Green Flash Brewing Co. is the latest Western craft brewer to hop on the caravan to the East Coast. While Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co. and Oskar Blues all opted for North Carolina, Green Flash has chosen Virginia Beach as the site of its Atlantic base of operations.
In his State of the City address on Thursday, mayor William Sessoms Jr. announced that the San Diego-based brewer will break ground on a plant in Virginia Beach to open in 2015.
The plant will employ a staff of 40 and have a capacity of 100,000 barrels per year, likely making it the largest brewery in Virginia after the Anheuser-Busch facility in Williamsburg and the MillerCoors plant in Elkton.
According to brewery president Mike Hinkley, Green Flash markets beer in 38 states and sells about 30 percent of its output between Boston and the Carolinas. “It just made sense to get closer to our markets: shorter deliveries, fresher beer, another outpost to connect with our customers,” he said. The new brewery will include tasting and event rooms and a one-acre outdoor beer garden with a pavilion and picnic tables. (For District-area Green Flash fans eager to taste the goods on-site, Virginia Beach is just over 200 miles south of Washington.)
Green Flash has built its reputation on aggressively flavored, often highly hopped beers like Hop Head Red, Palate Wrecker, West Coast IPA and Rayon Vert (the latter a Belgian-style pale ale bottle-conditioned with Brettanomyces yeast). “We’ll brew all of our brands here and continue to make very assertive, very innovative beers,” Hinkley said.
Hinkley said he’s spent the last nine months scouting possible East Coast sites. “We had originally crossed Virginia Beach off the list,” he admitted. But then, last May, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law SB 604, a measure that allowed bottling and kegging breweries to sell beer for consumption in their tasting rooms without operating an on-site restaurant. “That was instrumental in getting us to take another look,” Hinkley stated.
Virginia's largest city, Hinkley found, has a lot in common with his hometown. Like San Diego, Virginia Beach has an oceanfront location, is home to a major U.S. Navy base and is a tourist magnet, drawing more than five million visitors each summer. The city is centrally located, he added, and offers second-day freight service to two-thirds of the U.S. population, from Boston to Miami.
Virginia Beach is no stranger to craft beer. In 1984, Chesapeake Bay Brewing Co., one of the first microbreweries in the East, opened there. That operation marketed a golden and a dark lager under the Chesbay label. Unfortunately, the unpasteurized lagers had short shelf lives and deteriorated badly when not kept refrigerated. The company changed its name to Virginia Brewing Co. and ceased operations in the mid-'90s.
Hinkley said he wants to cultivate friendly relations with Virginia’s existing breweries, informing the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild of his plans ahead of the official announcement. He added that when the new plant opens, Green Flash will allow the state’s small breweries to use its quality-control laboratory for product testing. “We want to be part of the local community.”
Meanwhile, Colorado-based Oskar Blues, maker of Dale’s Pale Ale and other brands, brewed its first batch of beer at its new Brevard, N.C. facility last December. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. expects to start production this fall at its brewery in Mills River, N.C. and New Belgium Brewing Co. predicts the first shipments will roll out of its Asheville, N.C. plant during the first quarter of 2015.