Brewery mergers are on beer lovers’ minds after the recent announcement that Firestone Walker will enter into a “partnership” with Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat. While Duvel has done a fine job as the owner of Boulevard and Ommegang, consolidation remains a hot topic in the industry. Witness the firestorm that erupted over Anheuser-Busch InBev’s plan to buy Seattle’s respected Elysian. The announcement was made in January, shortly before that infamous Super Bowl ad mocking snobs drinking “Pumpkin Peach Ale.” As craft beer fans know, Elysian brews Gourdgia on my Mind, a pumpkin-peach-pecan ale. The thinking went like this: If Budweiser can be that tone-deaf to its new acquisition’s products, what will happen to the beer?
But sometimes partnerships between big and little brewers make sense. Look at San Diego, where Green Flash, the creators of coast-to-coast favorites West Coast IPA and Hop Head Red, acquired Alpine Brewing, a tiny but well-respected brewery known for outstanding IPAs, in November. The arrangement made sense: Green Flash had started brewing Alpine beers at its much-larger facilities in 2013 after a “handshake agreement” between the owners, doubling Alpine’s annual capacity — still minuscule compared with Green Flash’s — and generating income that will help Alpine eventually expand its own brewery. Alpine has stressed that it remains independent, though operating as a subsidiary of Green Flash, and its reach has expanded.
Make that somewhat expanded: Alpine made its official Northern Virginia debut back in February, but appearances at beer bars have been sporadic. Right now, says Simon Thomas, who represents Green Flash with distributors Specialty Beverage of Virginia, Alpine is “heavily allocated. People who’ve been supporting Green Flash get first grab on Alpine when it’s in.” But when Green Flash opens its East Coast brewery in Virginia Beach next year, Alpine should, theoretically, become much easier to find.
If you’d like to see why beer fans clamor for Alpine, you’ll have a chance on Wednesday, July 29, at Pizzeria Paradiso in Old Town, where all 14 draft lines will be shared between Alpine and Green Flash. It’s tough to pick a standout, but the one to try first is Nelson Golden Rye IPA, a rye ale named after its primary hop, Nelson Sauvin, which imparts a beautiful nose of tropical fruit — mangos, pineapple — and a dry, earthy body that’s usually compared to the sauvignon blanc grape, from which it takes its name.
Alpine beers are scarce, but Nelson is especially so: Nelson Sauvin, grown in New Zealand, has become so popular that hop farmers can’t keep up, making Nelson on tap a rare treat. I had a glass or two at a Pizzeria Paradiso tasting this month and thought Nelson outshone some much more vaunted ales, thanks to a peppery European rye backbone that allowed the hop flavor to shine.
Alpine should begin to show up on Washington taps in August, though Nelson will remain tricky to find. If you see it, order it.
Alpine and Green Flash Tap Takeover: Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Pizzeria Paradiso, 124 King St., Alexandria. 703-837-1245. www.eatyourpizza.com.