Could the world-class brewery's success ultimately led to its foreclosure?
After an extremely shaky year, San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing Company announced this week it was sold at foreclosure to a private equity group. Though the brand will continue on, the ownership has changed and the direction the company will take from here isn’t entirely known. What is known, however, is that Green Flash saw both stunning growth and an unfortunate downfall in the past 16 years and what was once a maker of amazing beers has left behind a cautionary tale.
When Green Flash West Coast IPA was first released in 2005, three years after the brewery opened, the beer was a revelation: It was far from the first or most iconic West Coast-style IPA—brews like Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Stone IPA were further ahead of the curve—but Green Flash was enough on the cusp of the trend that the brewery was able to trademark the still-unused name West Coast IPA. And in many ways, Green Flash’s take on a West Coast-style IPA was about as quintessential as they came: pithy and piney and ridiculously bitter yet somehow still unbelievably enjoyable and counterintuitively drinkable.
Almost immediately after I tried it, West Coast IPA skyrocketed towards the top of my list of favorite beers, and I found myself lamenting how I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this world-class beer as often as I would like.
But a funny thing happened on the way to West Coast IPA’s legendary status.
I distinctly remember a few years later looking over the taps at an otherwise unremarkable Irish pub in Manhattan when—there it was—Green Flash West Coast IPA. I literally said, “I can’t believe they have that here.” Needless to say, I grabbed a pint, and it was just as good as I’d expected.
But turns out this wasn’t an isolated incident. Soon, Green Flash was everywhere—an expansion that continued unabated. Before its recent spate of troubles, the brewery was one of the few craft brands available in all 50 states. By 2016, the company had opened a second brewery on the East Coast. And the brewery made other big business choices too—including tragically reformulating West Coast IPA in 2014.
Whether you credit Green Flash's ascent to the talented former brewmaster Chuck Silva, to founder and CEO Mike Hinkley, or to both, the brewery undeniably took off, eventually landing a spot on America’s list of the 50 largest craft breweries, only to sadly crash and burn. In the end, Silva wasn’t around when the brewery went under; he left in 2015 to start his own project.
Green Flash is not done: The new owners will reportedly continue to produce beer, albeit with a smaller footprint. But the company as it existed before will soon be gone. “While the Green Flash and Alpine brands will continue they will do so under new ownership, and [the previous ownership companies] will be wound down and dissolved,” Hinkley said in a statement to shareholders.
Frankly, the argument could be made that Green Flash died a spiritual death when they reformulated West Coast IPA. (Or maybe that happened when Silva left?) But now, with the brand sold, Green Flash is truly no longer itself. It’s a shame, because it used to make some of the best beers in the country. Unfortunately, the desire to sell those beers to the entire country may have been what did it in.