Friday, February 15, 2008

Saturday, December 22, 2007

GK: I'm Off!

"Off." Contextually it can suggest a number of different meanings when someone says "I'm off." Off, as in "heading out." Off, as in "time off." Off, as in "not quite right" (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.).

In this case, it's the former two, and to stave off the latter. Although I don't feel that the latter poses a serious threat to me, best to be on the safe side just in case! And so, to that end, I am capital oh-eff-eff: OFF.

Thailand, to be specific. With jaunts to Cambodia and Laos. Maybe even a day trip to Myanmar (aka Burma). Should be fun.

This will be the longest out and out vacation I've had since the summer of 1995 -- the summer before Steve and I started the brewery.

Heading out late tonight out of LAX. By the time I land, it will be Christmas eve.

During the trip I would like to write more blog entries and get deeper into reflections on philosophy, ethics, business practices and goals. I also want to get the hell away from my computer! So, I'm taking it with me of course.

And therein lies some conflict. Not big, overwhelming conflict mind you, but conflict nonetheless. Another small internal conflict of the competing goals of clearing the head in a variety of manners. Clearing the head by hiking into the hills of northern Thailand and venturing in and around World Heritage sites such as the incredible Angkor Wat, and clearing the head by allowing the thoughts and ideas flow through the fingers-keyboard-screen continuum of the mind/computer connection.

They are unquestionably in conflict with each other. Perhaps however, there is a balance to be found. I'll let you know. The volume, or lack, of blog postings will reflect the winner of this tug.

It may also reflect internet connection challenges, which may work in favor of the hiking around. Probably for the best!

Regardless...one thing I do know, for absolute and undeniable certain is, I'm Off!

Cheers, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Reviewing The Ratings

I admit it. I love the two main beer ratings websites BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com. Both are fun, informative and offer a terrific forum for learning about and discussing the mutual favorite subject of beloved beers -- as well as the not-so-beloved beers. These are sites that definitely do not subscribe to the idea that "there's no such thing as a bad beer." Truth of the matter is that beer, as with any artisanal product, can be slaughtered. Miserably. Or rise to joyous heights. Whichever direction a brewer goes, RateBeer and BeerAdvocate members are there to dutifully report their findings.

Each site has its own distinct personality. They're almost like two bars just around the corner from each other. Some patrons go to one, the other, or both as their mood takes them, dropping by to see who else is at the bar. Other patrons are quick to whip up the rivalry on a moment's notice. Some shout out as they enter the establishment much as Norm would do as he walked into Cheers, and others prefer to sit off to the side at a small table in the corner and keep to themselves as they contemplate their afternoon's beer.

Over the years, I've become accustom to reading the things that people have to say about our beer. I've learned to just let it flow through. To accept the comments, both positive and negative.

I've always felt that it's our job to decide what it is that we do, and it's the job of consumers (hate to use such a generic term there, but I'm at a loss for a different, more meaningful all-encompassing term) to decide if they like it. What I mean by this is that we don't try to project what a consumer *might* think they want, and then try to do that. It seems that most companies spend a LOT of time doing that with all their market research and such. They try to figure out what people think they want, and then fulfill that "need."

We don't. We do what we do.

In other words, we focus on doing what we do with an eye towards doing it as amazing as we possibly can. As a result, we recognize and accept that the "what we do" isn't going to meet everyone's tastes. And that's quite OK.

That being said, I'm constantly surprised by the people who get angry a bit when they find that they don't like what we do. You know, the "what's up with your menu...can't you have any normal food?" group. I suppose, for them, our answer is 'no.' We often have our housemade kimchee on the menu. Kimchee is something that tens of millions of people eat every day. "Normal," like so many other things, is relative. For me, most people's "normal" equals booooring. And why would we want to do something that we think is boring?

But I, like usual, digress.

If you'd like to check out the myriad of perspectives out there on the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, there's a few main places you'll find them:

On BeerAdvocate.com you can find the reviews here.

One RateBeer.com where the reviews are split somewhat confusingly into two different locations for our one location, they can be found here and here. (I like the latter grouping of reviews as the RateBeerians that review us there like us better, but the name of our street is not spelled quite right in that one.)

On Yelp.com, they take us to an even more schizophrenic level by splitting us into three pieces, the beer/food oriented listings here and here, and the (at the time of this writing) one lone review of the Stone Company Store here. (One thing they all have in common, along with most online mapping systems and GPS systems, is that the header in each one suggests that we are located somewhere other than where we actually are.)

The truly amazing ability of the rating sites are that they can reveal the collective consciousness in a way that was previously unavailable. The communication, enthusiasm, and authenticity is amazing. When it comes to beer.

When it comes to a dining experience, the rating systems seem to still be a work in progress. The parameters of rating such a complex thing have not quite seemed to gel, and there are still multiple methods to the madness that haven't perfected the triangulation yet. But hell, a beer you can sit and contemplate and write about a lot easier than you can a dining experience. Beer has just shy of 100 identifiable flavor parameters. Add in colors, smells and packaging to the equation, and an experienced beer aficionado can still get their arms around it.

A restaurant however has countless and untold parameters that come into play. There's no surprise here of course, it simply means that it's even more difficult to gel into universally bite sized parameters.

But it shouldn't stop the trying of course!

To all that have taken the time to post a review on what we do and give us insight --- whether we love it or hate it, whether we think you're brilliantly insightful or a grouchy hack --- all the reviews are appreciated!

Especially the good ones.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

On KPBS' "These Days" Program Today

I'll be on the radio this morning at 10am with Colby of Ballast Point Brewing to talk about the San Diego craft brewing scene. Tune in to 89.5FM, the show's archive can be heard on the Stone website.

BTW, These Days featured a show on the San Diego Architectural Foundation's Orchids & Onions awards on Monday, December 3rd. In that show, they mention the fact that Stone Brewing won the People's Choice Orchid for "Excellence in Architecture."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Goal Towards Transparency, pt. 2

I just read yesterday's post and it looks like I need to buckle down and get to the point.

OK.

The "Transparency" that I would like to shoot for is nearly all-encompasing. We already let you know who makes our beer (uh, that's us), where we make our beer (us again, and "right here"), and how we make our beer (just take a tour and we'll show you). The ingredients are listed on the bottle. The location where we make it (that's the 'here' part) is also on the bottle.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for every other beer. Some are not actually brewed 'by' the brewery name listed on the bottle, or at the 'where' listed on the bottle. This is legal according to the "alternating proprietorship" labeling rules as allowed by our government.

In true craft beers this is more the exception rather than the norm, as there is thankfully little nonsense of the smoke and mirrors type in the craft brewing business.

OK. So that's the beer side. And I think we do a pretty damn good job of being transparent at Stone.

However we want to take it further as I suggested yesterday. I would like to be able to tell you where the broccoli on your plate in our restaurant was grown. And when it was picked.

I'm even thinking it would be cool to be able to tell you how much we paid for it. We might not be able to break it down that far, but perhaps we could share with you --- our own Team Stone Members, the public...everyone --- what our food cost is. What our labor costs are. How much we pay for the square footage of the restaurant in 'rent' ('mortgage' is the correct term as we own our own building here...or more accurately, the bank does).

We'd share with everyone the fact that we're expecting around $4Million in sales this year in the bistro. And that maybe we'll actually turn a profit! Most people don't realize that restaurant profit is typically measured in pennies on the dollar. Unless they're in the restaurant biz, in which case you likely know it all too well.

I'll be honest and say that I think there might be an advantage in sharing all these kinds of details. Some people think that we charge to much for some of our dishes. That perhaps we're even taking advantage of them! Let me show you what it costs for good local, organic produce and the natural meats and they'll quickly see that we are not.

I'm going to wrap this up and simply say that I'm going to do my best in this blog, and in our continued business practices, to be as plain-speak, open and honest as I possibly can. If I say anything that you feel needs additional clarity, or even called into question, make a comment and I'll do my best to answer.

You can expect more on this. It's a BIG subject.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Goal Towards "Transparent"

It'll take some serious work. And some guts, honestly. It won't be easy and we'll probably have to deal with some "should we really be doing this?" self-doubt along the way.

It's the goal of Transparency.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. Context is needed. So let me go all the way back to this morning....

We had our big annual Full Team Meeting this morning. The one with Everyone in the company. All 227 of us (minus one pre-excused absence and an inevitable 'out sick' person or two). Steve and I did about an hour's worth of speechification, covering the major topics of Where We've Been / How We Got Here, Where We Are Now, and the requisite Where We Are Going.

All in all, I think it was a great meeting. The previous night's festivities of the annual Team Stone Holiday Party probably didn't hurt (although it may have muted the liveliness a little).

In the looking forward part, Steve and I talked about Transparency. The idea of opening our books to the team. While I believe in the idea, a lot in fact, it can still feel a little awkward for someone who often plays close to the chest. Truth of the matter that in today's world, things are complicated enough without us building unneeded cloaks of mystery around them.

When it comes to consumer products, I've always liked the ones that tell me the truth the best. Partly because they tell me the truth, and partly because these same truth-tellers tend to make the best stuff. Part and parcel.

As a brewery, we've always been pretty straightforward in our endeavours. Want to know how our beer is made? Come out and let us show you around! We itch for the opportunities to not only show off 'what' we do, but also 'how' we do it. And we're certainly not alone, as this is a common element in the ethos of artisan producers, no matter what they make.

And on the opposite side of the equation, I've always had a special spot reserved for those that I feel layer in a level or two of bullshit into what they try and get me to believe about their product or company. And it's not a good spot. I, like most people, don't like to be fooled. Interestingly, it's not actually "most people" according to some research (cited at the end of this very interesting article), and there's a split between "boomers" and gens "X" and "Y." Looks like I align with the latter's views.

But I digress. A little.

...to be continued in the next post....

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Stone Wins The People's Choice "Orchid"!

I went to the ceremonies last night for the San Diego Architectural Foundation's Annual "Orchids & Onions" Awards. Although I, and many people love onions, in the case of these awards they have been relegated to negative status. Perhaps because onions are stinky? Or more likely that "Orchids & Okra" made even less sense.



It was quite an honor to receive the People's Choice award.

The Jury's comments were equally flattering (quoting from the San Diego Union-Tribune story):

The People's Orchid, by a 79 percent vote, went to Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido, a restaurant and beer garden developed by Stone Brewing Co. McCullough's committee summarized the public's love of the place this way:

“The voters were enchanted by the open and airy interior and the seamless indoor/outdoor connection via floor to ceiling glass doors. The element that drew the most attention of voters was the huge outdoor patio and garden animated by waterfalls and fire pits. Stone Brewing World is a destination very much in tune with Southern California living.”

The jury had glowing comments for the Orchids it bestowed.

It liked the interior designs of the Anthology jazz club in Little Italy and the Guild restaurant in Barrio Logan, the former for its sophistication and the latter for its success despite a small budget.


It was easy to agree with the Jury's "Orchid" awards to two other new restaurants that are located in the downtown area of San Diego -- The Guild, and Anthology -- as they are both stunning places that are uniquely...unique.

The North County Times also covered the awards.

Not knowing the format of the awards ceremony, I must admit that I was not properly prepared with notes to guide my acceptance speech.

video

As a result of not being prepared with notes, I made the gaff of not mentioning Hamann Construction and specifically Job Superintendent John Belcher. We could not have gotten the result we did without John and his team...and their talent and flexibility. These guys were much more accustom to building more 'standard' tilt-up warehouses -- projects that require a high degree of technical proficiency, but don't offer much in the creativity department -- however they successfully tapped both their significant skills, and their inner Michelangelos to create our incredible result.

These photos from March 8, 2006 show them in action, working on the bamboo planter and indoor water feature:





This "Greg's vBlog" video from April 22, 2006 gives further perspective:
video

Also deserving special thanks is Matt Jerman and his team at Landscape Plus. Much more than a landscape 'contractor / installer,' Matt worked with me on a daily basis to transform the outline of the plans to the natural and rustic result that we got. We simply could not have done it without him. Additionally, Randy of KRC Rock with their "rock moving rig" had a talent for just the right touch with two-to-twelve-ton boulders to coax them into nestling just the right way.

This 24 minute long Greg's vBlog from August 11, 2006 gives further looks at these guys doing their thing:

video

Fortunately, I didn't gaff SO bad that I didn't properly mention our architect, Andy Kjellberg ('shell-berg') of McArdle Associates Architects. Day after day, week after week, month after month...and *Phew!*...year after year, Andy kept all the innumerable pieces of the complex project in sync. From the practicalities of an 8,000 square foot coldbox and truck docks at one end, the mid section of bottling, kegging, brewing, and offices, to the Stone Store, the restaurant and gardens at the opposite.

Magically, it all flows as if we actually designed it that way! My thanks to everyone that worked for so long on what we called in all-encompassing and simplifying terms the "New Brewery Project." We couldn't have done it without you!