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Stone Brewing to open brewery in Berlin

Stone co-founder Greg Koch
Stone Brewing Co.
Stone co-founder Greg Koch

The Berlin beer scene is about to get bolder, brasher and a whole lot hoppier.

Five years after announcing its desire to build a brewery in Europe, Stone Brewing Co. has closed on a deal to open a brewery and bistro in Berlin, becoming the first American craft brewer to independently own and operate a brewery in Europe.

"The possibility of sharing our beer with Europeans is very exciting. For a lot of years, we've had many people coming from Europe to San Diego to visit our brewery," said Greg Koch, Stone Brewing CEO and co-founder. "It's a turning of the tables but only in the very best of ways."

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Known for its big flavored and largely hop-centric beers, Stone will be renovating a former gasworks plant in a move expected to cost at least $25 million. Once proper permits are secured, the construction is expected to take 14 to 20 months, putting Stone on target for an opening in late 2015.

Upon its completion, the total indoor and outdoor space will be more than two acres and include a brewhouse, a packaging and distribution center, a Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurant and a Stone Company Store.

The brewhouse will be a minimum of 70 barrels and produce year-round and special-release brews that will initially be packaged, kegged and served on-site, but will eventually be distributed in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

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When it comes to this particular property, you might say it was love at first site for Koch. But as with many of the best love affairs, this one was complicated.

Stone Brewing Co.

After visiting more than 100 locations in nine different countries, Koch knew the Berlin site would be a perfect spot upon his first visit in 2009. Still it wasn't until the property recently changed ownership that a deal could be closed.

The announcement is another sign of the massive cultural shift in consumer beer preferences underway not just in the United States but in Europe as well.

"When I would visit Germany a few years ago, you might have found a small handful of IPA's being brewed in the country," said Koch. "Now there are dozens and dozens of IPAs of all styles. There are brewers that specifically call out on their label 'San Diego-style' or 'West Coast-style.' It's incredible."

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The criteria in choosing Berlin for expansion is much the same as in 1996 when Koch and his co-founder Steve Wagner decided on San Diego as the home for their brewery. They wanted someplace where they enjoyed the quality of life and people would enjoy visiting.

"If I'm going to get on a plane and spend serious time and effort in a country a long ways away on a regular basis, we need to go someplace we're looking forward to visiting each time we go," he said.

Koch said he anticipates spending a great deal of time in Berlin in the next year and half given the size and scope of the project. He also knows the ambitious endeavor won't come easy.

"We have a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to this project and it's going to take every one of our resources and then some to pull this off," he said.

Stone Brewing in Berlin
Marien Park
Stone Brewing in Berlin

Building on its reputation as a frequent collaborator with fellow craft brewers and home brewers, Stone is giving its fans an opportunity to be involved. The brewer is launching an Indiegogo crowd-participation campaign where fans will be able to buy certificates for future "Stone Groundbreaking Collaborations," which will be brewed in Berlin once the facility is open.

Koch said he didn't want to ask for a handout, as it's not their style, and as they are the 10th largest craft brewer in the United States with 2013 net revenue of $137 million, they don't need it. But the brewery saw an opportunity for fans to still help out and get something back that they would really value: unique beer.

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"We thought why not reach out to everybody and ask for a little boost on this project to help us achieve and overachieve," he said. "We'll say we want little of your hard-earned cash, but we're going to give you a really good return for that."

The first wave of Stone Groundbreaking Collaborations will include: Grand Royal Imperial Saison du BUFF made with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Victory Brewing; SPECIAL bashah made with BrewDog; and Super Duper Arrogant made in collaboration with Italian craft brewer Baladin.

Each bottle in the series will cost $50 for a 1.5-liter commemorative bottle and are expected to brewed between late 2015 and 2016. The beers will not be released for general sale, but instead will be given to those who bought in advance.

Stone Brewing hopes to raise $1 million through the campaign, with the money used to expedite both the Berlin project and a future "east of the Mississippi" Stone Brewing expansion.

The Stone team has spent the last few months visiting and scouting locations to build an "east of the Mississippi" brewery. Koch said the final decision is coming soon.

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"We should be announcing rather soon, as in 30 to 60 days," he said. "Ninety days at the very most."

But for this weekend, the focus is on the fulfillment of the company's European ambition.

"When we started, the idea that we would someday be able to build our own brewery in Europe, was the farthest thing from our thoughts," he said. "We were focused on survival."

Eighteen years later, Stone is still working to shake up the beer culture in the United States and is now looking to do the same in Europe.

"To look back on how craft beer as an industry has matured and how people's tastes have really changed, it's rewarding just knowing this is even possible, just to think about how far we've come," he said.

—By CNBC's Tom Rotunno