Green Flash officially opens its new brewery and tasting room in Virginia Beach, Virginia this week. San Diego's third-largest beer company celebrates its East Coast expansion with a pair of opening events the weekend of November 12 and 13, then take the brewery online the following week. "We've been through test batches, but we haven't released any beer out of here yet," says Green Flash CEO Mike Hinkley. "I am hopeful that the first brew of a beer that we sell will begin on Monday."
Both Green Flash and subsidiary brand Alpine Beer Co. already distribute to all 50 states, but moving production to a mid-Atlantic state will enable it to ship fresher beer at a lower cost. The new facility is a copy of its Mira Mesa brewery and will primarily brew the same roster of beers to distribute to states east of the Mississippi.
It also positions Green Flash to expand overseas distribution, currently limited to Sweden and the United Kingdom. "It's going to be a lot easier for us to go to Europe from here," Hinkley allows, though he notes it's not an immediate concern. "At some point we'll pay a little more attention to exports, but for now we do so much business in the U.S., that's the focus."
Hinkley estimates Virginia Beach will produce around 40,000 barrels its first year in operation, taking the pressure off its existing brewery. "San Diego is running about capacity," Hinkley says. "When we start [brewing in Virginia], the San Diego brewery will have the opportunity to slow down, which is a good thing — it will enable a few upgrades we've been talking about."
Virginia Beach launches with 25 employees, including head brewer Evan Chamberlain, who brings a small contingent of brewers with him from San Diego. Hinkley anticipates the staff will increase to 45 by the spring, which would raise Green Flash's total number of employees to 300.
While Virginia's minimum wage stands at $7.25 per hour — significantly lower than San Diego's $10.50 ($11.50 in the new year), Hinkley says that did not play a factor in Green Flash choosing Virginia in the first place. "We don't have any minimum wage employees in San Diego or in Virginia," he states, "so it should have no impact."
Green Flash was the first of three San Diego breweries to announce plans to expand production to Virginia. Stone Brewing opened its Richmond location earlier this year, and Ballast Point has a project under way in the Roanoke Valley.
Subsequent to beginning production in Virginia, Stone laid off 5% of its work force. As to whether layoffs could be a consequence of Green Flash reducing local production, Hinkley offers an emphatic no. "Absolutely not," he vows. "We don't have a staff reduction of any kind coming. As a matter of fact, we have positions we're trying to fill both in San Diego and Virginia right now."