Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ballast Point's Big Day

It was announced yesterday that Ballast Point Brewing was purchased by Constellation Brands for $1 billion (HT Ramblings of a Beer Runner for the article in the link).  My twitter feed was stunned silent.  There were no "sellouts" or "dead to me" rants that followed other recent craft beer acquisitions.  I can't knock Ballast Point for taking the cash.  It is hard for a small business to say "no" to a $1 billion pay day.

Ballast Point is arguably, from a taste standpoint, the best brewer in San Diego, which means it is one of the best craft breweries in the country.  Its flagship Sculpin IPA is a national brand.  Constellation must continue Ballast Point's brewing excellence to justify its $1 billion investment.  Here are a few of the things I don't want to see happen at Ballast Point:

Don't become Sculpin Brewing:  My guess is that Sculpin is about to get much bigger.  Sculpin is far from the only great beer Ballast Point makes, and it'd be a shame if other beers suffer in the promotion of Sculpin.  (To show the extent of Sculpin's current reach, characters on recent episode of the TLC reality show My Big Fat Fabulous Life, which is based in North Carolina, were drinking bottles of Sculpin.  If you've infiltrated the strange world of TLC's reality TV shows, what is left to conquer?)  Ballast Point needs to keep its diverse line-up of beers, not reduce them. 

Don't Dilute The Beer:  I have been told by employees at Ballast Point that the reason Sculpin is more expensive than other beers is because its ingredients - mainly extra hops - cost more.  Even though Sculpin is Ballast Point's star beer, I can't see Constellation's number crunchers avoiding the challenge of trying to eke out more profit by substituting cheaper, but similar, ingredients.  Brilliance does not come cheap, and beer geek taste buds are on watch.

Don't Close Tasting Rooms:  Ballast Point has four tasting rooms in San Diego.  Keep these open. These are the only place to try Ballast Point's many wonderful one-off beers.  Plus, they employ many San Diegans.

Don't Eliminate Big Eye:  Once Ballast Point's main IPA, Big Eye was long ago eclipsed by Sculpin.  Big Eye is still an excellent, underrated beer.  It is maltier than Sculpin or other IPAs being brewed today, but is one of my favorite beers.

Keep Brewing Homework Series:  Ballast Point is on the sixth in its Homework series of specialty beers.  Homework beers are sold with their ingredients and recipes for home brewers to replicate.  These one-time releases have been excellent beers.

Keep Brewing One-Offs: I noted above that Ballast Point's tasting rooms always have a number of one-off beers on tap, in addition to Ballast Point's core line up of beers.  Most of these beers don't end up getting bottled or distributed, but still, the ones I have tried have been good.  Ballast Point needs to keep trying new styles and providing creativity outlets for its brewers.

Ballast Point's decisions will now be made in context of a bigger corporate structure where low costs and high profits are the main motives.  It'd be foolish to think nothing is going to change, or only change for the better.  For my part, I will keep drinking Ballast Point beers, and plan to pick up a bottle of Homework Series #6 today.

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