Alpine Beer Co. (2351 Alpine Boulevard, Alpine) benefits from a rabid cult following. On the surface, this is the perfect situation, but for many years this small brewery has been unable to produce anywhere near enough beer to appease its fans. It’s something that has pained owner Pat McIlhenney, driving him to work up a number of solutions that includes a brewery expansion in Alpine in addition to working with out-of-state company Cold Spring Brewing to brew more beer. Like most large-scale projects, these are taking a great deal of time to realize, meaning little progress—and not a drop more beer—has been made thus far.
Mike Hinkley, the owner of Green Flash Brewing Company (6550 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa) remembers a few years back when he was looking to expand his business from its much smaller initial home in Vista and sees parallels between he, McIlhenney, and their companies. He also sees the ability to help a friend in need. Thus, he and brewmaster Chuck Silva recently reached out to McIlhenney, offering him the opportunity to have Alpine beer brewed and fermented at Green Flash’s facility. Moved by this gracious offer, McIlhenney accepted. As a result, Green Flash will soon begin producing 50-barrel batches of Alpine's Duet, Nelson, and Hoppy Birthday for keg distribution.
This is not some typical “contract brewing” arrangement in which Alpine would pay Green Flash to produce their beers for them. While Silva and his staff will do the actual brewing, they will only charge Alpine for the overhead costs of producing, fermenting and kegging the beer. The ingredients will be provided by McIlhenney, who will be drawing off the increased stock of hops he secured for the Cold Spring venture for this endeavor. And when the beer is ready, Green Flash will put it in kegs and move it to their loading dock for Alpine’s distributors to pick up to take to market. It’s an atypical situation that communicates San Diego’s solid brand of craft brewing camaraderie better than words ever could.
In addition to their professional collegiality, Silva and McIlhenney maintain a long-standing friendship. Truth be told, McIlhenney feels a bit uncomfortable about not paying a mark-up to Green Flash, but Hinkley is not interested. Both the owner and his brewmaster say they are just happy that they’ll be able to drink more Alpine beer, and that they look forward to learning from Pat and his son, head brewer Shawn McIlhenney, along the way.
The exact timeframe for production of Alpine’s beers has yet to be solidified, but the companies are aiming for September as the earliest possible start time. At that point, Green Flash will begin producing one 250-barrel tank’s worth of beer (typical yield is 200 barrels, which equates to 400 kegs) per month of the aforementioned beers. Six fermentation tanks will be utilized for this project. The tanks will someday be used to store Green Flash beer, but at the moment, the company has no immediate need for the receptacles.
Both companies excel at producing West Coast-style hoppy beers and their brewing methods are quite similar. Still, one brewery producing another’s beers to the degree that they are indiscernible from those produced at their home site is no easy feat, nor one Silva or McIlhenney are taking lightly. According to Silva, Green Flash will conduct critical analysis of the beers produced at each facility to make sure color, bitterness, and alcohol-by-volume are spot-on. They will also conduct complex water analysis to make sure they get off to a proper start with each brewing session, and enlist the quality assurance expertise of local yeast production facility White Labs.
Scaling recipes from Alpine’s smaller scale will also present challenges, but Silva has experience in that arena. When Green Flash moved from its Vista brewhouse to its current much larger digs in Mira Mesa, Silva went from working on a 25-barrel brewhouse to a 50-barrel rig.
Currently, Alpine produces 1,500 barrels of beer annually. This arrangement, which is scheduled to last about a year at present, plus their existing agreement with Cold Spring (which, when finalized, will exclusively cover canned beer production—16-ounce Alumitek cans to be exact), will allow the company to jump to 5,000 barrels annually; an increase of over 200%. It’s a beyond significant increase made possible by a beyond generous gesture from one San Diego brewing company to another.
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