There’s no place like home.
Green Flash Brewing Company learned that lesson after a meteoric rise in the 2000s and 2010s. They had expanded to 50 states and internationally, as the first American craft brewery to brew, bottle and distribute an IPA in Europe. In 2014, they acquired another San Diego-area brewery, Alpine Brewing Company, and brought them along for the ride. But in the ever-more competitive craft beer market, that expansion proved unsustainable.
Realizing they had lost touch with their home market, Green Flash made the difficult decision to scale back and reconnect with their San Diego roots. With a click of their heels, they were gone from our lives, back home to sunny California.
For those of us scrounging for the last bottle of West Coast IPA in our East Coast beer fridges, it was a dark day. We mourned. We reminisced. We immediately planned a vacation to San Diego.
Maybe it didn’t get that far, but we did keep asking Green Flash to bring a little SoCal sun back into our lives. They were listening, but they had a lot of work to do before they could consider sending beer east again.
Over the last two years, Green Flash has been slowly rebuilding, recalibrating and learning what resonates with their home market to ensure a solid foundation. Green Flash Brewmaster Erik Jensen says they’ve got an entirely new way of thinking about the business, ranging from new packaging, to portfolio innovations, to how they choose which beers to brew.
“Our strategy ensures we capture a variety of perspectives,” Jensen says. “We implemented a cross-functional innovation committee with representatives from our brewing, marketing and sales teams to discuss trends we see in the marketplace and styles and techniques that pique our curiosity.”
But their customers’ feedback is the ultimate judge of success, and so far, San Diego has skewed hazy. Visitors to the tasting room have embraced Green Flash’s take on the style, the 7% ABV hazy IPA, Tropical DNA. It’s the consistent best seller at the brewery every month, and the first Green Flash beer to kick at festivals.
While they’ve been expanding their portfolio, Green Flash has re-energized their classic offerings too. West Coast IPA is back to its original 7% ABV recipe, and the whole portfolio has gotten a makeover. With the help of illustrator Matthew Jay Fleming (frequent collaborator with Dave Matthews Band), they’ve launched packaging with new graphics that depict “the vibrant San Diego lifestyle.”
Green Flash has done the work, and now we get to reap the reward. Late last year, a little San Diego sun made its way back to the Philly beer scene.
“In evaluating markets to re-enter, we wanted to be deliberate and strategic,” says Ben Widseth, Green Flash VP of Marketing. “Green Flash continued to have high awareness and positive brand affinity with PA consumers, and with a strong wholesaler partner, the expansion quickly made sense.”
Since both Green Flash and Alpine are famous for their high-quality IPAs (Alpine is even known as “The Home of Pure Hoppiness” among their fans), it made sense for the San Diego-area breweries to kick off their return to Philly with takes on the best-selling craft beer style. Fans of the brands snapped up cases of Green Flash’s West Coast IPA and Tropical DNA, as well as Alpine’s Duet and Nelson IPAs, the second they became available.
But we know what you’re thinking. They’re back, but are they here to stay?
Widseth says Green Flash and Alpine have thought a lot about how to remain relevant in the rapidly evolving craft beer space. Brand focus will be key as they move forward, but innovation seems to be the driving force behind Green Flash’s relaunch, as they make in-roads with fans old and new.
Brewmaster Jensen tells us those innovations include not only the tasting room favorite, Tropical DNA, but also Saturhaze, a 4.2% ABV, “easy” hazy IPA with refreshing, tropical citrus flavors and an extra crisp finish, for a Saturday spent by the pool with friends.
Then there’s the release of a “better-for-you” offering, Beter, a light-bodied wheat beer brewed with certified organic hops, fruit, malt and tea. Look for it later this year.
And there’s even more great news from San Diego: For the first time, Alpine was able to secure enough Nelson hops (the New Zealand strain from which Nelson IPA takes its name) to brew their award-winning, unfiltered IPA year-round. Look for it in cans and on draught.
Green Flash has indeed put in the work. After a strategic pullback, a brand refresh and a deep look at how they do business, they’ve reconnected with their home market in a meaningful way, proving to San Diego and the rest of us that they’ve taken lessons learned to heart. But while there’s no place like home, we hope Green Flash and Alpine will remain in Philly for a long time to come.