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.
Earlier this month a for-lease sign went up beside the signage for Little Miss Brewing’s much-anticipated tasting room on Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue. The conversion of the site’s interior into a French World War II-themed sampling space is roughly halfway complete and the company’s logo has been mounted outside, making this an unexpected turn of events for everyone, including owners Greg and Jade Malkin. The marrieds behind this Miramar-based company’s satellite project have been paying rent on the space since last December and, in the time it has taken to attempt to obtain approval from the local faction of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), have opened another tasting room in Normal Heights. But the ABC process for their would-be OB interest has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Malkins submitted their ABC application for the OB tasting room a week after sending the same paperwork for the Normal Heights project. Early on, things went as expected, including receipt of protests during the 30-day period when residents are allowed to formally raise issues. The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them. What the Malkins were unaware of, however, is that a private meeting had been held without their notification or knowledge in late-April—outside of the public-protest period—between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), a State Assembly member and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room. ABC representatives claimed the meeting was not specifically about Little Miss, but rather all tasting-room licenses pending on Newport Avenue, but Little Miss’ was the only license of that type pending at the time. The negatives that came out of that meeting, where the project was scrutinized without the applicants being able to defend their business, followed the Little Miss project file through its lifespan without the Malkins even knowing. But this constitutes only a portion of the obstacles.
While the Malkins respect the job and authority of the ABC and appreciate the hard-working nature of ABC employees, they echo the opinion of most (including ABC employees) that the department and its local offices are severely understaffed during this time of unprecedented brewery openings. During the many months they spent trying to open the OB tasting room, meetings with ABC agents typically yielded little in the way of concrete answers or reliable advice. Often, one agent would contradict the other. In the cases where they agreed, other governmental factions saw things differently. Additionally, the Malkins were told to call ABC reps at different offices as well as various individuals at the City of San Diego offices and SDPD. Most calls went unanswered, as did requests for information.
The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.
Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project.
This drama isn’t the only turbulence for the company, which last week parted ways with the only brewmaster it has known during its first year of existence. This seems a much easier hurdle to get over than ABC issues. Former Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Lisica spearheaded brewery and tasting room construction and beer production for Little Miss. His desire was to create clean, clear beers, including an assortment of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beers. While quality was never an issue and ownership appreciated Lisica and his beers, their vision for Little Miss’ portfolio was vastly different, leading to an amicable parting of ways. Mike Morbitzer, a fellow Green Flash alum Lisica hired as his assistant, has been promoted to brewmaster and will be responsible for reshaping Little Miss’ offerings to match the Malkin’s desires, which includes more new-school beers such as hazy IPAs and beers brewed with fruits and other adjuncts across varying styles. Meanwhile, Lisica is taking a brief hiatus from the industry to contemplate his next move, while entertaining offers from companies in need of his services.
Little Miss’ business model from the get-go has been to open six satellite tasting rooms under their manufacturing license, focusing on unsaturated neighborhoods — besides the planned OB location. The Malkins are leery of filing through the San Diego office again. A local ABC agent advised them to apply in La Mesa, a municipality that only recently began encouraging brewing companies to lay down stakes, but they will also likely look north once they have some time to gain some distance and lick their wounds.
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.
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.