Have a Beer with Green Flash Brewmaster Erik Jensen
He’s ready to guard the legacy as he ushers in some fresh ideas
Erik Jensen | Photo by Bruce Glassman
He has some mighty big shoes to fill, but Erik Jensen is totally up to the task. His predecessor, Chuck Silva, was essentially Green Flash’s original brewer, the one who developed many of the bold and aggressively hopped recipes that put the brewery on the map. Luckily, Erik Jensen worked closely with Silva for years, and he learned firsthand how to run this large, complex facility in Mira Mesa that is on pace to pump out more than 100,000 barrels this year.
For Erik, stepping into the brewmaster role is about more than just preserving the legacy that Chuck Silva built, it’s also about taking the company into the future. For Erik, that means improving procedures and recipes, overseeing innovation, and always staying in touch with the ever-changing tastes of the beer-drinking public.
As I sipped on the three delicious beers he poured for me to taste—Tangerine Soul Style IPA, Pacific Gem Single Hop Pale Ale, and Cosmic Ristretto Baltic Porter—Erik shared his thoughts about assuming the helm, exploring new directions, and overseeing a huge expansion clear across the country.
Most Green Flash fans are probably curious about the same thing: What’s the program going to look like under the Erik Jensen leadership?
Well, I think we’ve been sort of punishing people’s palates for some time now, with more and more hops, and this became a very popular way to make beer. I’m still a big fan of super-hoppy beers, but I can see a shift in tastes. I always say, if you want to know what people are going to be drinking in a few years, you should ask the brewers what they’re drinking now. And we’ve seen a shift here. The brewers still love really hoppy beer—you know, West Coast IPA and Nelson and some of the other Alpine beers that we brew—but we also saw a bunch of session IPA ideas come directly from the brewers last year. They were the ones asking for them. Our East Village Pilsner is another big favorite with the brewers. In fact, later this year, we’re going to come out with a different lager that we’re going to put in cans; it’s going to be a zwickel lager, which is an unfiltered lager. We’re going to call it “Sea to Sea” to celebrate the opening of our brewery in Virginia Beach on the East Coast. [Erik says, if all goes according to plan, they’ll have the new 50-barrel brew house running by July, with the packaging operation in full swing by August.] So those are things that I’m really looking forward to, especially because brewing lager beers isn’t something that Green Flash is necessarily known for. But a lot of guys on staff, including myself, are really into it.
So you're definitely expanding the portfolio to include more session beers, some of the less aggressively hoppy beers, and also moving into other styles?
Yeah, sure. But I’m not saying that we're not going to brew crazy, hoppy beers, because we all love crazy hoppy beers, too. But we have a lot of customers and people that we know who say they love our beer but they can’t always drink it because it’s strong or it’s really hoppy and they just want to drink something that’s mellow. The sales staff also gives us feedback, and they say they really like our beers but sometimes they’d like to have something that’s not crushingly IPA. And so that’s good. We know how to make good beer and I think that’s reflected in all the success we’ve had over the years. I know that will transfer over to new and different styles as we do them.
Green Flash Taps
What are some of the newer beers you guys have come up with?
Let me start by saying that I want to make sure my brewers have opportunities to grow and I want my team to feel like some of our beers are theirs—I think that’s reflected in the lineup we have now. The Passion Fruit Kicker beer, for example, started out as an experiment that we did with Soul Style IPA. We added the passion fruit and we loved it, but we decided we didn’t really want to have a passion fruit IPA, so we came up with a passion fruit wheat beer. With the Tangerine Soul Style it was the same thing. We always have cask beer on tap, so we threw some fresh tangerine and some tangerine peel into the cask—we loved it—and we decided we wanted to brew a tangerine-flavored IPA. The nice thing about working at Green Flash is that we’re committed to quality. We don’t position ourselves as a discount beer, or as anything but the best. So, in coming up with the Tangerine Soul Style, for example, we tried to figure out what the easiest way to do it would be. We tried the flavorings, but they just tasted fake. I’m very familiar with what fake tangerine tastes like now! We want things to be easy, of course, but it turns out that making Tangerine Soul Style is not easy. We’re using real fruit, and it takes a lot of work to do 250-barrel batches. It’s about 500 pounds of tangerines per batch! That’s a lot of tangerines. We have somebody do it for us, of course; they purée the whole fruit—the juice, the peel, the flesh—and that’s basically just added to the beer. The skins are actually a big part of the flavor.
In addition to new beers, what are some other aspects of your vision that depart from the old ways?
Well, I’ve been pretty actively managing the brewery since I came on four years ago, so it’s not really unfamiliar territory for me to run this place. I don’t really hold “traditions” particularly sacred. There were some methods that we did when Chuck was here, and they were Chuck’s way, but I didn’t really think they were the best way. So now I’ve told all the guys out on the floor that if they think there’s a better way to do something, run it by me. I basically told the guys to not leave any stones unturned. We want to make the beer better. If we can cut a day off the fermentation time or get better yield from our hops, and the beer still tastes great, then we’ll do it. We’re doing a few things differently with our dry hopping now, that’s actually something we learned from the Alpine guys. And borrowing some of their methods seems entirely appropriate. I think it’s important that our beers don't all taste the same, so bringing in new ideas is definitely important to me. It’s not the Erik Jensen show, it’s the Green Flash show.
What’s the one thing you hope will characterize your tenure at Green Flash?
I’m super excited by all the new beers we have right now, but a lot of them have been in the works for a while. Really, 2016 is the year that I get to develop Erik Jensen’s beer lineup, which are beers that will come out in late 2016 and early 2017. So, for me, that’s a huge opportunity. We’ll use the pilot system and we’ll use the expertise of our really creative people on staff. If my tenure is going to be marked by anything it will be that Green Flash isn’t just about me. It’s about all the great people that work here, including a lot of really talented brewers who are really passionate about what they do. I think that’s going to be my legacy. We’re going to be super-inclusive and we’re going to continue to do the high, high quality beers that we’ve done in the past, but maybe with a little bit different spin.
You said you’re not one to hold “traditions sacred,” but are there things here that you don’t feel you should or could change?
Of course. West Coast IPA is a classic beer. I’m certainly not going to make significant changes to it. It's a classic. There’s no reason to mess with it.