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Green Flash: After 2018’s implosion, is this San Diego brewery racing toward a revival?

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Green Flash’s breakthrough beer, West Coast IPA, returns. New look, same taste.

Will Green Flash Shine Again?

Has Green Flash extinguished the dumpster fire that nearly destroyed the Mira Mesa craft brewery in 2018?

CEO Michael Taylor’s answer: “Green Flash Brewing Company is not dead. We are thriving.”

That would be a remarkable turn-around. Over two dizzying weeks last spring, it sold its Virginia Beach, Va., brewery; folded Poway’s Cellar 3 and its barrel-aged and sour beer program; and retired a mountain of debt by selling its assets to an investment group led by Richard Lobo.

Once distributed in 50 states, the brewery pulled back to eight: California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Nebraska. The existing breweries in Mira Mesa and Alpine — Green Flash owns Alpine Beer — continued, while a new taproom opened in Lincoln, Neb.

“We’re treating ’18 as a foundational year,” said Taylor, “and ’19 as a growth year.”

Among the advances Taylor cited: an increased sales staff; a bright redesign of bottles and cans, stressing the Flash’s coastal San Diego roots; and a renewed commitment to experimentation, with the taprooms acting as test labs.

The brewery, led by Green Flash veteran Erik Jensen, recently debuted a hazy India pale ale, Tropical DNA, in bottles and cans, and returned West Coast IPA to its original recipe.

Taylor’s hiring last May raised eyebrows and concern. He came from Anheuser-Busch InBev, where he had led that corporation’s purchase of 10 U.S. craft breweries. Was he prepping Green Flash for a similar fate?

“I didn’t come to the company to prepare the company for a sale,” he said. “I came to the company to build the company and be an entrepreneur again.”

At Green Flash, he noted, a new beer can be proposed and approved in a single day. “You can’t do that in a multinational corporation.”

At its peak in 2016, Green Flash produced 91,000 barrels of beer. Last year’s figures reflected a company in free fall: 33,000 barrels. Taylor predicts a 20 percent rebound this year, lifting sales to about 40,000 barrels.

“I’m 100 percent focused on growth,” he said.

Fighting Words

Ian Roberts insists San Diego is not the “Capital of Craft.” The title, he argued in a recent email, “belongs to the great state of Michigan.”

He cited last weekend’s Winter Festival, with 1,100-plus beers from about 150 Michigan breweries. There’s also the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Summer Beer Festival, July 26-27 in Ypsilanti, pouring more than 1,000 beers from the Wolverine State.

“Show me a Californian beer festival that can feature over 1,000 Californian beers,” he wrote.

The gauntlet has been tossed down. Anyone care to defend the honor of California breweries?

Random Question from My Editor

Q. As a beer columnist, how much do you drink?

A. On average, one to two beers a day. Some days are beer-less, while at festivals I may drink enough 1- to 3-ounce samples to equal four or five beers. (On those occasions, a designated driver ferries me home.)

When reviewing a beer, I take notes on two separate occasions. Like people, beers have distinct personalities. Some reveal themselves quickly, while others need more time and attention.

Kings of Beer

Skeptics beware. Erik Jensen, Green Flash’s brewmaster, insists he’s making West Coast IPA (7 percent alcohol by volume) the way it was first intended. In his office, Jensen has the handwritten notes from the original recipe.

Jensen says he follows that recipe to the letter. While I believe him, I understand why some have doubts. West Coast debuted decades ago. Since then, Green Flash had marketed several versions, including a boozier (8.1 percent ABV) imperial IPA that was sold through last year.

The original? This is The IPA That Time Forgot. It’s brighter and nimbler than the 2018 West Coast, yet more substantial than the one-dimensional fruit bombs now being sold as “hazy IPAs.”

Over a firm base of British Crystal malts, Simcoe, Columbus, Centennial, Citra and Cascade hops deliver aromas and flavors of pine sap and grapefruit zest. A bracing bitterness persists throughout, without pushing aside the caramel-like malts.

Bold and well-rounded, West Coast IPA is an invigorating blast from the past. “This,” Jensen said, “is a beer that inspired my generation.”

Best of the Week

Friday: O’Brien’s Pub, 4646 Convoy St., has nine beers on tap from Bakersfield’s Great Change, the latest venture from Kyle Smith, a former Kern River brewer.

Friday-Sunday: “Stone IPA Madness Tip-Off Weekend” is at the brewery’s Escondido and Liberty Station bistros, plus taprooms in Oceanside (310 N. Tremont St.), downtown San Diego (1202 Kettner Blvd.) and East Village (795 J St.).

Saturday: Coronado’s San Diego tasting room (1205 Knoxville St.) hosts a luau, 1 to 5 p.m., complete with island-inspired food, music and its new beer, Leisure Lagoon.

Parting Thought

Now that Green Flash has resuscitated the original West Coast IPA, could Stone bring back its original Pale Ale?

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Twitter: @peterroweut

peter.rowe@sduniontribune.com