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Green Flash consolidating workforce and distribution network

Jan 15

It’s easy to look at a seemingly successful large brewing company, see their beers (and those of their acquired brands) on the taps and shelves all over the county, knowing they are also distributed throughout most of the country, and assume all is well. But even though the craft-beer boom is in full swing, with a record number of new breweries opening throughout the nation, the industry has never been more challenging, especially for regional breweries ranking among the nation’s largest.

Last January, Mira Mesa-based Green Flash Brewing—which also operates a satellite barrel-aging brewery in Poway as well as a production brewery in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and a soon-to-open brewpub in Lincoln, Nebraska—laid off around 25 employees. Given Green Flash’s status as the 37th largest craft brewing company in the U.S., this was big news. And so, too, is today’s announcement that the company has made the difficult decision to let go of 15% of its workforce.

That percentage equates to 33 employees. Owner Mike Hinkley says that while no Green Flash tasting room or Alpine Beer Co. (a brand acquired by Green Flash in November 2014) staff will be impacted, it will touch on other departments, primarily those serving business administration functions—marketing, events and the like—in both San Diego and Virginia Beach.

“I am greatly saddened by folks having to leave the company. We simply could not compete effectively with such broad geographic reach,” says Hinkley. “We will soon discontinue shipments to distributors that currently constitute about 18% of our wholesale trade revenue. With that reduction in revenue, we have to reduce expenses accordingly.”

Hinkley reports the company has decided to consolidate distribution, reconfiguring to best serve locales nearer to its production facilities. Moving forward, beer brewed and packaged at Green Flash’s Mira Mesa facility will be shipped to California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nebraska, Nevada, Texas and Utah, while Virginia product will ship in-state as well as to Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. According to a press release, the refocus will enhance the company’s operations and ability to provide consumers with fresh beer.

When asked what factors led to the need to reconfigure distribution and consolidate Green Flash’s workforce, Hinkley responded, “The industry has continued to grow more crowded and complex in recent years. Big Beer’s acquisitions and consolidation of the biggest brewers created pressure from the top. Thousands of small brewers opening across the country created pressure from the bottom. Under those conditions, we are pulling back into the territory where we are the strongest and concentrating our resources.”

When asked about the future of Green Flash’s Poway-based Cellar 3 barrel-aged beer operation, Hinkley says it will remain open and that, months ago, the decision was made that, despite management’s belief that the beers are of high quality, the amount of beer that is packaged there and shipped to retailers will be reduced significantly.

Even in the midst of consolidation, Hinkley and company are looking to the future with optimism. The Lincoln brewpub is on-schedule with a February opening timeframe confirmed. Head brewer Jeff Hanson (formerly of Omaha’s Brickway Brewery and Upstream Brewing, and Boulevard Brewing) will create Green Flash core beers under brewmaster Eric Jensen’s supervision, as well as beers of his own devising, and that facility will eventually supply the entire state of Nebraska with Green Flash product.

Should this prove a viable business model, Hinkley says they will look to replicate it elsewhere, but there are no plans for such expansion in the immediate future. For now, the company will focus on its revised approach to distribution—it had distributed to 50 states, 35 more than the count listed on its newly announced business plan.

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Craft Q&A: Carli Smith

Nov 14

Head Brewer, Bold Missy Brewery

I first met Carli Smith after being introduced by her mentor, Marty Mendiola. The former had recently resigned from his long-time post at Rock Bottom’s La Jolla brewpub to start his own business, Second Chance Beer Company, and wanted me to meet the protégé who would be taking over his role. (Author’s Note: Smith also apprenticed under Doug Hasker at Gordon Biersch‘s Mission Valley brewpub). About five minutes in, I was confident Mendiola’s brewhouse was in good hands. Smith is a brewer’s brewer with a passion for the history and art of beer-making that has nothing to do with the pursuit of money or stature. She just loves beer and the camaraderie of her chosen industry. During her time at Rock Bottom, she’s consulted and collaborated with many local brewers while also playing a vital role in the San Diego chapter of the industry’s women’s-advocacy group, Pink Boots Society. This has led to her becoming a popular and respected figure in the local beer scene, which makes the news that she’s moving cross-country to take a new position as head brewer at Charlotte, North Carolina’s Bold Missy Brewery even harder for many to accept. But before she moves onward and eastward, we took a moment to get some details.

What inspired you to move from your lifelong hometown?
I’m ready to try something new. About a year ago, I decided it’s time to make a move. I’d made some personal life changes and it got me to the point where I can be more flexible with my living arrangements. Since Rock Bottom has locations everywhere and I really enjoyed working for them, I started looking to see if there were openings at places I could transfer to. Some opportunities came about but nothing came to fruition, so I started looking outside the company. My only parameters were to go somewhere besides California, Texas or Florida—I was open to pretty much anything else. I loved the Pacific Northwest and Colorado—I have some family there—but I only did a little research into the East Coast. But a friend of mine I grew up with in Poway moved to Charlotte four years ago and has been trying to get me to move there ever since. That’s where it all started.

How did you learn of the opening at Bold Missy Brewery?
They actually found me and offered me this job a year ago. They learned of me through the membership directory on the Pink Boots Society website. They sent me an email that got caught up in my spam folder, so I didn’t see it until four months later. I wasn’t actively searching outside Rock Bottom at the time and I felt rude responding after so much time. But when I went to Charlotte to visit my friend recently, I decided to visit and see what I missed out on at an event they were holding. Bold Missy had opened a couple weeks before and it was a beautiful place. I figured they’re open and they have a brewer so they must be happy, but then the owner got up to speak and mentioned they were still looking for a brewer and having a hard time finding someone who would relocate. She also mentioned they specifically wanted a female brewer. My friend gave them my info and they reached out again. This time I got it, spoke with the owner, did a technical brewer’s interview, went out for another visit and then accepted their offer.

Tell us a little about Bold Missy.
I’ll be working on a 15-barrel, American-made system. They have four 15-barrel fermenters and four 15-barrel jacketed bright tanks. They’re only using about 30% of their space at present so there’s lots of room for expansion. The ceiling is high enough that I can put 60-barrel fermenters in there, and they have a really big tasting room with a large patio out front plus a small kitchen doing specialty hot-dogs, flatbreads, pretzels and items like that. In North Carolina, a brewery has to have at least two food items to sell beer—much different from here.

What are Bold Missy’s current beer offerings and do you plan to change anything up?
Their core beers are an IPA, brown ale, blonde ale and a tangerine Belgian witbier, and their names are inspired by women throughout history. The IPA is called Rocket Ride for Sally Ride, Solo Flight Brown is named for Amelia Earhart and the blonde is called Git Your Gun for Annie Oakley. I want to pull back on the extract in the wit and use tangerine peel, juice or pulp to make it all-natural. I’m excited a brown is a core beer because that’s my favorite style to drink and brew. Right now, it’s American-style, but I’ve talked to them about doing an English-style brown ale instead. Barbecue is huge in Charlotte, so I want to brew my smoked porter out there. I also want to try to bring some West Coast flair and West Coast-style IPAs. There are lots of hazy IPAs in the market out there, so I want to introduce clean, clarified beer and show them that can be hoppy and “juicy,” too.

Do you plan to remain involved with Pink Boots Society?
Pink Boots has a state chapter in North Carolina but there aren’t lots of city chapters yet. I think after I get settled I may look into trying to put together a city chapter. I really enjoyed helping to make San Diego’s chapter very educational and empowering with monthly get-togethers where you’re learning something new, advancing knowledge or sharing something with other members.

Do you have any parting words for your many friends in San Diego?
I’m so excited but I’m going to miss everybody terribly. What’s great is that twice-a-year we have big national get-togethers—the Craft Brewers Conference and Great American Beer Festival—so I’ll see everyone there. And I’m really excited that Dan Anderson is taking over for me at Rock Bottom La Jolla. I know he’s going to do an amazing job and put out some really great beers. A big plus for our regulars who enjoy Belgian-style beers is that there’ll be more of them now than when I worked there because he actually likes them.

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