The story of craft / independent beer is one of growth. Breweries open seemingly every weekend. New taprooms. New can releases. New everywhere you look. As of 2017, the United States was home to an astounding 6,372 breweries. Everything is go-go and grow.
But not all breweries are tiny little garage nanos or locally based micros. Some are regional players looking to open new markets. When growth is strong and in the double digits, it can be easy to think that growth and economies of scale are the way to go. Open that satellite tap room or if you are in the west and your beers are popular back east, the tempting idea of opening a second brewery when state governments are wooing you and your competitors are doing it can lead to choices that don’t hold up when sales dip.
San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing Company recently sold its Virginia Beach, Virginia, brewing facility and had to severely re-trench when a major investor withdrew, forcing a sale to a new investor group. Dominoes began to swiftly fall. Their barrel-aging facility in Poway (outside of San Diego) shuttered, distribution was pulled back and relations between management and Alpine Beer Company, which had been folded into the Green Flash family are strained, to say the least. [Strangely, they are still involved with a Green Flash location in Nebraska.]
Growth will always involve risk. New tanks and double the amount of ingredients plus the cost of more staff demand lots of capital. There was risk and failure back at the beginning of the craft beer journey with such breweries as New Albion in Northern California and Cartwright in Oregon. Closer to home the rise and fall of Nibble Bit Tabby Brewery was a cautionary tale to the nascent L.A. brewing community. With each new brewery number milestone, beer internet dwellers worry that a bubble is about to burst. Green Flash is another blinking red light to those who think that a downturn is looming.
But keep in mind that there will always be churn. We have been living through times where so many new breweries have opened that the closures have seemed minimal and inconsequential. That will change. At some (still undetermined, maybe now) point, we will hit peak brewery count and the percentage of breweries ceasing production will rise. That is not a “bad” thing. It is an economic thing just like breweries selling out and consolidating. All three of these “bad” outcomes have happened here in Los Angeles.
Since Los Angeles was behind the nationwide brewery curve, we are in the unique position to learn from those in the vanguard like Portland, Denver and San Diego about how to grow and how the beer scene in that city copes when closures and cutbacks start to mount. You learn as much, if not more, from the failures as you do the successes. Following the sad story of Green Flash should provide education that helps future breweries to grow without falling into traps.
Bruery Terreux has a new Tart Saison on the market, so let’s see how a premier Orange County brewery that knows its way around a Belgian style measures up to a classic that is now being packaged like an American IPA.
Saison Ardennes from Bruery Terreux pours a lovely bright orange color. Initial aroma portends the sour flavor to come, but that initial sour bite drops back down to a medium woody taste. Not that Ardennes doesn’t have an acidic kick, but it is also a little bit vinous. I am getting a little grape character which makes this beer more rustic than sour.
St. Bernardus has been brewing in Watou, Belgium, but the beers we received stateside were the large bottles (sometimes corked and caged) which make the squat black can seem like, well, the family’s black sheep. Though the matte black does set off the Belgian Hops and Belgian Family Brewers logos. The can says the beer is a classic and I can’t argue. Almost a menthol aroma followed by big banana notes. This beer lingers with that light mint base. I can see it battling arugula in a spicy salad.
Both beers show off such powerful flavors, and despite differing flavor profiles, I see these beers as more similar to each other.
Set aside April 28 to visit Smog City Brewing‘s 2018 Anniversary Celebration. Part of Torrance’s first wave of breweries when they were established in 2011, their taproom on Del Amo has really grown since opening to the public five years ago. This year the theme is Awkward Teenager. Said celebratory beer is a generously dry-hopped fruited Belgian Saison. Just one of 30 plus Smog City beers that will be tapped.
One of the great aspects of the Smog City bash is that you can avail yourself of the VIP ticketed option where you will get plenty of fun add-ons like “Sour Production Facility tours, priority access to limited beers and beer cocktails, 1 bottle of our Awkward Teenager and a Carrier Bag, five tasters and two full pours and a Commemorative 6×8″ Smog City Photo Album.” Or if you want, just show up General Admission style without a ticket and raise a glass to Laurie and Porter and their team.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.