Cellar 3 closes, as Green Flash continues to decline

In a 2014 photo, John Silveria adjusts the beer menu at Green Flash's Mira Mesa tasting room.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

RIP, Cellar 3.

In another blow to Green Flash, on Friday the San Diego brewery closed its Poway barrel-aging facility, Cellar 3. This was a stunning end to a week that began with Green Flash shutting down its Virginia brewery, laying off 43 employees and halting distribution in 10 states.

Founded in Vista in 2002, Green Flash had once been among the nation’s most ambitious craft breweries, distributing in all 50 states while trying to establish a national profile. In 2014, the company bought Alpine Beer; and in ‘15 it opened a brewery and taproom in Virginia Beach while, closer to home, inaugurating Cellar 3.

At 12,000 square feet, Cellar 3 was smaller than Green Flash Virginia, which had 58,000 square feet. Yet the Poway operation may have been more ambitious. Cellarmaster Pat Korn was charged with shepherding a lineup of notoriously fickle beers, from Flanders-style sour ales to smokey stouts maturing in bourbon barrels.

But the facility never had the time it needed to reach the heights, Korn said in a brief interview Friday.

“It’s too bad they didn’t finish the five-year plan I had in place to really make it successful,” said Korn, who left Green Flash and Cellar 3 in January, when the company laid off 15 percent of its employees and pulled out of 32 states.

Green Flash has suffered a rapid, steep descent. In 2016, the Mira Mesa-based company was the nation’s 37th largest craft brewery and the county’s third largest, trailing only Stone and Ballast Point. By 2017, though, it had fallen to 43rd place.

Some industry observers believe the loss of brewmaster Chuck Silva, who left in 2015 to start his own brewery in Paso Robles, was a fatal blow.

“It was his recipes that gave the brand heart,” said Gonzalo Quintero, who teaches courses in the business of beer at San Diego State University.

The brewery’s timing was bad, too, as they expanded after the boom in craft beer had peaked. As Quintero put it, “Green Flash was simultaneously striking while the iron was cooling.”

Green Flash co-owners Mike and Lisa Hinkley could not be reached for comment Friday.