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.
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.
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.
Brett Gent lived in Linda Vista and passed vaunted recreational supply-store, Home Brew Mart, almost daily. On one such day, he finally turned his steering wheel, pulled into the driveway, entered the store and purchased his first home-brew kit. Ten years after that watershed occasion, he is in the process of opening his own brewery, and its name was inspired by the movie that was playing during his first day using the aforementioned kit—Goodfellas. As he mashed in, boiled and lautered, one word kept getting thrown around via that cinematic classic…wise-guy. As a result, Carlsbad residents can look forward to receiving Wiseguy Brewing Company come the front-end of 2017.
Over the past decade, Gent won numerous awards for his home-brewed ales and lagers, leading him and his father, Tom, to take things to the next level. Wiseguy will be located near the McClellan-Palomar Airport off El Camino Real, and have a tasting room equipped with around 10 taps. Gent likes breweries where visitors have a communally driven experience that allow for the striking up of conversations and friendships, so he plans to lean in that direction with his sampling site. Aesthetically, the team will aim for a beach theme, using imagery from Gent’s brother—a professional photographer—to help convey that.
Wiseguy will have a 10-barrel brewhouse and a cellar consisting of five 20-barrel fermenters. Gent says he is a fan of all styles, but is a card-carrying hop-head. So, there will be a number of India pale ales and other hoppy beers augmented by a pilsner and German classics such as an altbier, doppelbock, schwarzbier, dunkelweizen and more. But don’t expect a Brett beer. Despite the fact it would be his namesake creation, Gent is a purist where beer is concerned, to the point where he also won’t be adding fruits, flora or other adjuncts to his beers.
Above all, Gent wants to create high-quality beer. With this being San Diego County, a hotbed of brewing ingenuity and success, he says he knows there will always be a bigger or better brewery than his, but also states he’s not in this for the money. He says getting into the brewing business is all about his legitimate love for beer, and that his main goal is for people to leave Wiseguy feeling every beer they had was really good.
When we first met Terry and Page Little, they were installing a nano-brewery into their business, Vista’s Home Brew Supply. They weren’t the first to do so (ever heard of a wee operation called Home Brew Mart which spawned the fairly sizeable billion-dollar Ballast Point Brewery & Spirits?), but of the recent crop of suppliers-turned-manufacturers—including The Home Brewer’s Home Brewing Company and Carlsbad Brew Supply’s Guadalupe Brewery—their Bear Roots Brewing Company has gained the most and fastest traction with customers. As previously reported, it’s inspired the Littles to think bigger, enough that they have made the concrete decision to expand their brewery. Now, all they have to do is decide how they want to go about doing that.
The Littles are mulling two options. The first would see them assembling a three-barrel system in their current building on Santa Fe Avenue near Vista’s Old Town area. It would also entail implementation of a program called “brewing success and changing the culture”, which would involve corporate and small-business teams coming to Bear Roots for private brewing sessions. A team-building exercise of sorts, with participants being taught about brewing; everything from logistics to ingredients to processes and even marketing of the finished product. The Littles foresee release-parties for beers produced via this program, wherein program participants reassemble with friends and family to taste the fruits of their brew-day. While there is a brew-it-yourself operation called Citizen Brewers in Grantville, this would be the only local production operation offering such an experience.
Option-number-two would involve the Littles moving the brewery off-site to a larger production-geared facility that would house a 10- or 15-barrel brewhouse. This would include construction of a small tasting room and the ability to distribute Bear Roots beers into the market. The homebrew store would continue to operate as it currently does were this plan to be enacted. Should they go this route and the operation prove successful, the Littles would aim to open a larger tasting room and brewery “training center” in adjacent business suites that would include a “very interactive” homebrew store.
Aside from production, the Littles site a strong desire to share their passion for craft-beer with as many people as possible, hence the team-building and educational endeavors built into both of their plans. Terry has professional background in business and team management from the day-job he will be walking away from to go all-in with Bear Roots. The Littles estimate having their expansion plans completed by October. Timing on debut of the next phase of their business will depend on which direction they go at this meaningful fork in the road.
I’m pretty good at maintaining confidence, but I hate keeping secrets. So it pleases me that I can finally share what, up until now, I have been contractually obligated to keep under wraps for over six months. Being in the beer industry has many pluses, one of which is occasionally being invited to exclusive events. Last year, while working for Stone Brewing Co., I had the opportunity to take part in the filming of an episode of Top Chef that took place here in San Diego. (Many thanks to Stone community relations manager Chris Cochran for this awesome experience!) Shot at former Top Chef contestant and Top Chef: All-Stars champion Richard Blais‘ Little Italy restaurant, Juniper and Ivy, that episode aired last night. Many of you likely saw it and, being craft beer fans, wondered about the quartet of brews that Stone and Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits supplied the hit Bravo TV show. I tasted them all along with some of the dishes they were paired with and am happy to provide my impressions along with some fun insights from the filming.
Coming into this experience, I was excited to taste the pair of pilot beers Stone research manager Steve Gonzalez and the company’s small-batch team put together. They were completely new base beers built to include a number of interesting ingredients thrown at them by two of the judges: Blais and co-host Padma Lakshmi. The first was a Belgian-style golden strong ale brewed with ginger (added in the boil), tamarind (whirlpool) and jalapeño peppers (bright tank) that was vibrant and refreshing with nice spice and a restrained tartness from the tamarind. Back then, I was in charge of Stone’s beer-naming team and recommended “Padma in Gold Lamé.” It didn’t stick, as Bravo preferred the simple “Padma’s Golden Ale,” but tell me that wouldn’t have made for good TV. Stone’s other beer was a red stout brewed with beets, chocolate and ras el hanout (a North African blend of spices including cumin, coriander and cinnamon). A golden stout brewed with Guatemalan coffee from North Park’s Dark Horse Coffee Roasters served as the base for the beer, which was earthy in its spice characteristics with nice notes of roast and a dry finish. Both beers were tasty and tremendous from a food-friendliness perspective.
Ballast Point’s beers were good, too, though not as inspired. I don’t say this as a homer (I don’t even work at Stone anymore) or someone miffed about the Constellation acquisition. BP simply took two of their core beers, Black Marlin Porter and Wahoo White, and added specialty ingredients to them. To be fair, they have been doing this for years, mostly from their Home Brew Mart and Little Italy locations by the hand and under the advisement of specialty brewer Colby Chandler, so it was no surprise that the beers were big on flavor, but they were a little overbearing in their adjunct influence whereas the Stone beers balanced the ingredients with the beers themselves. I would have actually expected the opposite with BP being so known for balance and Stone so prone to going over-the-top, but all four beers did a good job showcasing San Diego brewing prowess.
The local epicure contingent is buzzing about the local-boy we had in the competition, Chad White. After several years cooking at and helming several San Diego restaurants, White shuttered his East Village spot, Común, and moved to Washington State to establish a new farm-to-table venture. Some say this somewhat unceremonious exit is a sign that he won, but only time will tell. All I can say is that I was able to taste the dish he prepared for this episode of Top Chef (in which 11 chefs competed)—herb-roasted opah with tamarind-roasted carrots, ginger-pine nut froth and a hominy puree—and it was outstanding. Each component was bright in its flavors and brought its own unique earthiness, acidity and spice, coalescing into a dish that was rather complex. As I sat at my table, glimpsing White explaining his dish to those famous judges, I flashed back to many conversations I’d shared with the chef over the years, starting with the first time I met him and he hurriedly retreated back to the kitchen where he had accidentally burned a piece of toast in a frying pan. Talk about having come a long way. It was easy to be proud of and root for him.
And speaking of the judges, my dining companions and I had a good time monitoring their beverage intake. I was proud to see Emeril Lagasse, the star-chef who had me on his shows nearly a decade ago, finish all or close to every drop of each beer put in front of him. It was a stark contrast to Blais, who sporadically sipped. And though they come across a bit cold from time-to-time—usually when axing a losing contestant—I wondered what Tom Colicchio and Lakshmi would be like in-person. The answer: quite nice. Both made a point of getting to know Gonzalez, Ballast Point brewmaster Yuseff Cherney and the rest of their colleagues in the staging area prior to the taping.
For all the Hollywood glitz and window-dressing that goes into television productions, I was surprised to see so little of it on this day. What you viewed last night (or will eventually see if the espisode is still emblazoned on your DVR) was what actually happened without a ton of edits, re-shoots or audience plants. It was as authentic as the beers that were brewed for it, and that’s pretty cool.