It’s a Monday morning in America’s Finest City and its mega craft beer event, San Diego Beer Week, is in full swing. Most of us craft beer enthusiasts are contemplating which of the dozens of fantastic and fun events lined up all over the county to attend. Then something happens. News from the craft beer industry breaks and San Diego beer drinkers do a collective double take and everything in our world of hand crafted brews comes to a screeching halt at the news and we let out a gasp of “What with the what what?”
Green Flash Brewing has bought Alpine Beer Company.
Honestly, it took me several long minutes for me to wrap my head around the very notion of it. While it’s certainly not unheard of for a craft brewer to acquire a smaller craft brewer, Samuel Adams has been doing it for a while now (even if you don’t consider them to be craft any longer), the idea of it happening here in San Diego took me by surprise.
As is no longer shocking, after a quick perusing of my social media feeds, there was a lot of mixed reaction. Some people liked it, some didn’t. Some out right hated it while others where just hoping the beer wouldn’t be affected. I think if the announcement wasn’t coming on the heels of the news of Anheuser-Busch purchasing Portland craft beer legend 10 Barrel Brewing this past week, the news might not have met with such diverse reactions.
I think a lot of assumptions were made initially, and hopefully now that the shock has worn off, people see this for what it is, two craft beer companies coming together to make each of their brands stronger and increase their odds of continued success in a beer market that is, with the exception of craft beer sales, flat or in decline depending on whose numbers you are looking at.
After reading several articles on the sale and the official press release, which you can find here, it’s clear that this is a move the will benefit both companies and craft beer drinkers alike.
Green Flash has an incredible line-up of beers, excellent marketing strategies and well thought out expansions plans, including a new facility which has recently broken ground in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Their larger production facility will mean that Alpine beers, long coveted and argued to be the best IPA’s in the world, will now be available to more people. How can this be considered a bad thing?
On the surface, it may look to some as if this is like Anheuser-Busch, a giant corporation gobbling up the little guys in an effort to stop the competition. I believe there is nothing further from the truth. What A.B. is doing is an attempt to get a foot hold in a market that they have been boxed out of by purchasing companies like 10 Barrel, Goose Island and others that already have a foot in the door.
The situation with Green Flash and Alpine is totally different. For one thing, Green Flash helped to create the market they are in. To the people who run the company, craft beer isn’t about competition but about comradery and the belief that great beer brings great people together. Alpine Beer Company on the other hand, has enjoyed immense popularity, particularly for their murder’s row of IPA’s like Duet, Nelson, Hoppy Birthday, Exponential Hoppiness and others. However, the bottom line has always been that they are a small brewery in east county San Diego and the demand for their beers continues to outpace their ability to brew it all fast enough. An experiment earlier in the year, where Alpine allowed Green Flash to brew their IPA’s meet with Alpine head brewer & co-founder Pat McIIhenny’s approval. One could speculate that this was the genesis of the idea for the new ownership arrangement.
Alpine Beer Company will still be run the same way. The labels on the bottle will be the same. The beer in the bottles will be the same. Pat will still be making the beer to his exacting standards. The small brewery and brewpub will still be open in Alpine, the plans for a new, larger restaurant are still in the works. The biggest change will be the volume of beer made and where it’s made at; Green Flash. This opens the door to wider distribution throughout California and I’d guess it’s only a matter of time before 49 other states will get their chance at some of the best beer in the world. And perhaps most importantly, the roughly 20 employees who work at Alpine will now have the opportunity for health insurance, 401K and other perks that the small scale brewery was unable to provide before now.
While a tiny part of me is sad that the Alpine Beer Company that was something of San Diego secret is now done and over with, the rest of me is very excited for the the rest of California, and the country to now be able to get their hands on what I consider to be the finest craft beers on the planet, because if you’ve not had Nelson IPA from Alpine, you are truly missing out on something special.