A mural in the classroom at Home Brew Mart
Call it the homebrew shop that launched a thousand brewing careers. Linda Vista's Home Brew Mart, best known as the birthplace of Ballast Point Brewing Company, turns 25 this week. While the story of the billion-dollar brewery continues to unfold, Ballast Point's celebration of the milestone focuses instead on the shop's impact on San Diego's craft-beer history; in particular, on the countless brewery owners and employees who got their start as an employee or customer of the small supply store.
5401 Linda Vista Road, San Diego
Ballast Point founder Jack White opened a 150-square-foot shop in 1992. Today, Home Brew Mart occupies 8800 square feet, including an expanded selection, expansive taproom, and a dedicated homebrew classroom. While Ballast Point has since grown to seven locations and counting throughout the country, it launched here with a 1.5-barrel homebrew rig in the back of the shop in 1997.
A mural in the tasting room at Home Brew Mart
That's around the time Colby Chandler started working as a part-time clerk in the shop. White and Brew Mart's first employee, brewer Yuseff Cherney, left the company following its 2015 sale to Constellation Brands; today, Chandler's the longest tenured employee remaining.
Reflecting on the brewery's early days, Chandler shares plenty of interesting history. For example, early on, he says White thought about naming the business Sequoia Brewing. And when Chandler started working at Home Brew Mart full time, he took a 70 percent pay cut to leave his job in the restaurant industry and pursue a life in beer.
That decision worked out in the long run. Today, Chandler holds the titles vice president and specialty brewer, though he says he's more often a brand ambassador, representing Ballast Point at beer destinations around the world, brewing with other industry VIPs. "I've got one of the best jobs in the industry," he says.
He points out it was at Home Brew Mart that he and other longtime employees Doug Duffield and George Cataulin first brewed Sculpin IPA, the beer that arguably gave Ballast Point global value. It was also where the brewery became a pioneer of beer styles, with the likes of Even Keel session IPA, Fathom India Pale Lager, and Dorado double IPA. "Dorado was brewed here in '98," Chandler recalls. "It wasn't even called a double IPA [at that time] — we called it a hoppy strong ale!"
A September 24th party celebrating the anniversary will feature special cellar selections spanning Ballast Point's history, including aged sours going back 10, 12, and 16 years; and a blend featuring a 20-year-old barley wine.
But the party commemorates former employees as well as beers. A series of so-called "family reunion" beers include collaborations made with Ballast Point and Home Brew Mart alums who've gone on to become acclaimed professional brewers. Participants include former Brew Mart clerks Cy Henley, now head brewer at Amplified Ale Works, and Tom Nickel, whose long history in local beer includes time brewing at Pizza Port and his own Nickel Beer Company.
The success of Home Brew Mart customers shows the shop's influence reaches even further. AleSmith owner Peter Zien bought his first homebrew kit here in 1995 and revisited often as he became president of QUAFF homebrewing club in subsequent years. "I know that many of my fellow club members relied on Home Brew Mart in those early days," he recalls, particularly leading up to its first of many national homebrew club championships.
World Beer Cup champion brewer Ryan Brooks, of Coronado Brewing Company and South Norte Beer, also started his homebrewing hobby here. He backs up the idea that the shop "had an undeniable impact on the local beer scene…. It seems like most of the brewers in town either got their start from working at or shopping at Home Brew Mart."
A similar story is told at breweries throughout the county, and even other parts of the U.S. "Home Brew Mart is not just close to our hearts," says Chandler, “it's close to everybody's hearts in San Diego."