The eternal saga of “what the hell is going on with Green Flash, anyway?” that has been an ongoing story in the beer industry for years at this point seems to have finally moved to a last chapter, as today brings news that the Green Flash and Alpine Beer Co. brands have finally been acquired by a more recognizable name, that of Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing Co., itself owned by cannabis company Tilray. Given Paste’s Atlanta roots, it’s a company we know quite well, and a product lineup that seems to fit in well alongside SweetWater’s own. In recent years, SweetWater’s rapid expansion, coupled with the loss of several major breweries that no longer qualify as “craft brewers” under the Brewers Association definition, have catapulted the Atlanta brewery to 11th on the list of the largest craft brewer entities.
They’ll only likely be growing larger with the Green Flash and Alpine Beer Co. brands as part of the fold, but notably this sale does not come with the existing Green Flash brewing facility in San Diego, nor does it include the beloved Alpine Beer Company Pub in East County. Both of those facilities will likely be for sale, which means that Green Flash Brewing Co. will effectively have come to the end of its time having a physical taproom/operation in California. Both Green Flash and Alpine beers, meanwhile, will be brewed at SweetWater’s newly opened facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. The current, shadowy ownership of Green Flash, WC IPA LLC, will reportedly cease operations but retain ownership of the facilities, which will be shopped for prospective clients looking to purchase large brewing spaces. Notably, fans of the original Alpine Beer Co. will still be able to visit its successor brewery Mcilhenney Brewing in Alpine, California, as owners Pat, Valerie and Shawn Mcilhenney founded it a few years back after being ousted from their original creation.
This new arrangement with SweetWater should be able to preserve both Green Flash and Alpine as at least regional brands, but the fate of Green Flash in particular is perhaps the ultimate example of the struggles that the craft beer industry has faced in recent years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. At every step of the way, the story of Green Flash has illustrated how fragile things can be even for a major, nationally recognized brand.
As recently as 2016, Green Flash was ranked as the 37th largest craft brewing operation in the U.S., when it produced 91,000 barrels of beer. It was distributing beer to almost the entire U.S. at the time, and was in the process of opening a sprawling, $20 million East Coast brewing headquarters in Virginia Beach. Along the way, it had acquired the similarly West Coast IPA-focused Alpine Beer Co. brand, opened a barrel-aging facility and tasting room in Poway, California and cemented its status as one of the best-known purveyors of mass-market American IPA.
Behind the scenes, though, Green Flash was struggling, as it had apparently expanded far too fast and too ambitiously. As the number of small U.S. breweries skyrocketed, and growth of the category began to slow in the back half of the 2010s, Green Flash found itself struggling to compete against local competitors in markets remote from its West Coast origins. Production began to slip, and bills from the massive expansion projects piled up. Several rounds of layoffs in 2017 and 2018 sent up plenty of red flags, as did the closure of the Virginia Beach location after only 16 months of operation. That facility is now owned and operated by Atlanta’s own similarly fast-growing New Realm Brewing Co. Green Flash then closed its barrel-aging facility Cellar 3, before finally acknowledging a foreclosure that left the remaining Green Flash brewery and the Alpine Beer Co. brand in the hands of WC IPA LLC. That entity was reportedly headed by one Richard Lobo, a managing partner at private equity firm Muirlands Capital LLC, but it was generally unclear what the goals were for this version of Green Flash, and the brand has essentially limped along this way until today.
Now, at least the status of Green Flash and Alpine Beer Co. brands are clear. It will be interesting to see if SweetWater is able to revitalize consumer interest in the brand, as many beer geeks seem to have sworn Green Flash off over the years, citing a perceived decline of quality. At a time when West Coast IPA seems ripe for a broader comeback as a welcome alternative to hazier, juicier IPAs, though, perhaps there’s a place for a revived Green Flash or Alpine Beer Co. to once again find a more enduring place in the national beer scene? With the muscle of SweetWater behind them, it just might be possible. We might also expect to see THC and CBD brands increasingly become part of the focus, especially with more weed-friendly brands such as Alpine and Green Flash being sold throughout the West Coast.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.