One definition of the word “ballast” is simple: “something that gives stability (as in character or conduct).” In San Diego, a destination that is adrift in a literal sea of craft beer, Ballast Point Brewing Company has been a solid, stable operation for nearly 20 years. Recently, however, this brewery has been experiencing unprecedented growth, more so than nearly every other brewery in the country. In fact, in 2013, Ballast Point was called out as the nation’s fastest growing brewery, moving up seventeen spots on the list of the Brewers Association’s Top 50 Craft Breweries in the United States to Number 29.
All throughout a successful marketing rebranding of the company (new packaging, with a new logo design), the construction and debut of two new locations (Little Italy, then Miramar), and the continued expansion of its footprint in the marketplace (more beer in more places), Ballast Point has taken its time crafting a unique place for itself in San Diego and in the better beer cities in this country–Portland included. Perhaps no one knows this better than Colby Chandler, the Vice President and Specialty Brewer for Ballast Point Brewing Company. He does not forget where the brewery has been, and he is excited about where it will be going. If you have never experienced Ballast Point, go drink some of the brewery’s beer…now.
Ballast Point’s original Home Brew Mart
Balancing Demand and Growth
“Ballast maintains balance,” Chandler says. “We brew beers that you want to order two of. I view brewers as being a lot like chefs. The end goal is to produce a delicious but balanced product.” This balanced mindset has enveloped Ballast Point Brewing Company since 1992, when its original incarnation, Home Brew Mart, was opened. This mindset persisted later in 1996, when Jack White and Yuseff Cherney created the brewing company: Ballast Point.
Even today, with four locations in San Diego County, Jack White remains the majority owner, overseeing the organic growth of the company. Yuseff Cherney is still right there, too, serving as the company’s COO and the Head Brewer and Distiller. The four Ballast Point locations attempt to serve the incredible demand that the brewery has seen for its beers, especially after the 2010 World Beer Cup where the company took home three Gold Medals, as well as the title of “Small Brewing Company Champion Brewer” of the year. The original location, Home Brew Mart, still houses a hybrid 15-barrel system and brews beers that are served at a newly expanded tasting room located inside of one of the best homebrewing supply shops in San Diego.
Ballast Point Scripp’s Ranch. Photo by SDhopaddict.com
The Scripps Ranch brewery is located in a 22,000 square foot building and is sized to produce 125,000 barrels of beer a year, packaging into kegs, bottles, and cans for distribution into Ballast Point’s ever expanding national reach. Recipes for beers like “Wahoo Wheat,” “Big Eye IPA,” and “Calico Amber” were perfected on the large scale over the years, right here in a jam-packed brewing facility. The Scripps Ranch location also houses the distillery where Ballast Point produces a line of world-class spirits (but that is another story altogether, saved for another day).
Ballast Point Kitchen Little Italy location. Photo credit UT San Diego
Just last year, Ballast Point opened a Tasting Room and Kitchen in Little Italy, where brewers operate a 6-barrel Premier Stainless Systems brewhouse. This small scale brewery is utilized to fill out the fifty taps at Little Italy with a lineup of all Ballast Point beers, many being one-off, unique, or specialty beers. In addition, the Little Italy brewhouse serves as the host brewery for Ballast Point’s Roots-to-Boots program. Chandler, who consults and brews with the program—where 250 of the 400 Ballast Point employees got the rotating opportunity to brew at Little Italy in 2014—says, “it’s about an investment in education for our company.” Chandler is one of the rare executives at a brewery who actually still brews, and he clearly gets excited about the 130 unique beers to come out of the program last year, at a pace of about two or three new beers each week. Chandler is a specialty brewer in every sense of the meaning, highlighted by the work he does on the brewhouse at Little Italy.
Ballast Point Miramar Location
As if this were not enough, Chandler has also been involved in Ballast Point’s latest (and possibly greatest) project: Miramar. This year, Ballast Point finished construction on the 108,000 square foot location where the company’s future growth will be supported. Miramar features a 150-barrel copper kettle brewing system that has been up and running since June 2014. Currently, Miramar has four 450 barrel ferementers and eight 750 barrel tanks. “Our plan is to drop 2 more [750 barrel fermenters] in each month until we run out of space,” says Chandler. Talk about growth and scale. “We literally dry hop with close to a ton of hops on beers like Sculpin. It’s kind of crazy, but pretty awesome, when you think about it.”
Even with the growth, Chandler notes that the beer has been consistent. Ballast has been brewing some of the same recipes since 1996. He attributes the success of the company to planning and execution. There has always been a good team in place at Ballast, but now the company team is a great one. Ballast Point has the product, the foundation, the fans, and now clearly the capacity to grow with the demand from the drinking base in San Diego and in the rest of the world. Next up for the company will be a continued investment in San Diego. Ballast Point has four locations here already, and that is not happenstance. Expect more awesome beer coming from these guys in both the near and the longer-term futures.
The Man Behind Sculpin
When asked about his favorite Ballast Point beer, Chandler has a ready response: “it’s got to be Sculpin. I wrote the recipe.” In what might be considered to be the first Roots-to-Boots beer, Chandler created the recipe for Sculpin from an overlay of two homebrew recipes from Ballast Point employees that came out of San Diego. Taking Doug Duffield and George Cautaulin’s IPA recipes that won recognition at the National Homebrewers Competition, Chandler created a one-off beer to drink at O’Brien’s Pub in celebration of Doug and George’s winning beers. Trouble was, the beer that Chandler crafted was too delicious to drink just once.
Chandler describes the beer Sculpin as “a fruit stand inside of a sweaty locker room. [At the time, i]t featured newer hops…Simcoe and Amarillo…that helped start the juicy hop craze. It’s full of tropical fruit and tangerine characteristics.” Anyone who has tasted both of the IPAs that Ballast Point regularly offers, Sculpin and Big Eye, can attest that Sculpin represents the new school of IPA, whereas Big Eye is an old school representation of the style. Sculpin stands alone, the epitome of a juicy IPA, bright and citrusy, and dry in the new West Coast tradition.
Sculpin is without a doubt the most recognized beer in Ballast Point’s portfolio–so much so that Ballast Point will not move into a market unless there is enough Sculpin available to meet the demand. Chandler subtly acknowledges the cult status that his beer has achieved. “It’s no Pliny double IPA, it’s a single IPA. It’s a whole different style. But there is absolutely quality in Sculpin.” Add in the increasingly popular Grapefruit and Habanero versions of the beer, and you have a dynastic beer triumvirate that will only continue to drive the growth of the brewery.
San Diego Beer in Portland
More and more these days, if you want to be a major player as a regional or (semi-) national brewery, you need to have a presence in the better beer cities in this country. Naturally, Portland, Oregon, quickly comes to mind. As Skipp Shelly, the Ballast Point Sales Representative for Oregon and Idaho, puts it, “Portland is a great market for any out of state brewery to send beer to. It isn’t the largest city, but if you make great beer, people will drink it.”
Ballast Point began distributing its beer in Portland in 2013, and people have been drinking it there ever since. And, surprise, surprise, their hoppy beers have seen the most success. Ballast makes an effort, however, to bring in all the beers in its lineup to PDX, even if the beers like the “Black Marlin Porter” or the “Pale Ale” (actually a Kolsch) only see limited distribution there seasonally. But like every other market that Ballast Point is currently in, Sculpin is king. And there is good news for fans of the beer in Portland, you can expect the variants—Grapefruit Sculpin and Habanero Sculpin—to hit the city later on this year.
Ballast Point’s and Sculpin’s success in Portland is a part of an overall trend that I have seen coming from San Diego. San Diego, as a whole, is establishing itself as a brand in other beer cities. Shelley says that he sees it more and more at events around Oregon, where people are asking questions about the brewery scene in San Diego. He notes that the handful of San Diego beer reps who work in the Portland market all collectively help each other’s brands by promoting the San Diego brewing region as a whole. “Promoting San Diego beer is a pretty fun aspect of my job.” Well said. When a brewery like Ballast Point can share its awesome beers with San Diego and with Portland (and elsewhere internationally), that is undoubtedly “pretty fun.”
You can follow Colby Chandler on twitter at @Seahandler.
In addition to being a contributor to The New School Beer, Mike V. Sardina serves as the Assistant Executive Officer of Societe Brewing Company. You can find him at @SocieteMike on twitter.