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.
This Thursday night from 5-11pm El Take It Easy’s Chef Max Bonacci will be pairing Ballast Point beers with local shellfish and seafood. There will be five pairings to choose from, each costing $11 for the food and a half pour of beer. Sounds simple enough, right? Taking a closer look at the list yields a surprise though: Carlsbad Aqua Farm Luna Oysters are the main ingredient in both the first menu item and the beer it’s been matched up with.
Winter San Salvador, a unique creation of Ballast Point Specialty Brewer Colby Chandler and his Home Brew Mart team, not only required fifty dozen of these local shellfish (five dozen of which the team ate raw with Ballast Point Bloody Mary Mix), but also California-grown barley, California bay leaf from a community garden in Banker’s Hill (accessible thanks to HBM’s Larry Monosakanian), La Costa coastal black sage from a secret picking spot (location info thanks to former Pizza Port director of brewing operations Jeff Bagby), and Nugget hops from Star B Ranch in Ramona. Chandler noted that he was a little late on the brew this year because harvesting all these local ingredients was indeed a time-consuming process.
Chandler solicited advice from Arne Johnson of Marin Brewing and Ben Spencer of Magnolia Pub & Brewery, who helped brew the 2011 CBC Oyster Stout given to conference attendees last year in San Francisco, as to how many of the bi-valve molluscs to use and how to use them (twenty dozen were added as a 60-minute addition, and twenty-five dozen more as a 20-minute addition, after which the crew pulled them out and ate them in their own delicious wort sauce). As Chandler put it, “it takes a village to raise a beer like this.”
A Schwarzbier by definition, Winter San Salvador also uses German specialty malts and lager yeast, coming out to 6.5% ABV and 23 IBU’s. Unlike an Oyster Stout, the goal was to not let the roastiness of the base beer overpower the brine from the oysters. Mission accomplished: the slightly briny texture of the beer helps fill out the mouthfeel, while the roasty quality is present but not powerful; the bay leaf and black sage add unique aromatics.
“I have been really happy with how the San Salvador Saison has been coming out over the past two summer seasons,” Chandler said. “Before I knew what ingredients to put in Summer San Salvador, I asked myself, ‘What would the Kumeyaay people of Mission Valley have been eating around the time when Cabrillo landed on Ballast Point in his flagship San Salvador?'” Locally-procured elderberries, manzanita berries, and white sage were main players in that beer’s recipe, and now “Winter San Salvador brings some indigenous ingredients from the coast to the lager.” Chandler is still brainstorming ideas for the fall and spring versions: “cactus tuna and roasted yucca root anyone?”
Chandler spoke highly of El Take It Easy, big supporters of Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, adding, “I look forward to anytime we collaborate on moving the local beer, spirit and food scene forward.” So without further adieu, here is the full menu for Thursday evening:
– Winter San Salvador - Luna oysters on the half shell, grassfed beef feet chicharron, Ballast Point Old Grove Gin mignonette.
– Fathom India Pale Lager - Wild Mexican shrimp, wild nettle sauce, shrimp toast
– Longfin Lager - Lime cured scallop, serrano chile, Berkshire pork skin
– Abandon Ship Smoked Lager - Local corvina, foraged cress, smoked stone crab
– Brother Levonian Saison - Local strawberry poached octopus, squid ink noodle, ash goat cheese
*Photos courtesy of Colby Chandler