To celebrate its new Australian distribution, Stone's 19th Anniversary release Thunderstruck IPA incorporates all Australia-grown hops.
Back in 2010, Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch described the problem of gray-market beer being sold to foreign markets during a video interview with Australia's Brews News website: "Unethical retailers or wholesalers here in the United States…sell beer knowing that it's going to go out of the country, and they'll sell old beer."
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At the time, gray-market cases of Stone beer were making it to Australian shores, and Koch's concern was that these "damaged goods" did not accurately represent the company's product. He insisted Stone beers should only be shipped cold to preserve freshness, and doing so wasn't feasible for the Australian market at that time. He went so far as to tell the interviewer, "If I was there and I saw you about to take a sip of the beer…I would take it out of your hand and I would pour it on the ground. Because that's not our beer, that is a damaged version of our beer."
As of 2015, down under craft-beer fans finally have access to legitimate Stone imports, thanks to an agreement made with ExperienceIt Beverages, an Australian distributor associated with Nomad Brewing, a craft brewery based near Sydney.
ExperienceIt co-founder Johnny Latta describes cold shipping as a costly priority, despite competition with gray-market importers who cut corners to sell cheaper: "We do not compromise on this point," he says. "We handle all our beer chilled from door to door."
According to Latta, the most popular Stone beers down under include Ruination, Arrogant Bastard, and Go To IPA. However, limited releases sell fast, even the seasonal Enjoy By IPA, which must be air freighted in order to release in Australia "the exact same day as the U.S. This adds massive costs — $40 a bottle or more retail." That 40 Australian dollars translates to about $30 US — still a lot for a 22-ounce bottle.
As for demand, 2015 Australia seems ready. "We are really bloody pleased to be able sell as fresh as possible Stone beer to our customers," says Luke Dempsey, co-owner of Tasmania's Saint John Craft Beer Bar. "The response has been tremendous," he continues. "Brands like Stone, Dogfish Head, Alesmith, Deschutes, Russian River are cult brands in Australia and there is a real thirst for these beers." Unfortunately, he adds, "It's very expensive, largely due to local taxes."
He's referring to an Australian system that taxes at higher rates for higher alcohol by volume. According to Christopher Roberts, co-founder of Global Craft, another international distributor that properly cold-ships Ballast Point and Karl Strauss beers to Australia, these taxes result in pale ales selling better than higher-alcohol IPAs.
"The high tax on high-alcohol beers makes the pale ale the right choice for them," he says of Australian beer drinkers. He says Strauss's Pintail Pale Ale has been the number-two-selling American craft beer in Australia, followed by Ballast's Big Eye. He cites Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as the current top seller.