Many years before the BoozeDancing Crew opened their West Coast Office, and even before they staked a claim to their entertaining corner of the “All Things Craft Beverage Blogosphere”, Yours Truly, one of their early enablers and occasional co-conspirators, stalked the elusive green flash on the beaches of Malibu. A rare and wondrous site. Once fully committed (in every sense) to my never ending quest for The Holy Ale, I stalked bottle shelf aisles out here on the Least Coast instead of Zuma Beach where the sight of Green Flash West Coast IPA, Le Freak, and others made regular appearances. Wondrous sights. Equally fleeting, but easily replenished with another pour.
Fast forward to today’s bottle shop aisles and San Diego’s Green Flash brews became as elusive as a sunset during Alaska’s six months of darkness. George Harrison was right. Darkness doesn’t last forever. Not long ago, we were contacted by a representative of Green Flash announcing their rebranding, and they offered an interview with their VP of Marketing, Ben Widseth. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), we were thrilled to have the chance to toss some questions to an iconic San Diego brewer and pioneer of the West Coast IPA profile now flatteringly imitated the brewing world over.
Here’s all that went down during my #BeerAndBusinessChat with Ben Widseth…
The Alemonger (TAM): Not sure if any background is in order, but having been a resident of SoCal, I can confirm the phenomenon of the green flash the instant the sun dips below the Pacific. It is, however, an elusive sight – as elusive as a sighting of Green Flash brews on craft beer retail shelves nearer the Atlantic. With that in mind…
“If you brew it, they will buy…” (shameless Field of Dreams – hop vine dreams – reference). Green Flash was one of the true pioneers of the floral and citrus-forward West Coast Style IPA and it’s hard to argue that your West Coast IPA isn’t a classic example. There seems to be no end in sight to the accelerating trend of fruit, spice, and “other things nice” IPAs. Does Green Flash intend to offer a variety of similarly modified IPAs or will you remain true to the classic West Coast and Imperial IPAs?
Ben Widseth (BW): Green Flash is focused on innovating beer styles that meet the demands of our loyal craft beer drinkers. Regarding IPAs, the style has evolved into a its own sub-category with the endless variety of options, as you mentioned. For Green Flash, we will always view West Coast IPA as our flagship beer; however, we are inspired to continuously brew interesting beers that cover the IPA spectrum, like our Tropical DNA hazy IPA.
TAM: In recent years, while we’ve seen a tremendous explosion in the number of craft brewers, we’ve also seen a disturbing herd mentality in lineups. It seems as if everyone feels the need to offer, for example, a session IPA. Do you worry that newer and even some established brewers are becoming too formulaic and predictable in their lineups? If so, what do you attribute that to? Is it a focus on competition and financial realities?
BW: Intense competition has certainly been a primary force contributing to craft breweries clustering around trending styles to generate dependable streams of revenue. At the same time, competition is also pushing brewers to new heights of craft beer innovation, fueling consumers’ expectations for new styles. These high consumer expectations are why I do not worry about the craft beer industry becoming too formulaic.
TAM: Getting back to the Field of Dreams “If you brew it, they will buy” reference, that used to mean craft beer fans will buy. These days, it also means bigger craft and industrial macro brewers will buy the brewery. What are your thoughts on that development? Good or bad for the craft beer industry? For the craft beer art? For the craft beer enthusiast?
BW: Craft beer enthusiasts are definitely the big winners in all of this competition. They have more high quality and innovative choices that are more accessible than ever which has helped grow the craft industry to where it is today.
TAM: What about venture capital and other large financial investors newfound interest and activity in the space? Has Green Flash been approached to join the ranks of Ballast Point, Lagunitas, Firestone-Walker, and the like?
BW: Green Flash is currently focused on organic growth through our brand refresh and new portfolio of quality beers.
TAM: The Virginia Beach expansion didn’t work as anyone expected or hoped. I know many Green Flash fans on the Least Coast were looking forward to more availability of Green Flash brews along with some limited and special releases. Are there any plans to try another location in the future? What about contract brewing? Would Green Flash consider taking advantage of existing capacity on the East Coast or the South?
BW: In 2019, Green Flash is striving to reestablish the brand in San Diego with a distribution footprint in the western states. Of course, the dream is to responsibly grow enough to once again offer our beers on both coasts. We are also open to offering our extra capacity to contract brew and there are no plans in the near future to open another location.
TAM: Along those lines, do you anticipate expanding distribution outside of Southern California and the Southwest in the foreseeable future?
BW: The plan is to first stabilize and then grow in our existing areas of distribution. If we achieve sustainable growth in these areas, we will look at geographic expansion.
TAM: What’s the next great thing in craft beer styles? Does Green Flash have its eyes set on a style not commonly brewed in SoCal? Goses have become very popular this past year. Any chance we’ll see a unique San Diego style Ice Plant and Free Range Hawaiian Black Sea Salt Gose? While we’re at it, the fruits have all been taken by the IPAs but there’s still room for expansion into the finger foods. Do you see a Pigs In The Blanket IPA (i.e. Smoked IPA) in your or any other craft brewer’s lineup? Is there a limit to what passes for a legitimate IPA (or other style) recipe? What ever happened to careful experimentation and manipulation of hop varieties and yeast characteristics to bring out bold and different flavor profiles?
BW: There are certainly more unique styles of beer with exotic ingredients emerging. At Green Flash we want to offer beers that our consumers want, so any ingredient is fair game depending on what our insights are telling us. From an experimentation and innovation standpoint, we are constantly in search of new ways to use “traditional” craft beer ingredients (hops, yeast, etc.). The growth of global craft has also offered new ingredient varietals that have been exciting to our brewers.
TAM: Speaking of yeast characteristics, will Le Freak be making a comeback in Green Flash’s regular lineup?
BW: Yes, we will be releasing in a 22oz bottle and draft.
TAM: Finally, how does your new branding, artwork, and marketing speak to who you are and what you stand for among West Coast and San Diego County brewers?
BW: The new branding and packaging are intended to reconnect Green Flash back to our San Diego roots. The flash in our new logo was refreshed to better showcase the magical moment of the sun setting into the sea that creates a Green Flash. The custom illustrations on each package represent the San Diego lifestyle complimented by our Born in San Diego seal. Furthermore, our marketing plans are positioned to reestablish the brand with the San Diego community, starting with our Brewdown Beer Festival that is a competition and a fundraiser. The idea is a people’s choice award with the winning brewery getting a $5,000 donation, on Green Flash, to the charity of their choosing. These are the sorts of things that Green Flash needs to start doing again to rebuild in our home market.
TAM: There are, like myself, many Green Flash fans out here where the closest we get to San Diego is watching a Padres home game on MLB Network or the Farmer’s Insurance Open from Torrey Pines. We hope the sight of Green Flash brews out here isn’t as elusive as the sight of the real thing out there as you pour a West Coast IPA on Ocean Beach!