Ballast Point Little Italy's brewing equipment during the installation process.
5401 Linda Vista Road, San Diego
10051 Old Grove Road, Suite B, San Diego
2215 India Street, San Diego
For the better part of its existence, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits epitomized slow craft brewing company growth. Owner Jack White and long-time head brewer Yuseff Cherney seemed content to let Karl Strauss and Stone Brewing Co. leave them in the dust in the race to get big. Having a place in the upper echelon of San Diego’s suds scene behind quality beer and the county’s favorite home brewing supply store, Home Brew Mart, was enough.
Then, a few years back, a switch was flipped and, suddenly, Ballast Point took on the persona of a company with money burning a hole in seemingly bottomless pockets. They greatly enhanced their production brewery in Scripps Ranch in a multi-phased expansion that included the addition of brewing and cellaring equipment, a distillery, a canning line, an expanded and much more attractive tasting bar, and a large outdoor dining area. Back at Home Brew Mart, their original location, they took over their neighboring strip mall space and expanded the store while ripping out their brewhouse and replacing it with a new, state-of-the-art system. Next, they opened a massive, solely branded concession stand at Petco Park—a venue that, previous to this year, was quite limited in the amount of craft beer offerings it stocked. Even with all that growth, they still weren’t done.
Ballast Point's higher ups are high on their new spot in Little Italy. From left to right: President & General Manager Jim Buechler; CEO/Founder Jack White; Director of R&D/Specialty Brewer Colby Chandler; Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan; Co-founder/COO & Head Brewer/Head Distiller Yuseff Cherney; Founder and President of Premier Stainless Systems Rob Soltys; and Director of Retail Operations Jeremy Kirby.
Enter the next big thing from White and company, Ballast Point Tasting Room & Kitchen (2215 India Street, Little Italy), a 9,000 square-foot combination restaurant, brewery, tasting room and a 4,000 square-foot beer garden that is poised to provide the most complete and well thought-out customer experience of any of the business’ facilities. I toured the space last week and got the details on what visitors can expect when the project goes live in October.
A painted banner-style Ballast Point mural will adorn the upper-most portion of the exterior facade while the company's name will also be highlighted on the marquee.
The venue’s three-barrel brewhouse (with five-barrel capability) will be used exclusively for research and development as well as production of specialty beers. According to specialty brewer Colby Chandler—a Ballast Point veteran coming over from his previous post at Home Brew Mart who is responsible for developing a wide array of the company’s top-selling and most talked-about beers—says they will only produce one-off beers. If one of those beers becomes a production beer, it will be shifted to the breweries at Scripps Ranch or Linda Vista.
In addition to his own concoctions, Chandler says a goal of his is to have every Ballast Point employee into the R&D brewhouse to try out their ideas on the small system. And he’s not just talking brewers. He wants to give administrative, sales and service staff that opportunity as well. With 105 total employees at the time of this writing, he understands the logistical challenge, but it’s something he’s embracing, citing the fact that the experimental spirit of Home Brew Mart is a huge part of what has kept Ballast Point brewing such a wide variety of beer styles and delving into lesser-explored territories including barrel-aged brews, chili beers, and sour ales. Speaking of sours, the cold room is split into two sections so Chandler can work with the bacteria required to create that variety of beer.
Yuseff Cherney directs set-up of the new R&D brewhouse
The new brewery will allow Chandler, R&D brewer Nathan Stephens and a soon-to-be-hired brewing intern to whip up quick collaboration beers with personnel from other breweries, craft special beers for their accounts’ anniversaries, or make beers to pair specifically with dishes being created in the Little Italy facility’s kitchen. They may even brew wort specifically to be used for baking purposes. Can you say "completely customized craft beer-pairing dinner"?
The restaurant component will be led by executive chef Colin MacLaggan, a talented chef who recently sold his restaurant, Bankers Hill’s Avenue 5, to restaurateur Ingrid Croce. At that eatery, the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef showed off his ability to create high level, elegantly plated modernist cuisine. With Ballast Point, his approach will be different. MacLaggan says his goal is to make the best pub food in town. From what he’s seen, most pub food is heavy and predictable. His aim is to make food that’s lighter, more seasonal, and more interesting.
The future walk-up counter for the Little Italy venue's restaurant component.
MacLaggan’s menu will be made up of smaller, shareable plates split into three sections—land, sea, and garden—and switch several times a year with incoming seasons. Beer will be incorporated to a large degree into mustards, dressings, braising liquids, beer cheese, sauces, desserts, and more. Oysters will be made with a classic mignonette as well as a dressing made using Ballast Point Wahoo Wheat Beer. Ballast Point Bloody Mary Mix will find its way into a ceviche. Additionally, Ballast Point spirits will serve as ingredients. So, look for bread pudding with a Devil’s Share Bourbon Whiskey sauce.
The café will take up one-third of the venue’s publically accessible interior space. The other two-thirds will be filled out by a central bar outfitted with 50 taps serving Ballast Point’s standard, seasonal, and specialty beers; and a standing room-only area with belly bars. A combination of dark woods, copper, and soft light will make up most of the interior aesthetic. Outside, the beer garden will have a semi-industrial feel, bringing in stainless steel, black chairs and tables with teak tops similar to those on Little Italy sidewalks. There will also be palm trees and, if MacLaggan has his way, fruit trees and a living wall. The ground will be sanded and stained like the flooring inside, and the entire facility will be able to seat 150 to 200.
The tasting bar and its 50 taps will be front and center, the first thing visitors see after entering the building.
This is the second work-in-progress brewing project I’ve toured in the past week where I’ve left darn near giddy with excitement (the first being Oceanside’s upcoming Bagby Beer Company). The Little Italy project really is impressive. But it’s not the last lure in Ballast Point’s tackle box—not by a long shot. The company has closed in on a long-sought 100,000-plus square-foot spot to house its next and largest brewery. But that’s’ for another article. Stay tuned.