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.

Monday, January 22, 2018

This Is A Public Service Announcement

Know your rights; all three of them.

Number one:  You have the right to great beer.

Number two:  You have the right to clear beer.

Number three:  You have the right to a big double IPA, as long as you're smart enough to actually try it.

I am making a public service announcement (PSA) for the special release collaboration between Pizza Port and Ventura's MadeWest Brewing.  Queen of the Coast is one heck of a double IPA.  It is brewed with honey, but don't let that turn you off (it almost did me); you can barely taste it.  A good double IPA is sweet, and Queen is sweet, but it is far from cloying.  Queen does not have an overwhelming hop bitterness, either.  The interplay between bitter and sweet is smooth and complex, resulting in a level of drinkability you rarely find in a double IPA.  That is the scary part, because at 9.8% abv, Queen's alcohol is nearly hidden behind all its other flavors.

Queen's mountain stream clarity is striking, yet it seems almost out of place in the era of hazy beer.  So many beers I have tried recently, and not just the on-purpose hazy New England IPAs, have some level of opacity.  Not Queen.  Its clear filter gives the beer a brightness and crispness that seemed to bounce around on the palate, not the lugubrious mouthful of a hazy IPA.  (The picture above does not clearly show the clarity of Queen due to condensation on the glass.)

I am familiar with MadeWest Brewery from trips to Ventura.  I have been to its brewey / tasting room twice. It is big, inviting, and located in a light industrial area not far from the 101   The MadeWest beers I have tried have been good, too, and it is now distributing select canned beers in San Diego.  When I saw a flyer at the Ocean Beach Pizza Port for a special collaboration can release with MadeWest I went to buy it, thinking (or assuming) it a pale ale.  When I saw it was a 9.8% double IPA I passed on buying the six-pack.  Now days I try to avoid beers much above 8.0%, and Queen of the Coast exceeded my threshold.  I did compromise with a taster, and immediately realized Queen's exceptional quality.  Not buying the six-pack of Queen gnawed on me the rest of the evening.  Despite its abv, a few hours later I broke down and returned to Pizza Port to buy a six-pack, for fear Queen had already sold out.

The Beer Rovette does share my affinity for most IPAs, but when she tasted Queen, she wanted her own glass of it, not just a taster.  That in itself is some kind of benchmark for IPA greatness. I recommend trying this beer while it is available.  The craft beer boom has produced plenty of good beers, but great beers are still rare and finding one is still a treat.  Queen is a great beer.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Legal Brew - Oceanside Ale Works

The West Coaster had an article last week on Oceanside Ale Works closure and the plan to re-open it, possibly under a different name.  I hope it's as easy as Oceanside Ale Works' co-owner Mark Pruciel makes it sound:  essentially, close for a few months, and then use the equipment Pruciel owns to open a new brewery.  I am a little wary at the nonchalance because in my business experience whenever there is money, co-partners, and lawsuits involved, nothing is easy or timely.  I have more than once seen partners undermine healthy, or at least viable businesses on purpose just to hurt or spite the other partners.  The part of the story that is head shaking in its silliness is that Pruciel's co-partner backed away from the business in 2013, due to Pruciel's decision to put his face on Oceanside's Dude double IPA label, in design that mimicked an Obama campaign-style poster (image below from the West Coaster).  You never know the things that push people over the edge.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Waterfront Mystery

I hear on podcasts and read online that Eppig Brewing is making great beers.  Its planned Point Loma tasting room would make it convenient for me to taste some of these beers.  But I do not know what is happening with Eppig Brewing's tasting room on the docks in Point Loma.  Several articles describe the new waterfront space, including this one from the West Coaster from late October.  I have seen and walked around the building.  The windows are covered so you can not see the extent of any interior finishes.  The North Park-based brewer expected to open the satellite location in November or early December.  It has not opened yet and I have not read any updates on Eppig's Facebook or Twitter feed that gives a new opening timeline.  Let's hope that the ABC and the San Diego police are not playing games with Eppig like they did the Little Miss at its thwarted Ocean Beach location. 

UPDATE:  Yesterday evening I saw that the Eppig Point Loma location had a big fence around it and a build-out is underway.  I did not see any signage.  This looks like a positive development.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beer In Literature

I love finding beer references in good books.  I always mean to note them here when I read them, but usually don't get to it.  Well, it's a new year and a new effort to try and highlight quality beer appearances in books I read.  I can tell when an author appreciates beer, and these are the passages I plan to post.  Here is one from J.L. Carr's sublime 1980 A Month in the Country

I  didn't work to set meal-times and came down the ladder when I was hungry. And, in the middle of those hot August days, I usually cut two rough rounds of loaf and a wedge of Wensleydale and took it outside to eat.  On Saturdays and Sundays, I had a bottle of pale ale; week-days water.
This passage is short, simple and captures the weekend reward of a beer after hard work, and as a bonus, has a nice nod to cheese.  Carr could have said "beer" or "ale", but the specific "pale ale" made this passage standout to me.  The novel is set in the early 1920s, so pale ale has been a beer of choice for nearly a hundred years.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Not Bar Wannabes

I wrote in October about the San Diego police rejecting licenses for tasting room in its Western Division and the ABC choosing to not decide against the police.  New Year's Eve is an example of why this is a bonehead move by the police and ABC.  New Year's Eve is one of the biggest drinking days of the year, a bonanza for bars.  But all the craft beer tasting rooms that I know of closed early, skipping the late night party.  Closing early on a surefire drinking day is not a move of bar wannabes.  I agree with police efforts to curb drunkenness and the crimes related to it, but punishing brewery tasting rooms is misguided.