Green Flash to open Brewery in Va. Beach

GF1The co-founders of San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing Co. had settled on a seaside city in North Carolina for the site of their second brewery, but a last-minute trip to Virginia Beach changed their minds.

“Frankly, I was so close on another city that I was really going there with the mindset just to cross it off my list to make sure I had done my due diligence,” said Mike Hinkley, who co-founded Green Flash with his wife, Lisa, in 2002.

But once he got here, the similarities between the Beach and San Diego stood out – they’re both coastal tourist destinations with large Navy bases – and Hinkley was sold.

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms plans to announce today during his annual State of the City address that in 2015, Green Flash will open a 58,000-square-foot craft brewery and tasting room at the northwest corner of General Booth Boulevard and Corporate Landing Parkway.

The Hinkleys and the Green Flash board of directors plan to attend the speech, and afterward, they’ll host a ground-staking event at the brewery’s future site.

“In a lot of ways, it felt like home to us, and we could definitely be ourselves there,” Hinkley said earlier this week on a conference call with The Pilot, Sessoms and other city officials.

Green Flash is no stranger to military culture.

Jets roar overhead from nearby Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, and many of the brewery’s employees, including Hinkley, were in the military earlier in their careers. Brewmaster Chuck Silva was stationed in Norfolk for part of his six-year stint in the Navy.

In Virginia Beach, Green Flash will sit a couple of miles south of Oceana Naval Air Station, home to a fleet of roaring F/A-18s.

Construction of the $20 million facility will begin in 2014 on 9 acres in the Corporate Landing Business Park. Green Flash will buy the land from the Virginia Beach Development Authority for $1.35 million.

The craft brewer will hire 41 full-time employees who will earn, on average, $33,000 a year.

The Hinkleys wanted to build a brewery in the mid-Atlantic so they could deliver fresh beer to about two-thirds of the U.S. population. About a third of Green Flash’s beer is sold on the East Coast.

The Virginia Beach site will include a tasting room, an event center, a store, a pavilion and a nearly 1-acre beer garden. Food trucks and caterers will be invited to sell to customers, but the brewery will not operate a restaurant.

The facility will be capable of producing as much beer as the San Diego location: about 100,000 barrels annually.

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Hinkley said the company plans to begin brewing about 40,000 barrels a year in Virginia Beach. At the same time, it will cut back production by the same amount in San Diego.

The two sites will grow together as demand for the company’s beer increases.

“If that takes 10 years, that will be great,” Hinkley said. “We would enjoy some slower growth years, but if it goes a little faster, we might have to start looking at where the third brewery will be.”

The Virginia Beach location will brew the same lineup of beer made in San Diego, which includes award-winning West Coast India Pale Ale and other beers that defy classification in a particular style. Le Freak Ale, for example, is an “out-of-the-box modern ale” created by blending two styles: Belgian Trippel and American Imperial IPA.

Based on today’s prices and the likelihood that the Virginia Beach location will not operate at full capacity immediately, Hinkley said revenue from distribution here will be about $30 million annually. On-site retail sales revenue is expected to hit $1 million to $1.5 million a year.

Green Flash initially decided against Virginia because, at the time, brew pubs were not allowed to sell pints in their tasting rooms. They reconsidered when the law changed last year.

The Virginia Beach Development Authority later this month will discuss giving Green Flash a $275,000 grant if it meets its hiring and investment goals, said Warren Harris, Virginia Beach director of economic development. The company will become the largest craft brewer in Virginia, he said.

The local craft beer scene has flourished in recent years. O’Connor Brewing in Norfolk and Beach Brewing in Virginia Beach opened in 2010, and Smartmouth Brewing Co. started last year in Norfolk.

“I’ve seen what some smaller breweries have been doing,” Sessoms said, “and it seems like people really get excited about having beer made in their community.”