I felt like I’d unwrapped a foil-sheathed candy bar to reveal a golden ticket and been ushered to the site where some of my favorite things are made — specifically, the exotic specialty beers of the Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits empire.
Most of those beers come courtesy of company VP Colby Chandler, who spends most of his production time at the pilot brewery housed at BP’s Little Italy bar and restaurant. That was where I found myself one day, eyes lit up like Charlie taking in Wonka’s lair. But unlike him, I wasn’t just watching beer get made, I was making it happen. It all happened under Chandler’s watchful eye as he helped me brew up the latest beer in my lupus research and awareness campaign, Beer to the Rescue.
When I initially contacted Chandler, he jokingly suggested we make a beer called Oompa Lupus, following that comment with, “too soon?” I told him it was just what I wanted — something that clearly referred to the topic I was trying to educate the public about, but in a way that’s the opposite of depressing.
Working off that clever name (which refers to Wonka’s orange-skinned confectionary legionnaires known as Oompa-Loompas), I suggested an imperial stout brewed with chocolate and orange. Chandler liked it and opted to go the milk stout route, adding lactose to up the beer’s viscosity and bring in added sweetness. I only had one more request. Given Chandler is arguably better than any other brewer in the world at infusing peppers into beer, I asked that we do that with this beer. Low-heat, rattler-like cascabel chilies is what we ended up going with.
I’ve had the good fortune of participating in several brews, but I’ve never been allowed to play as big a role in the process as with Oompa Lupus. I emptied every grain sack into the mill, pushed the buttons, opened and shut the valves, tested the wort, made entries on the brewer’s log, grained out, ground the cacao nibs, stemmed and chopped the chilies, washed down the brewhouse, and even polished some stainless. (I’m certain that old mill never glistened so brilliantly.)
The result is a beer I’m proud of — mainly due to how tasty it is. Coming in at 8.7% alcohol-by-volume, it drinks nice and smooth, bringing in a semisweet, velveteen chocolatiness that’s uplifted by the citrusy oil from pounds of hand-zested navel oranges. Each sip is like taking a bite out of break-apart chocolate-orange candy. A hint of anise-like flavor lingers in the finish, perhaps from those raisiny chilies.
As this is a one-off brew, it’s something I’ll be sad to see go, but I will relish it for as long as they can keep it on tap. Given the beer tapped on Thursday, April 2, its end will come sooner than later, so make like Charlie and run straight to Ballast Point. Run straight to Ballast Point and don’t stop until you get there.