‘The Beer Jesus from America’ looks at a bearded stranger in a beer country

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By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

I am not a beer drinker, but the title and topic of this film was so intriguing that I wanted to review it. And, fortunately in doing so, I learned much about craft beer.

“The Beer Jesus from America” is a documentary four years in the making, directed by filmmaker Matt Sweetwood.

The compelling documentary chronicles Stone Brewing’s rock n’ roll co-founder, Greg Koch’s (aka “Beer Jesus”) tumultuous journey to becoming the first American to build, own and operate his own large-scale independent craft brewery in Europe.

Greg Koch

He faced many obstacles in a country were industrialized beer was the norm, and specialty, artisanal craft beer was a rarity.

After all, Germany is known as beer country, and who was this bearded, long-haired American who was trying to “carpetbag” his way into the “beer and bratwursts” duo?

Stone Brewing is located near San Diego, California, and Koch wanted to venture out into another market. According to the documentary, he searched and searched and settled on an abandoned train repair shop, which was located in a town not too far from Berlin.

The buildout, which was originally estimated at $25 million, took about five years to complete. Opposition included German public officials and the belief that there’s only one type of German beer.

According to the documentary, “German beer culture is wonderful, until it becomes dogmatic; and German beer is best.”

To counter those sentiments, Koch said: “We don’t say that our beer is the best. We just say that our beer is pretty awesome. We put our heart and soul into it.”

Traditional German beer is served in massive glasses or steins. And American craft beer is usually enjoyed in a more slender glass similar to a wine glass. The documentary also showed that American craft beer is artisanal, bold, hoppy and flavorful.

Koch explained that his company’s gargoyle logo signifies protection to “ward off cheap ingredients, pasteurization, and chemical addictives—the modern-day evil spirits of beer.”

After government setbacks, new water lines had to be replaced as well as new concrete walls. And while not quite ready for a full public opening, Koch celebrated by delivering his first keg to 17 craft beer establishments in and near Berlin.

To further stress his “The Beer Jesus from America” persona, Koch had a beard and long hair and wore John Lennon-type glasses. He would start his speeches with “brothers and sisters.”

Founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner in 1996, San Diego’s Stone Brewing Company is now one of the largest craft brewers in the United States and the first American craft brewer to build, own and operate a brewery in Europe. Known for its bold, hop-centric beers like Stone Pale Ale and its best know brand Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone has been called the “All-time Top Brewery on Planet Earth,” by Beer Advocate Magazine and produces dozens of year-round labels as well as special releases and seasonal brews.

To learn more about Stone Brewing Berlin, which finally opened in March, 2017, German’s purity laws, cultural clashes, broken promises, a bottomless beer glass of unexpected challenges and the final disposition of the sprawling beer paradise, a virtual screening of “The Beer Jesus from America,” hosted by Stone Brewing, will be held on May 8 at 6:00 p.m. PST on its YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/StoneBrewingCo. That’s 8:00 p.m. Chicago time.

Koch and Sweetwood will livestream commentary during the film, sharing their experiences, talk beer and enjoy a few tasty selections with the beloved craft beer community.

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