I first heard about it last year from a brewing industry insider whose contractor filled him in. Green Flash Brewing Company (6550 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa) was considering opening a second brewing facility on the East Coast. I investigated, asking top brass at the company—who were in North Carolina when I called—if they could confirm the report. Despite it being true, they denied it, later apologizing for not feeling comfortable letting the Mufasa-sized cat out of the bag that they were aiming to become the first San Diego brewing company to set up a manufacturing facility outside of the county.
Today, Green Flash owners Mike and Lisa Hinkley finally went public with what many have been privy to for some time. They are, in fact, building a brewery on the East Coast. But, it won’t be in the Carolinas. Instead, the 58,000 square foot facility they plan to debut in 2015 will be located on a nine-acre industrial plot in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It seems a pretty logical choice, entering a coastal market that draws millions of visitors during the summer months and has a large military presence (remind you of any place familiar?). Additionally, it’s a locale where they can instantly become the largest brewing company in town.
Many wonder how Green Flash, an operation branded around its Southern California brewing style with West Coast IPA as its calling card and even a line of beers calling out San Diego neighborhoods, will fare on the East Coast. In my opinion, the answer is really well. Green Flash has distributed beer outside of West Coast markets for some time and claims one of every three beers sold are purchased by East Coasters. Of the utmost importance is the fact they’ll be bringing something to their future stomping grounds that the region doesn’t already possess—fresh, high quality, West Coast-style brews from a local source.
The importance of drinking SoCal-esque beers fresh cannot be overstated. Every day that a West Coast IPA, Hop Head Red, Palate Wrecker or similarly hop-driven concoction sits in a bottle waiting to get to market, it deteriorates, losing the brightness, tropical fruit essence and piney pungency seekers of these styles are looking for. Eliminating transporting those beers from San Diego to the East Coast from the equation offers customers in and around Virginia Beach the chance to experience these beers at the peak of freshness for the first time, and it stands to reason that they’ll fall for those brews just as many San Diegans have. Such a response will be crucial to Green Flash. Their expansion, no matter how calculated, is a bit of a leap of faith. Sales data surely shows enough demand for them to move forward into a distant market, but the clamor factor will be essential to support their grand scale ambition to produce 100,000 barrels a year in Virginia. To put that number in perspective, Green Flash brewed just over 40,000 barrels last year from their rapidly growing brewery in Mira Mesa.
Green Flash’s Viriginia Beach brewery will cost roughly $20 million to construct. In addition to state-of-the-art equipment, it will also include administrative offices, an on-site quality assurance lab for beer analysis, a retail store, both an indoor tasting room and outdoor beer garden, plus private event space. The plan is to closely replicate the look and feel of their Mira Mesa headquarters. Doing so will include providing brewery tours and beer education events similar to those available on the home front. The presence of brewmaster Chuck Silva should also help bring the SoCal original to Virginia. Silva will oversee construction of the brewhouse and work to ensure that the beers being produced at Green Flash 2.0 are in line with the flavor and quality of those back home.
Green Flash is the latest in a growing line of medium- to large-sized brewing companies to move in this direction, building a second brewery far from their base of operations. Others include northern California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (constructing in Mills River, North Carolina) and Lagunitas Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois), as well as Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing (Asheville, N.C.) and Oskar Blues (Brevard, N.C.). It’s the next step in what was an inevitable evolution for the booming craft beer industry, and an exciting one for Hinkley, Silva, and their colleagues at Green Flash.