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Beer Reviews

Stone Brewing Buenaveza Salt & Lime Lager


They call him the The Beer Jesus From America - well, not the beer can from above, I mean the guy behind the beer can, that is Stone Brewing's co-founder Greg Koch. And I mean it literally, you can find the film on Amazon Prime.

Now Koch is exactly what you might expect from a man whose given such an outlandish moniker. In beer circles he's known to be preachy, to climb onto bar counters, to be incredibly larger than life. 


Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing, or better known as Beer Jesus. (Image Source: Vietcetera)


And yet memorabilia for public consumption from Koch's journey such as the film from above which documents the gruesomely challenging building of Stone's once Berlin brewery, and the later somber, eloquent, yet uncharacteristically anti-climatic heartfelt blogpost written by Koch announcing his stepping down as Japanese mega brewer Sapporo acquires Stone - these all paint a completely different picture.

They tell the story of a man whose butted his head through walls time and again, until he one day decided to get up and walk around the wall.

Koch had met his co-founder Steve Wagner when the latter was a professional pianist who had happened to dabble into making a peach beer - quite the antithesis to Stone's fame of intensely hoppy West Coast IPAs. Together they set out to start America's 850th craft brewery - if that didn't clue you in, Stone wasn't quite the earliest to the game. Yet it would be a couple more years before craft beers really took off in America, setting alight the craft beer revolution that would eventually inspire new generations of craft brewers the world over.


Stone Brewing in San Diego, US - not quite craft beer mecca. (Image Source: San Diego Union-Tribune)


They set themselves up in San Diego - not exactly craft beer mecca, but it was enough for the time. Koch would do the marketing and Wagner would handle the brewing.

Let me just take the chance to cut straight to the chase because there are far more interesting perspectives to be had than the not common but neither rare story of small craft brewery overcomes uphill battle to get fans to love their produce, eventually succeeds and expands.

For a man who spent three decades preaching the David versus Goliath tale of craft brewery never selling out to the big guy, Koch sold out.


A sight not all that uncommon from Koch. (Image Source: The Beer Connoisseur) 


"Sure. I’d said it dozens of times. Quite possibly well over 100. I 1000% meant it every single time. It’s what I truly believed. I said it while pounding my fist both physically and metaphorically on the table. I’d said it over the telephone or on video with the narrative emphasis “…he says while pounding his fist on the table.”  The words: I will never sell out.

Until now."

Koch in his farewell blogpost, "It's Time". 


His farewell message was not just one of the most eloquently written piece of work I'd read in years, it reveals an incredibly thoughtful and introspective, if not intellectual, man behind the much more recognisable and familiar bravado that he worn for decades. Also the sheer amount of ego-swallowing and self-awareness it took to pen those words is more than most of us who wouldn't apologise over a wrong order of coffee could muster.

It is a great read that I highly encourage anyone to enjoy, but accepting the reality that most folks are busy and would rather the sparknotes version, for the sake of getting to more intriguing perspectives, I will acquiesce.

Koch chalks his leaving to two main factors: the first was that he no longer felt he was the right person to lead the company, and the second was that he simply wanted another life. For the thick bearded, crazy energy emitting, self-identified rock 'n' roll of craft beer this meant trading in all of that for a quieter, more reclusive life. Hardly the most unreasonable thing one could ask for.


Koch and the Berlin brewery for Stone. (Image Source: Beerknews, Hop Culture, Escondido Grapevine)


Koch mentions how Stone today employs over a thousand employees, has amassed global operations, and is unquestionably not the rebellious punky Stone of youth - and that all dictates a certain type of skill set to run; behind that edgy branding is a team of professional marketers and business people keeping that persona alive. Again, that all seems fair and as Koch calls himself, "self-aware", to recognise that he might not be said person that the company needed.

But here's another perspective - the US is today home to 10,000 craft breweries, not to mention thousands more in the form of micro breweries and home brewers with big aspirations, and also doesn't include craft beer taprooms or brewpubs that dabble with making their own brews.


"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man." (Image Source: Stone Brewing)


Stone wasn't the newest kid on the block when they first arrived in 1996, they are most definitely not the 187th time someone at the pub's heard of a mate who's working on his own super cool brewery - by now craft breweries are a dime a dozen; make that a hundred dozen.

Many of the pioneers of the craft beer revolution in the US have faced similar corporatization teething pains in a bid to stay alive amidst the flood of craft beers hitting the market - now I won't name names, but they are aplenty.

The harsh truth is that no one cares about your expensive hop water when there's so many other just as expensive hop waters out there - how does one compete or stand out? Seems like you don't.

They say growing up (or as they call it "adulting") is the process of accepting hard realities for the greater good - is it really such a bad thing to operate under a commercially behemoth of a parent that has the budget to keep your craft processes alive? I've heard they call it compromise.


Stone Brewing's 2nd year anniversary in 1997. (Image Source: Stone Brewing)


And that seems like the most mature thing to do - which is yet somehow something you don't quite expect from the rebellious colour-outside-the-lines sort you think of when it comes to craft beer founders. I like to think that somewhere along the way he acknowledged that as much as he cared for and loved his craft, it was nowhere close to being more of a priority than the lives and families of the people who worked to keep Stone alive.

For those feisty individuals who fashion themselves square pegs fitted on round holes, their individuality is probably synonymous with their life - the lack thereof is tantamount to being without a life of one's own; utterly incomprehensible. Yet when we imagine the faces of those we're accountable to, suddenly that all liquifies and melts away so easily - how could one choose their ideology over the actual lives of others?

Bearing in mind that Koch has not had it easy - from having to lay off staff (not very artisanal or craft sounding), to a seven-plus year Berlin project that was faced with so many hurdles (as documented in Beer Jesus From America) that it eventually got sold to UK's BrewDog, and even what seemed like the break Stone needed - a commercially viable Shanghai operation - had to shutter as a result of Covid.

What endeavour has not yet tried to sucker punch Koch in the stomach? 


Koch today. (Image Source: Good Beer Hunting)


It's easy to preach the rousing chants of screw the establishment when you're a 4-man operation with mostly yourself to care for. It's far harder to look a staff you've hired in the eye and give them their notice.

At some point, it probably wasn't fun anymore.

And at that point, it isn't that unreasonable to not want to keep getting the wind kicked out of you.

With a thousand mouths to feed, fans who hold you up to the unrealistic expectations that comes with your brand's fame, and then seeing out into the ocean a wave of everyone-and-their-grandma craft breweries to compete with - can you blame Koch for wanting something else?

In an interview with Uproxx, Koch addresses the interviewer's question about whatever happened to Stone's smoked beer, to which Koch responded "So, yeah, you’re right. We made Stone Smoked Porter in 1996. It was the second beer we ever produced. We made it up until about six years ago but the sales just weren’t … enough. I love the style too, by the way." 

What good is being CEO of a brewery where you can't even produce a beer you like?


Stone Smoked Porter, second brew from the brewery, first made in December 1996, and later retired in 2016, because "the sales just weren’t … enough.". (Image Source: Stone)


Perhaps as with all great companies, you need founders who carry with them that fire and hunger - illogically so - to punch through walls and run through fires in order to get the company somewhere. But once the company is no longer operating out of a shed on those taped up cheap IKEA tables with the beat down secondhand office chairs, it would seem like what is necessary is in fact someone who doesn't love the company as fervently as its founders - and perhaps Koch was one of the smart ones to see that. I certainly think so.

And so with that, let's toast one up to Stone and Koch - happy retirement!


"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man."

Koch quotes the Greek philosopher Heraclitus as the opening to his farewell message.


(Image Source: Stone)


Stone Brewing is based is Escondido, California, US, and was founded in 1996 by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, and is today the largest brewery in Southern California, and ninth largest craft brewery in the US, with brewing operations also in Richmond, Virginia, US. It also operates the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens which was rated "The Best Place for Beer in the United States" by RateBeer. The brewery has also been ranked "#1 All Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth" on Beer Advocate, and "World Class Brewery" by RateBeer and Beer Advocated.

The brewery was acquired by Japanese brewing giant Sapporo Breweries in June 2022, shortly after which Koch announced his stepping down.


Today we have Stone's Buenaveza Salt & Lime Lager, that is inspired by Mexican-style lagers, and was brewed with lime and sea salt, its name comes from "Buena" meaning good and "-veza" from cerveza, referencing Mexican-style beers. The beer was made with Liberty hops. 

Let's go!

Stone Brewing Buenaveza Salt & Lime Lager - Review


Tasting Notes

Color: Gold

Aroma: Bright, estery sweet notes of nectar, honey, apricots, mangoes with a side of grainy, biscuit-y wheat and also a bit of nuttiness of rice. Lightly drying actually.

Taste: Light-bodied, mostly of a mix of honey, softer notes of apricots, and a dash of salt. There’s again that biscuity wheatiness here.

Finish: The lime comes through ever so slightly here - fresh lime but very, very mild. Alittle bit more drying here, with more acidity and bitterness before fading into a lingering mix of buttery malt, wheat and hoppy bitterness.


My Thoughts

Where’s the lime?! 

This tasted pretty much like a standard lager to me - albeit a somewhat denser lager, but it took me a long while to find the salt or the lime, which were very mild.

What I mostly got were the boilerplate honey, wheat, malt, some notes apricots, with the wheat being most prominent.

I suppose if this was meant as an accompaniment for Mexican food, it would do, but it could definitely turn it up ten notches the lime and salt, which were otherwise way too soft.

Not the best review, but I'd like to think a real one like Koch would appreciate the honesty.


My Rating: 4/10


Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most whiskies, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.