I’ve written in the past, here at The Brewclub, of my disdain for beers ‘brewed under licence’, that’s where a British brewer buys the rights to a brew and decides to brew it locally rather than at the beer’s traditional home. Famously Heineken decided to discontinue brewing their lager under licence in the UK and now it’s imported from Amsterdam, and the better for it.
Contract brewing, however, is a greyer area, where a brewery contracts another brewery in order to increase their capacity or shorten their supply chain. San Diego’s Green Flash is an example of this, having recently contracted the well-respected Belgian brewery of St-Feuillien to brew their ‘West Coast IPA’ for the European market.
Mike Hinkley, one of Green Flash’s founders explained the arrangement – “We make very hoppy, West Coast style ales. Those beers are best on the first day and deteriorate slowly from there. The sooner you can get those to the customer, the better. There is no faster route than what we are doing.”
That said, there are still challenges for American suppliers selling American craft beer in Europe. Hinkley said. “In the U.S., we have a lot more control over distribution and more interaction with our wholesalers,” he said. “in Europe, the beer leaves the dock and the distributor takes it from there. There isn’t much reporting back. There isn’t much interaction after the sale.”
They’re in safe hands here in Blighty, where their distribution is being handled by ‘The Bottle Shop’, one of Britain’s first craft beer sellers. Indeed West Coast IPA was launched here by a tour by Chuck Silva – Green Flash’s brewmaster – that was reminiscent of an album launch.
Andrew Morgan, the founder and Managing Director of The Bottle Shop, believes “This is a breakthrough moment for UK beer drinkers as they now have the opportunity to drink one of the world’s finest beers days after being released from the brewery. We’ll be exclusively importing Green Flash bottles into the UK via a cold-chain to ensure that the UK drinkers get to enjoy Pallet Wrecker, Green Bullet, Double Stout and Rayon Vert once they get a taste for West Coast IPA”.
Of course, in the cause of objectivity, I bought a couple of bottles to bring home and taste it under more controlled conditions.
It pours a rich apricot colour, with a fulsome head that laces down the glass. The nose is dry and bready, little hint of the exotic hops lurking within.
The flavour, however, is rich and hoppy, sharp pine and citrus hops balanced with mellower varieties, and lots of them. At the launch event(s) in Manchester, Chuck Silva explained how he refused to compromise on hop content, to the point where over a pound of dry hops are added to each keg of draught West Coast. Similarly the bottled IPA is bottle conditioned to ensure the beer stays fresh.
The label declares the brew to be ‘extravagantly hopped’ and with Casacade, Centennial, Citra, Columbus and Simcoe hops in the mix that’s extravagant both in style and volume. That said, it’s well balanced, not a ‘hop bomb’ by any stretch of the imagination. And at 8.1% ABV it deserves to be treated with a degree of respect.
We’ve talked in the past, here at The Brewclub about ‘Lawnmower’ beers – those you pop when the grass is mown and trimmed. This is another one of those when you really can’t be bothered, the grass will still be there tomorrow.
This is a brew that does what it sets out to, handsomely, and because the supply line is somewhat shorter than shipping from South California, it’s slightly less expensive, with only Britain’s punitive beer duty spoiling the party.