BY JEFF MAISEY
San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing Company became the first West Coast brewery to break ground in the Commonwealth of Virginia during a ceremony following their Treasure Chest Fest fundraiser in Virginia Beach in mid-October.
Mike and Lisa Hinkley established the brewery in 2002. Both were present for the two-day festivities. Invitations went out to the regional breweries, restaurant owners and dignitaries, including city council members, Mayor Will Sessoms, state legislators and the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Maurice Jones.
Virginia State Senator Jeffrey McWaters is credited as the key sponsor of State Bill 604 allowing breweries to sell beer directly to customers, but he admits he was hesitant to do so at first.
“I had previously taken-on several ABC legislation and had two or three bills, and as a young senator I didn’t want to become known as the guy who only cared about these alcohol bills,” explained McWaters. “Some fellas came to me in 2012 and asked if I would consider this, and I immediately said, ‘no.’ About four months later I was at a community event and one of them walked up to me, introduced himself and said, “I thought you were an entrepreneur.” I said I was, and then he said, ‘No you are not, because you are not willing to help us craft brewers.’ He was direct. So we got behind it and learned that Virginia was really missing out in attracting these types of businesses. We put SB604 together. Some beer guys call it Session Brew 604.”
After SB604, the number of craft breweries opening within Virginia has greatly increased, and that is an important sign in the eyes of Secretary of Commerce Maurice Jones.
“We are developing a craft beer culture because we are developing critical mass in that industry,” said Jones. “Success breeds success. It is an industry that is in growth mode.”
Secretary Jones also noted that Virginia is within a 10-hour drive of 60% of the popular in America, and that makes the Commonwealth a geographically strategic location to do business.
Green Flash will construct a 58,000 square-foot building to accommodate a 100,000 barrel brewery, complete with tasting room and outdoor beer garden.
The brewery had scouted several locations east of the Mississippi and was leaning towards North Carolina until SB604 was passed by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law in 2012.
“We weren’t considering Virginia as a place to put the brewery until they passed SB604,” said Hinkley. “That then brought our first visit. We became real excited after that to come to Virginia Beach.”
The beach lifestyle connected to tourism as well as a strong military community were assets that Mike Hinkley valued because of the Virginia Beach market’s similarities to San Diego.
“It reminds us very much of San Diego,” said Hinkley, “and that makes us feel very comfortable.”
“For Virginia Beach it’s going to mean 40 new jobs and a $20 million capital investment,” said Mayor Will Sessoms. “This location is supported by a lot of rooftops (residents) and it’s not far from the Oceanfront, so we’ll see a lot of tourists headed this way.”
Hinkley is also impressed with Virginia’s emerging beer culture.
“The beer scene in Virginia is just growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “Even in just that last couple of years since we’ve been looking at it, it has come so far. We think we are only going to contribute to that.”
Green Flash has been laying the groundwork on other fronts as well. They joined the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild and brewmaster Chuck Silva has been making the rounds, popping in to local restaurants and collaborating with regional breweries like Smartmouth.
The brewery is currently working with the city to finalize improvements to the site such as sidewalks, turning lanes and other infrastructure.
“We expect the brewery to be up and running, fully functional by early 2016,” Hinkley said.
Green Flash is known for its hoppy beers West Coast IPA, Hop Head Red, Imperial IPA and Jibe Session IPA. It’s Le Freak won a bronze medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The Freak is a Belgian-style trippel-meets-American Imperial IPA monster of a beer.
Getting these beers to market quicker and fresher on the East Coast is a major reason why the brewery is establishing itself in Virginia Beach. But the beer brewed in Virginia Beach will be distributed beyond the Florida to Maine corridor.
“It will go further west than you might think,” said Hinkley. “The beer will go from Virginia Beach all the way to Texas, Colorado and up to Minnesota because the freight rates are a lot less heading from east to west.”
Hinkley projects the price of beer to consumers will go down on the East Coast due to lower transportation expenses.
“That should accelerate our growth,” he said. “All ready the East Coast is a very fast growing territory for us. Passing those savings from freight on to the consumer will help.”