

Stone Brewing co-founder and chairman Greg Koch sips a Berliner Weisse, a German sour beer.
Stone Brewing co-founder and chairman Greg Koch sips a Berliner Weisse, a German sour beer. (Beidi Zhang/KPCC)

Walk inside any grocery store in Berlin, and there's only a small fraction of the beers we have in the United States.


German Moritz Lenel, a recent patron at the Stone Beer Garden in Berlin, seconds that. He says normally there are only three offerings at his local corner pub: light, dark, and wheat.

Despite Germany's reputation as the world's biggest producer and consumer of beer, Germans lack a lot of choice. The reason dates back to a law: Reinheisgebot.

According to Michael McCullough, a professor at Cal State University San Luis Obispo who specializes in beer policy, Reinheisgebot is a 500-year old purity law that was put in place for protectionist reasons.

By "purity," the law means only hops, barley, yeast and water can be used to make German beer. It's this archaic regulation that slowed the adoption of popular beer trends around the world.

Germans now have access to beer 'new from San Diego.'
Germans now have access to beer 'new from San Diego.' (Beidi Zhang/KPCC)

"In the beer industry, what's really interesting is that competition has increased variety," said Benj Steinman, president of Beer Marketer's Insights. "You can't just sell a beer because it's kitsch anymore, it's got to be good."

Steinman is excited about other brands following in Stone's footsteps.

"They are trying to export the revolution. There is a trend whereby the craft brewing movement is going global, so Greg and Stone are building a brewery in the heart of brewing traditionalism in Germany, and making a splash."

Now that Stone Brewing is crushing the American, Bud Light stereotype in Germany, Stone co-founder Greg Koch hopes the world sees California as inspiration for what beers can be.

So raise a glass to California craft brewing this October, just like they're doing in Germany.