A Friendship made in San Diego

August 20, 2012

Friendship Brew is dubbed a “black saison,” but drinks more like a Belgium-accented stout. (Brasserie St. Feuillien)

San Diego is known as a hophead’s paradise, and Green Flash appropriately markets West Coast IPA as its flagship brand, accounting for about half of all sales. “It’s the beer that put us on the map,” says owner Mike Hinkley.

But the brewery has been branching out into Belgian styles as well. In 2011, it introduced Rayon Vert, a Belgian-style pale ale that’s bottle-conditioned with the yeast Brettanomyces for a dry, funky finish. And it has a second collaboration coming with Brasserie St-Feuillien in Le Roeulx, Belgium.

Dominique Friart, St-Feuillen’s CEO, visited Green Flash in 2009 and was impressed enough to suggest a collaboration. Brewmasters from both companies met on the other side of the Atlantic in March 2010 to hash out their first joint project, a strong blond ale dubbed Biere de L’Amitie, fermented with a Belgian yeast but dry-hopped with American Amarillo hops.

Friendship Brew, the sequel, was brewed in San Diego in March. The label refers to the beer as a “black saison,” but a more accurate description might be a Belgian-accented stout. It’s got the fruity, lightly acidic qualities of a Belgian rustic ale, along with notes of chocolate, roast, leather and fresh earth. At 5.7 percent alcohol by volume, it’s quaffable on a hot summer afternoon, but assertive enough, in Hinkley’s opinion, to pair with “rich and flavorful dishes, a stew rather than a salad or fish.”

The beer also contains a proprietary blend of spices that Hinkley, out of deference to his collaborators, is keeping under his hat.

Friendship Brew is set for a Sept. 1 release throughout Green Flash’s 30-state marketing area. Look for it in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles and single 22-ouncers, as well as in a few kegs.

Also look for Green Flash to have a larger presence in this area in the years to come. Hinkley intends to follow the leads of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and New Belgium Brewing Co. and build an East Coast branch plant. The brewery will have a capacity of 100,000 barrels a year and will open by January 2015. Hinkley is looking at possible sites and hopes to reach a decision by year’s end. For the time being, he will only say that the new brewery will be in the Mid-Atlantic and along the coast.

He emphasizes that he has no intention of setting up shop in Asheville, the western North Carolina city that lured Sierra Nevada and New Belgium. “They’re mountain cultures, we’re a coastal culture,” he says.

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