Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch to Star in Documentary

Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch will be the subject of an upcoming feature-length documentary titled “The Beer Jesus of America,” which chronicles the construction and opening of the company’s Berlin brewery.

Stone spokeswoman Lizzie Younkin confirmed the project, but said the film was made independently of the beer company. She said director Matt Sweetwood had reached out to Stone about shadowing Koch during its expansion into Germany, and the company granted him access.

Younkin added that Sweetwood is planning to premiere the film on the festival circuit starting in September.

“We don’t have much to share just yet, but we’re excited for its release,” she told Brewbound.

According to website for Sweetwood’s namesake production company, the documentary is currently in post-production.

Website and Twitter pages for the film, which were briefly available online before being removed, offered a sneak preview of the film, which will show the genesis of the $25 million Berlin brewery that opened in September 2016.

“Risking millions on a vision to become the first American to own and operate a craft beer brewery in Europe, Greg Koch may be making the biggest mistake of his life,” the film’s website teased. “One of America’s most successful craft brewers, the so-called Beer Jesus has spent years working on an ambitious project in a sleepy corner of Berlin — and it has an uncertain future.”

Another teaser said Koch opened a Stone facility in Germany in order to challenge the five-decades-old Reinheitsgebot beer purity law — which stipulates that beer can only be produced using water, barley, hops and yeast.

“However, in his mission to fight mass-market cheap beer, it turns out that Greg has even bigger obstacles to overcome, from struggles with bureaucracy to cultural differences and stubborn traditionalism.”

In a Q&A on the film’s website, Koch said he believes craft beer has successfully changed the way Germans view beer, with drinkers in the country discussing flavor profiles, regional styles and bitterness levels. However, challenges still exist in winning over many of the country’s consumers.

“It’s [Beer has] been totally taken for granted in this country; it’s something that’s become a commodity,” he said. “And for most people is still a commodity. Most Germans are drinking, basically, a crate of beer: 20 half liter bottles for eight euro! It’s crazy. You can’t make something awesome, cheap.”

Asked if he was ever concerned the company would run out of money for the expansion project after incurring project delays, Koch said he never doubted being able to finish the project. However, he said the company “ lost money due to people’s inaction/inadequacy and failed promises.”

“But it didn’t kill us,” he said. “We were pretty careful.”

In a separate Q&A, Sweetwood, who previously wrote and directed “Beerland,” a 2013 documentary about an American’s exploration of German beer culture, said he witnessed Stone’s “delays” and “financial problems” while filming.

“At one point there were so many problems, I didn’t know what to film next, so just kept the cameras rolling, curious like everyone else if there would ever even be a grand opening date — or if this will turn out to be the biggest flop in craft beer history,” he said.

Nevertheless, Stone’s Berlin outpost opened two years after the project was first announced (in 2014). The brewery shipped beer to 27 countries in 2017.

According to Sweetwood, Koch was initially “uncomfortable” with the title — which was repurposed from a German tabloid — due to not considering himself “a beer Jesus, or a beer savior.”

“The title of ‘Beer Jesus’ is just a misunderstanding, making Greg Koch into the rockstar of beer, which doesn’t go over very well with hipsters and people who have an idea that craft beer is an insulator stylus group — or a fashionable subculture even,” he wrote on the film’s website.