Friday, January 26, 2018

Thoughts on Green Flash

Green Flash’s announcement earlier this month that it plans to layoff 15% of its workforce and retrench distribution, pulling out of thirty-three states to focus on areas closer to its breweries, is not a sign of a craft beer implosion.  Green Flash did not announce that it was closing either of its two breweries, or its Cellar 3 barrel-aged beer facility (although production here is being reduced), or its in development brewery /restaurant in Nebraska, or that is scraping future projects.  The layoffs were business administration positions.  Green Flash’s decision, while bad for Green Flash and the fired employees in the near-term, is a sign of craft beer’s strength.  The brewing depth in so many local markets means that not all craft breweries with national aspirations can compete in every market.  Breweries looking to expand beyond their home market not only compete against large macro breweries, but against more and more quality local breweries. 

Quick, name two Green Flash beers.  Ok, West Coast IPA and, and…  It is not that easy, and this lack of ready identification is a big obstacle in Green Flash’s effort to expand nationally.  There is Le Freak, a great beer, but I don’t know if it is a year-round beer anymore, and if it is, you don’t build a national brewery around a 9% Belgian-style beer.  Does Green Flash still brew 30TH Street Pale Ale?  An approachable beer but I can’t remember the last time I saw it.  Soul Style IPA, never tried it.  Doesn’t Green Flash, or didn’t Green Flash, have a tangerine IPA, or is or was that Soul Style?  What about that hoppy red ale Green Flash used to brew, the name of which I can’t remember?  I loved that beer, but is it still around?  A brewery can’t expand nationally if it lacks identity.  (Food & Wine has a good article here on Green Flash.)

The rise of brewery tasting rooms - and the tasting room as a legitimate branding and profit source - means craft beer is becoming hyper local.  Even the smallest breweries can forge a presence with quality beer and a solid tasting room.  When neighborhoods have one, or two, or multiple breweries or tasting rooms it is hard for out-of-town or out-of-state craft breweries to get attention, and this gets harder if the interloper only brings one well-known beer.  I want to believe this is the problem facing Green Flash, not some foreboding industry sign.  Green Flash’s strategy to re-focus and distribute near its breweries, gives my idea some credibility.  It makes sense for Green Flash to focus on its local markets and position its beers within range of its brewery facilities and tasting rooms.

The idea of just how local craft beer has become was driven home to me on a recent trip to New York City.  I wanted to go the famous Ginger Man* and looked at its tap list online.  The number of breweries I did not know shocked me.  Ten years ago I would have known of most of the craft breweries on its tap list, both big and small.  Today, looking at its craft beer list brings bewilderment, not recognition.  The Ginger Man’s current tap list is here, and while I know the big breweries - Avery, Captain Lawrence, Allagash, Bells, and Brooklyn - there are many breweries unknown to me.  Most are not that far from New York City either, including Equilibrium, Chelsea Craft Brewing, Common Roots, Flagship, Grimm, Gun Hill, LIC Brew Project, and Rockaway, to name just some on the tap list.   

Craft beer is better than it has ever been.  Breweries like Green Flash need a coherent plan to overcome all the competition they face, and not just from the big breweries but from small breweries, too.  AB InBev is not backing down and neither are the local breweries.  There is no crime if a brewery can’t expand nationally.  I believe if Green Flash focuses on brewing good beer it can solve many of its issues and become a stronger company.

* The Ginger Man has a literacy reference.  It was mentioned several times in Jean Stein’s Edie: American Girl, which is an oral history of ‘60’s personality Edie Sedgwick, and as part of that encompasses New York City’s art culture and night clubs.  This book is not for the squeamish, but at the same time it is hard to stop reading the selfishness and personal destruction.

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