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Brewers Association releases annual list of top U.S. breweries

Mar 14

Earlier today, American brewing-industry trade group, the Brewers Association, released its annual lists of top U.S. breweries for 2017. Not to be mistaken with rankings based on quality, this list is based on total production figures for the past calendar year. It is a list several San Diego County breweries have been a part of for the better part of the past decade, and remain a part of for the year gone by.

In order to provide a more informative picture, the Brewers Association produces two lists. One, titled the Craft Brewing List, includes brewing companies that meet the organization’s definition of “craft brewer.” The most important criteria in respect to these lists is that brewers produce six million barrels of beer or less annually, and are outright independent or less than 25% owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member which is not itself a craft brewer. Meanwhile, an Overall List includes large macro-beer companies and conglomerates.

Stone Brewing remains the highest-ranking local brewing interest on the Craft Brewing List, coming in at number eight. Though sales have slowed for the Escondido-based company, the beer brewed at its large Richmond, Virginia, production brewery aided its ascent. The next-highest locals on the list are Karl Strauss Brewing Company at number 41 and Green Flash Brewing Company at number 43. Karl Strauss remains in the same spot it occupied in 2016, while Green Flash has slipped six places. The latter also operates a Virginia brewery in Virginia Beach, and is in the process of taking over a recently-acquired brewpub in Lincoln, Nebraska, but recently contracted its sales territories, has suffered through two significant rounds of layoffs, and is openly seeking capital investment.

Though Ballast Point Brewing remains the largest beer-making operation in San Diego County, it does not show up on either list. Instead, it is lumped into parent company Constellation Brands, which ranks number three on the Overall List. Stone was the only local independent craft brewery to make it onto the Overall List, coming in at number 18. Both lists can be viewed in their entirety here.

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Ballast Point moving Scripps Ranch production, employees to Miramar

Jan 27

Yesterday, Ballast Point Brewing president Marty Birkel informed employees at the company’s Scripps Ranch brewery and tasting room that beer-production would soon cease. The brewing company—San Diego County’s largest—is moving forward with plans to relocate much of its production and bottling equipment to its pair of Miramar locations, its 107,000-square-foot headquarters and primary production brewery in on Carroll Way and cross-street production and warehouse facility on Trade Street.

An internal communique clearly stated that no employees will be terminated in conjunction with this development. Staff at Scripps Ranch will be transferred along with many of the apparatuses they’ve worked with for the past decade-plus. As Birkel puts it, “It’s an opportunity to take the best of what’s worked at Scripps and bring it to Miramar to continue to improve the quality of our beers.” Birkel says the company will relocate equipment from Scripps Ranch’s quality-assurance lab and use those items as the base for a second, larger lab at its HQ. Also coming over is Scripps’ kegging and bottling lines and metal shop. The latter will be installed at Trade Street, in the third of the building not being used for sour or barrel-aged beer production.

Ballast Point is looking to establish a brewing “campus” in Miramar. Birkel says he and his colleagues still need to figure out exactly what a brewing campus is and will entail and says Ballast Point will remain open to acquiring additional structures as future growth opportunities present themselves. When constructing the company’s East Coast brewery in Daleville, Virginia, the company was sure to select a site with plenty of options for appurtenant growth.

As far as the future of the Scripps Ranch facility, Birkel feels that, at around 24,000 square feet, it provides ample space as well as a proven, highly efficient brewhouse that has served Ballast Point well. The vast majority of the indoor fermentation tanks will remain in place, while most of the outdoor tanks will be relocated to Miramar, but the bones for brewing success will remain. This includes the patio-equipped tasting room, which will remain in operation under the Ballast Point flag until a new tenant takes over the space.

When asked about the ideal tenant, Birkel specifically noted the wealth of quality local breweries he felt were capable of making a go on a larger scale at Scripps Ranch. Ballast Point currently has a very short list of local breweries that could be good fits and is consulting with BP vice president and San Diego industry veteran Colby Chandler to identify other well-suited interests. The company also notes that, with so many ex-Ballast Point brewers making names for themselves and their new breweries, there are a number of Scripps Ranch facility alums who know its brewhouse backward and forward.

Birkel predicts all machinery and employees will be transferred from Scripps Ranch by summer. With much of Ballast Point’s specialty beers brewed in Scripps Ranch, he says it’s essential to have those capabilities operative at headquarters by then.

The Scripps Ranch facility opened in 2006. It was the second location for a then-small brewery, coming on as an offshoot from the business’ original location as an enclave to Linda Vista’s Home Brew Mart. Over the years, a tasting room was installed, then expanded, then expanded again to include a patio. Behind the scenes, brewing and cellar capacity increased, a distilling operation was added (that led to what is now Miramar’s Cutwater Spirits) along with a speakeasy. Though not as visible as Ballast Point’s other locations, it was arguably the most influential and important of them all from a historic perspective.

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Ballast Point opening Downtown Disney R&D brewery

Jan 24

In 2015, Ballast Point Brewing was acquired by Constellation Brands, a multi-national corporation with financial fortitude far exceeding that of the San Diego-born company’s previous ownership (as well as pretty much every craft brewery in the country). The backing of Constellation Brands instantly made formerly cost-prohibitive ventures feasible, opening up a wealth of opportunities for Ballast Point to go places their contemporaries couldn’t even fathom. Case in point, the combination brewery, tasting room and kitchen the company today announced it is constructing in the heart of the Downtown Disney District in Anaheim.

This will be Ballast Point’s seventh Southern California location and first erected in Orange County. Scheduled to open in late 2018, it will come in at 7,300 square feet and include a three-barrel research-and-development brewery as well as a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The brewery will offer mainstays from Ballast Point’s beer portfolio, and also produce ales and lagers unique to that location (under the direction of a yet-to-be-determined member of the company’s brewing team), shipping some of those offerings to its sister venues. The food menu will consist of beer-friendly SoCal dishes, some of which will be plucked from the menus of BP’s brewpubs in Little Italy, Miramar and Long Beach.

Ballast Point currently operates a sextet of California tasting rooms plus a public-serving venue at its brewery in Daleville, Virginia. In addition to the Downtown Disney location, the company is also at work constructing a brewery-equipped kitchen operation in Chicago, Illinois. While Disney California Adventure Park has long included beery offerings from numerous brewing companies, Ballast Point’s new venue will provide Disneyland Resort with its first ever onsite brewing facility. Its addition further signals the advancing reputation and perceived importance of craft beer in America, especially among larger corporations who see the value it can add to their operations.

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Ballast Point’s new Trade Street facility

Sep 26

Many are those who tour Ballast Point Brewing’s enormous Miramar headquarters with its 300-barrel and 150-barrel brewhouses and rows of sky-high fermenters feel the county’s largest brewing company must have all the room it needs, especially with additional brewing facilities in Scripps Ranch, Little Italy, Long Beach and Roanoke, Virginia. The Miramar facility comes in with greater production capability than any other in San Diego, but rapid expansion has rendered it out of space, leading parent company Constellation Brands to secure an 80,000-square-foot building directly north of the Miramar home base.

Ballast Point currently has control of 60,000 square feet of that structure for what it calls its Trade Street Facility. It has been divided into three equal-sized sections serving completely different purposes. One third is simply storage, while the middle third houses an abundant and growing stock of beer-filled oak barrels procured from various wineries and distilleries. The current barrel count comes in at approximately 1,400, with an additional 900 barrels in another facility less than a mile west on Crestmar Point. There are three full-time employees manning this section, and it will soon have tanks added to handle production of beers destined for those oak receptacles, which include about every type of liquor and wine imaginable with more on the way.

Ballast Point intends to up its number of barrel-aged beer releases which are currently held quarterly and locally. Those specialties will be distributed nationally, including four-pack releases of popular beers such as aged versions of its vanilla- and coffee-infused imperial porter, Victory at Sea. Other beers the team is looking forward to debuting include Sea Monster imperial stout and Piper Down Scottish ale in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, Navigator Doppelbock in brandy barrels, Barmy apricot and honey golden strong ale in neutral oak, plus various Belgian-style farmhouse, tripel and quadruple ales. In addition to its own needs, Ballast Point regularly fulfills requests from other breweries for barrels from its stock, including nearby Green Flash Brewing Company and 32 North Brewing Company.

The remaining third of the Trade Street facility is for “dirty beer”, referring to sours and bacteria-laden wild ales that, if not sectioned off, would stand a significant chance of infecting the clean beer as well as their production and storage mechanisms. This area has its own 40-barrel brewhouse feeding into more than 30 fermenters. It can produce up to 20,000 barrels of beer annually, some of which will make its way into six new 40-barrel, glycol-equipped, temperature-controlled fouders. The dirty area also has its own devoted bottling line, which recently packaged a national release’s worth of six-packs of Sour Wench blackberry ale.

Key to the new dirty beer operations is a state-of-the-art laboratory capable of providing as many quality assurance touch-points as the large lab at Ballast Point’s HQ. Prior to brewing Sour Wench for the most recent release, technicians conducted numerous tests, including analysis of myriad brands of blackberry puree and Lactobacillus strains, in search of the most ideal types for the beer. What they found was that the puree and strain the company was already using worked best, meaning the current batch of Sour Wench is very similar to the first batch ever homebrewed in 1998 (back when it went by the name Marion Berry’s Better-Than-A-Crack-Whore). While primary wild ale operations will now take place on Trade Street, Ballast Point hopes the aforementioned Long Beach facility will become the research-and-development feeder for the new facility.

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Ballast Point holding Family Reunion brews

Aug 10

Nickel Beer owner and former Home Brew Mart employee Tom Nickel (third from right) during a Family Reunion collaboration brew day at Ballast Point’s Miramar brewery.

Before Ballast Point Brewing was a company capable of commanding decuple figures, before it grew into San Diego County’s largest brewery and one of the biggest beer-producers in the country, before there even was a brewery called Ballast Point, there was Home Brew Mart (HBM). That Linda Vista hobby shop—one of the first to grace America’s Finest City—opened quietly in 1992 and, over the following quarter-century, has ignited a fire for recreational fermentation within a great many ale-and-lager neophytes. That includes individuals who now own breweries and brew professionally. Some of that contingent even worked for HBM in its early days. In celebration of the big two-five, Ballast Point is creating Family Reunion collaboration beers with those ex-employees as well as former BP brewers, an impressive assemblage of well-known, award-winning talent.

Ballast Point vice president Colby Chandler dumps hops over Amplified Ale Works head brewer Cy Henley’s head as part of a collaboration brew tradition.

Several of the beers have already been released, while others are scheduled to be brewed in time for them to all be on-tap at HBM’s 25th anniversary event on September 24. The following is a breakdown of the collaborators, their creations and their past.

  • Saludos Saison: The third brewing of a strong saison with lemon peel, orange-blossom honey and thyme inspired by Brasserie Dupont’s Avec Les Bon Vouex brewed with Tom Nickel. He was HBM’s sixth employee and now owns and operates Nickel Beer Company as well as O’Brien’s Pub and West Coast Barbecue & Brews.
  • Loud & Proud: An English-style barley wine with cherrywood-smoked malt brewed with Cy Henley, the head brewer at Amplified Ale Works. He was a clerk at HBM before moving on to Alpine Beer Company and Green Flash Brewing.
  • Name TBD: Ex-HBM clerk Larry Monasakanian is now with Fall Brewing and will help brew a 5% alcohol-by-volume saison based off the recipe for BP’s charity offering, Brother Levonian. This version will be brewed with grains of paradise, local sage and equally local wet hops from Star B Ranch, then fermented with a blend of Brettanomyces and saison yeast,
  • Scripps Tease: An extra special bitter (ESB) made with toasted oats and Ethiopia Ayeahu RFA coffee beans from James Coffee Company (close to BP’s Little Italy brewpub) brewed with Nate Stephens and Clayton LeBlanc, the brew crew for Eppig Brewing. Both worked for BP, the former led Little Italy operations while the latter brewed at its Scripps Ranch facility.
  • Swemiceros: A hoppy Kolsch dry-hopped with fruity, citrusy, herbal hops brewed with Nick Ceniceros, head brewer at 32 North Brewing. Nick worked at Scripps Ranch before moving to Fall Brewing and eventually his current digs.
  • Bay to Bay: A black California common that’s “obnoxiously dry-hopped” with Mosaic brewed with Alex Tweet, who won a BP homebrew contest with his recipe for Indra Kunindra, a curry export stout the company still manufactures. Tweet went on to brew for Modern Times Beer before moving to Berkeley to open the popular Fieldwork Brewing.
  • Name TBD: John Maino and Greg Webb, former Scripps Ranch brewers and co-owners of Temecula’s Ironfire Brewing, will help brew a wet-hop India pale ale (IPA) fermented with Brett.

Eppig Brewing’s Clayton LeBlanc talks about his time working at Ballast Point with the company’s current employees.

In an effort to increase its current employee base’s knowledge on the history of BP and its eldest venue, vice president Colby Chandler asked each collaborator to speak to present-day brewers about their time with the company, how it was then and how it prepared them to venture out on their own. Many said that making beer at such a fast-growing brewing company provided them wide-ranging experience as well as reference points for overcoming myriad obstacles. According to Chandler, many brewery owners, in particular, felt their time with BP made it much easier once they were working for themselves.

In addition to the HBM anniversary event, BP is also holding a series of beer-pairing dinners incorporating the aforementioned collaboration brews at HBM. The next will take place on August 24 and include five courses served with Swemiceros, Bay to Bay, Scripps Tease and various other BP beers. Chandler, Tweet, Stephens, LeBlanc and Ceniceros will all be in attendance.

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