From the Beer Writer: Acronyms are used across the alcoholic-beverage industry, typically to describe particularly fine product. Cognac uses VSOP (very special/superior old pale) and XO (extra old), and I’ve always been a fan of Napa-based Chateau Potelle’s using VGS (very good shit) to describe its finest vintages. Alpine Beer Company issued an acronymous handle to its Mosaic-, Simcoe- and Citra-infused India pale ale…Alpine HFS. It’s not so much a descriptor as a reactionary phrase broken down into a publicly suitable format; the sort of happily expletive-laced comment one’s liable to make after tasting this rich, bold IPA. It debuted to great fanfare last year as a draft-only offering before taking a bronze medal in the American-style Strong Pale Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival. The next chapter in this brew’s short but illustrious lifespan is its first release in bottles. That will take place starting at noon, today at Alpine’s tasting room in its namesake East County town. They don’t figure to stay in stock for long. Show up tomorrow to pick some up and you may find yourself shouting Holy F***ing S*** for all the wrong reasons.
From the Brewer: “The beer that named itself. We always strive to offer the best beer we can possibly make, and with this beer we felt it was perfect right out of the gate. No adjustments were necessary. We got exactly what we wanted out of the beer: huge hop aroma, light body and immense drinkability. We hope this beer stays in heavy rotation.”—Shawn McIlhenney, Head Brewer, Alpine Beer Company
Since the moment Green Flash Brewing Company acquired Alpine Beer Company back in 2014, there has been concern among protective fans of the latter about that brand’s future. Over the past two-plus years, numerous rumors have popped up, but never in such abundance and covering so many topics as in the weeks following Green Flash’s recent round of layoffs. The company dismissed approximately 25 employees over the span of a few days. Since then, numerous sources have signaled the beginning of the end in talks with industry colleagues. Enough so, that we recently went to Green Flash owner Mike Hinkley and other company representatives for direct responses to each of them.
Rumor: It’s been reported that Hinkley has stepped down from the CEO position.
Response (from Green Flash): Hinkley is still the CEO and his title has not changed. Chris Ross was recently promoted from chief operating officer to president, and is reporting to Hinkley. This promotion recognizes the great knowledge and vast experience that Ross brings to the Green Flash organization. Over the past year-and-a-half, Ross has built a solid operations department. In his expanded role as president, every department at Green Flash will benefit from his insight and business acumen.
Rumor: Hinkley has moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Response (from Green Flash): Hinkley is dividing his time between both coasts to be close to the Virginia Beach brewery, the San Diego brewery and Florida. He plans to spend less time in the brewery and more time on the road with his beloved sales team, the Road Warriors.
Rumor: Alpine’s founding family—Pat, Val and Shawn McIlhenney—will soon have no affiliation with the company.
Response (from Hinkley): The Hinkleys and the McIlhenney’s continue to own Alpine Beer and Green Flash. McIlhenneys forever is the retention plan. If Shawn has children someday, we will send them all to brew-school and hope for the best. Pat is an awesome brewer. Shawn is an awesome brewer. Hoping it’s in the genes. None of us will live forever, but Alpine Beer will.
Rumor: Brewing operations will cease permanently at Alpine Beer’s brewery in Alpine.
Response (from Hinkley): We plan to brew Alpine Beer in Alpine forever. We are currently working with the landlord on site-development and hope to build a new brewery in Alpine as soon as possible.
Rumor: Green Flash is working on constructing a facility in Texas.
Response (from Hinkley): Green Flash will eventually build a brewery in the middle of the country. The motivation? We are in the business of making and selling beer. It makes great business-sense to bring fresh beer to market and connect with customers close to the point-of-sale. We love Texas, but there are no specific plans to build there, or anywhere else, yet. We are just getting comfortable in our Virginia digs.
From the Beer Writer: I won’t mince words. When a craft brewery is purchased by a macro-brewery, it’s a terrible thing. However, when a craft brewery is acquired by a craft brewery, that’s a whole other deal entirely. It’s my theory that, in order to more effectively contend with desperate Big Beer breweries eating up craft entities to steal back market share, craft companies are going to need to partner together or do some buying of their own. A case for this is made by Green Flash Brewing Company’s acquisition of Alpine Beer Co. Before selling to Green Flash, Alpine’s beers were much-coveted but in scarce supply. Nowadays, Alpine beers are much easier to find and are being distributed in a real way for the first time ever. Such is the case with its extremely hoppy, 8% alcohol-by-volume double India pale ale, Alpine Pure Hoppiness, which was recently released nationwide in six-packs. Though brewed and packaged at Green Flash’s Mira Mesa facility, the bottles are still adorned with original Alpine artwork and the beer, though not exactly the same as editions brewed on Alpine’s system, is mighty fine, making a satisfying case for quality craft breweries uniting.
From the Brewer: “Pure Hoppiness was created back before there was such a thing as a Double IPA. As a progression of my early homebrewing days of recipe development, this was a real challenge to satisfy my biggest critic, my wife Val. Many predecessors were brewed with the same presentation to Val: ‘Taste this, does it taste bad to you?’ Each was met with, ‘its good, but can you make it more floral, not bitter but more hoppy?’ That’s when big late addition hops were added and eventually a hop-back along with the impressive hop bill in the dry hopping. The newest cool hop to hit the market about that time was Columbus and its hijacked versions other hop farmers were stealing from each other, Tomahawk and Zeus. Columbus combined with Cascade and Centennial, old-school workhorse hops, made up the bulk of the hop bill, both in the brewing and dry hopping. We sneak in a little Nugget to help round out the flavor and aroma and balance out the hop oil profile. We use Simpson’s Maris Otter as part of the malt base. It still stands toe-to-toe with the best double IPAs out there so…drink Pure Hoppiness or go to bed!”—Pat McIlhenney, Brewmaster, Alpine Beer Co.
From the Bottle: This mega-hopped, West Coast-style India pale ale will take you to hop heaven! We’ve used hops in the boil, more hops in the giant hopback, and added to that an incredible amount of dry-hopping for that cutting edge “hop bite.” Once you’ve tasted this unique beer, all others pale in comparison. Drink better beer so…Drink Alpine ale or go to bed!—Pat McIlhenney
When news broke about Chuck Silva resigning from Green Flash Brewing Company, most focused on the Mira Mesa-based business’ long-time brewmaster’s future. Meanwhile, the company shifted its attention to the future. In doing so, it leaned on a resource that has been very valuable for the past three years, promoting former head brewer Erik Jensen to the position of brewmaster. Both they and Silva are pleased with the move, and highly confident in Jensen’s ability to step in and fill some very big brewer’s boots. Despite being busy adjusting to his new role—including ordering an entire brew system for Green Flash’s upcoming East Coast brewery in Virginia Beach, Virginia—he took some time to answer questions about his past, present and bright, flashy future.
Has it been your aspiration to become a brewmaster?
Erik Jensen: It’s not a new role for me. I’ve been the brewmaster at a couple of smaller breweries where I had recipe control, so this is just a new chapter for me on a much larger scale.
Tell us about your career up to this point?
EJ: I received a certificate in Intensive Brewing Science from the American Brewers Guild under professor Michael Lewis in 1994. That led me to Golden Pacific Brewing Company in Berkeley, where I worked for a couple of years as a brewer and supervisor. From there, I moved on to Karl Strauss Brewing Company in 1996, where I was head brewer until 2002. I went on to a couple of stints at brewpubs between 2003 and 2011, where I was the brewmaster and recipe developer. I have been with Green Flash since February of 2012, first as head brewer and now as brewmaster.
Silva left rather suddenly. Take us through the emotions of the day he resigned and you were promoted?
EJ: I’ve been in the role of running Green Flash for nearly four years now, so there was no great shock in continuing to do that. When Chuck announced his resignation, our CEO and founder, Mike Hinkley, came to me within the hour and offered me the role of brewmaster. It was very flattering that he had such confidence in my abilities that it wasn’t even a question for him.
What does the role of brewmaster entail?
EJ: I am responsible for all day-to-day operations at Green Flash Brewing, including our main facility in Mira Mesa and Cellar 3 in Poway. My first big project is to design and build our new brewery in Virginia Beach, which we plan to have in production by next summer. I am also working on refining our new products for 2016. We are also developing a brewing lab to help us investigate our processes and ensure that everything we do is geared towards the highest quality beer we can make. Passions of mine are digging into the daily operations, developing brewers and making our processes as good as they can be.
Are there any beers you hope to conceptualize?
EJ: I’d love to make a fruity, juicy, hoppy wheat bee that’s lower in alcohol and hop-bursted or made using our new hop-back…or both. I’d also like to experiment with kettle-soured beers. I love the low-alcohol/high-flavor that kettle-soured beers are known for. Green Flash also has a huge opportunity with our barrel-aged Cellar 3 brand which I hope to expand on. I am also excited to work with Shawn McIlhenney of Alpine Beer Co. to continue their great tradition of hoppy beers.
Any parting thoughts?
EJ: Green Flash owes Chuck Silva a great debt. We wouldn’t be the brewery that we are today without him, and we wish him great success with his new venture. That said, we are looking forward to a new era at Green Flash. I’m really lucky to have the dedicated and talented brewers that we have on our staff. It’s going to make my new role that much easier.