Stone Building New European Expansion on Fan's Hard Earned Cash

20140721092420-berlinwaterIt appears that Stone Brewing Company’s quest for global domination is getting one step closer to complete.  They have officially announced that they are transforming a German historic gasworks complex into an American craft beer destination.  This is an ambition of Stone’s since 2009 when they spied the location on a trip to Berlin.  They immediately fell in love with the historic building complete with its own “Death Star” window and enough space to create a beer themed version of Disneyland.  The location will include:

  • A spectacular, historic, red brick main hall built-in 1901 measuring 43,000-plus square feet (3,994 square meters), featuring a vaulted ceiling that will house a custom-built, stainless steel brewhouse, an eclectic farm-to-table restaurant, and retail store featuring specialty Stone beers and merchandise.
  • A second 20,775-square-foot (1,930 square meters) building that will be utilized for brewing operations and house fermenters, bright tanks, and packaging equipment and materials. Ultimately, the company’s signature ales will be packaged and distributed throughout Europe from the facility.

* A third 1,300-square-foot (120 square meters) building, in what will be the expansive gardens, to be utilized as event space.

Stone is also embarking on building a brewery on the east coast of America.  This ambitious process for building two new massive breweries at once has left them a little strapped for cash.

And when you are a company looking for a quick influx of money to a project but don’t want to actually work with investors, the best solution is to turn to crowdsourcing.  Which is what Stone has done.  They are asking for a cool one million dollars from fans of the brewery within a month.  The campaign was started a few days ago and will last until August 16th, 2014.  They are hoping to reach that cool million in essentially less than a month and are already at 7% of their goal.

In exchange for a generous $50.00 donation to the project you can get a single 1.5L bottle of a collaboration brew between Stone and BrewDog, Baladin, and Dogfish Head AND Victory.  For more money you can attend a brewer’s dinner with one of the collaboration teams there to celebrate.  For even more you can attend the opening ceremony or get your name etched into the side of a German site brew kettle.  And so on and so forth.

I am a huge fan of Stone beers.  I think they have earned the high reputation for crafting beers that are big on flavor and are helping push the boundaries of what American craft beer drinkers are able to handle.  I think that while Greg Koch can be wildly inappropriate on social media with his opinions that Stone Brewing Company has largely been a great force for positive will for the craft beer industry but also community in America.

Which is why it saddens me to seem the go this route.

Crowdsourcing sites like Indiegogo or Kickstarter were originally a way for creative and industrious folks to be able to follow their dreams without having to follow traditional funding methods.  A small team of engineers with a dream to create a smartwatch could gather the startup capital to create their device of the future without having to sell their dream to investors.  Small, independent artists could capture funding from fans to create their content by securing funding upfront from fans.  I have had two musician friends only release physical copies of their albums once enough pre-sale interest via Kickstarter made it worth their while to print the album.

Sites like these are zero sum.  A project that gets a ton of money takes potential money from other projects.  It is this reason that caused Kevin Smith to not fund Clerks 3 via Kickstarter.  Since he has access to traditional funding outlets he felt dirty taking money from his fans who might better use that money on guys who have no other way of making their movies because they are truly independent or just starting their careers.  That it felt too much like leaving the NFL to play high school football again.  Let those just starting out their careers get the same opportunities, don’t have the professionals steal this means of funding as well as the traditional routes.

Nothing Stone is doing is illegal.  Nothing Stone is doing is against the terms of service of Indiegogo.  Nothing Stone is doing is what I would consider immoral.  But I do think it is a particularly shady line of securing financing for an aggressive expansion into Europe.  Stone claims that:

 Funding a Cross-Planetary Brewing Revolution is no easy feat. It’s taking everything we have plus a rather decent bit of borrowing to build breweries in the eastern U.S. and Germany. Could we have fetched more money by selling stakes of Stone to some rich suits? Sure, but then our grand vision of remaining fiercely independent would collapse. And for what? A Stone Corn-Based Lager w/Rice decal on a race car? Hell no! By throwing your financial weight around, specifically in our direction, you enable us to add a crucial component of the Stone Experienceour Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens—to each brewery sooner than we otherwise could. You can also take heart that your contributions will make sure that this global campaign remains under the influence of Stone and only Stone.

While I agree that I wouldn’t want undue influence of outside the beer industry “rich suits” to have sway over the vision and mission of Stone Brewing Company I think it is an extremely unfair assessment of the situation.  Stone did not use this means of investment to fund their East Coast expansion and if they are so aggressively expanding that a traditional bank loan is infeasible it should be a red flag that perhaps their ambition outstretched their reach.

Considering highly funded Kickstarter ventures can and do fail without refunding money to those who invested I think it is extremely unconscionable to ask Stone fans to assume the risk of this venture with only getting the mild reward of some beer, some merch, or an experience that might not ever actually come to pass.

I am a huge fan of crowdsourcing but I think the big boys who have struggled and succeeded should keep this revenue stream clean for others who are just trying to achieve their dreams.

But I could be wrong.  What do you think?