Sculpin and Grapefruit Sculpin, Pineapple Sculpin, Habanero Sculpin and the new Unfiltered Sculpin – blew up big in the past three years. People grabbed it in bottles and cans, drank it on draught and talked about it all the time. People who were brand new to craft beer suddenly thought they knew everything about it. The only thing they really knew was that they liked Sculpin. They didn’t know Ballast Point or the work of specialty brewer Colby Chandler.
And that makes sense.
But until you get to know Colby, you don’t know Ballast Point.
Sculpin was the breakout beer for Ballast Point, the one that transformed them from a great local brewery to one whose beers were in demand across the country. It’s a great story. But most importantly for beer lovers, the story continues to evolve – just like their award-winning beers, thanks in no small part to Colby.
D.L. What’s the job description of a specialty brewer for Ballast Point?
C.C. Well, no matter what’s down on paper, it’s the best job in the world.
D.L. Glad you think so. Can you be a little more specific?
C.C. A journalist for San Diego Magazine called me a “beer and flavor innovator”. His words, not mine. But my team and I do make two or three different beers every week in our R&D brewery/restaurant in the Little Italy section of the city. We have total creative freedom to brew what we like and what we would want to buy.
D.L. Couldn’t you do the same thing in the brewery?
C.C. The initial reason to have an R&D brewery was to take the place of the Home Brew Mart that Jack White, the brewery’s founder, opened in the early 1990s. He was a homebrewer and Home Brew Mart was a business he started that sold homebrewing supplies. Ballast Point didn’t exist until 1996.
D.L. So Ballast Point’s roots are in homebrewing?
C.C. Yes. Jack opened a “back room” brewery behind the homebrew shop. His first employee, Yusseff Cherney, a fellow homebrewer, created Ballast Point’s first beer. It was called Copper Ale [later named Calico Amber and then California Amber].
D.L. How do you stay true to your homebrewing heritage?
C.C. Our “Roots to Boots” program let’s an employee think up a new beer and we make it in our Little Italy restaurant. We have made so many different beers there. It’s hard for us to pick which ones to brew again. So we let the employees vote. Sometimes we let the public vote. It keeps us relevant. We’ve made hundreds of recipes and we’ve sold every drop of beer. That says a lot about the direction of the whole team and where we’re going.
D.L. Sculpin is Ballast Point’s flagship. Were you involved in making that beer?
C.C. I was in a funny way. Two Home Brew Mart employees, Doug Duffield and George Cataulin, each brewed gold-medal-winning IPAs. When they looked at the recipes, they realized that they were similar. I worked with them to meld the two recipes into one. My version of their two beers is the Sculpin you know today.
D.L. What made Sculpin such a standout?
C.C. It was one of the very first “juicy” IPAs, where the fruity notes of Simcoe and Amarillo hops came out over the more typically bitter, piney hops of the West Coast style.
D.L. How do you describe Sculpin?
C.C. I taste peach, mango and apricot, with an underlying grapefruit note. Grapefruit Scuplin is more citrus forward. Sculpin starts out as a bright beer, but the grapefruit makes it even brighter, so it’sa bit like a drinkable, IPA shandy.
D.L. Can you get behind session beers?
D.L. What’s up with the new Fathom IPA?
C.C. I know it’s confusing to have another beer called Fathom. This new one is less hoppy and very drinkable.
D.L. It’s beginning to get a bit chilly here on the East Coast. Which Ballast Point beer would you drink on a cold day in December?
C.C. That’s an easy one, Victory at Sea (VAS) Imperial Porter. It’s got roasted coffee notes from dark malts and some actual cold brewed coffee from San Diego’s own Café Calabria, not to mention a touch of vanilla. It’s a big one, but it’s smooth, dry and balanced. You should try it with Tiramisu – it’s mind blowingly delicious, if I do say so myself.
D.L. Any new flavors for VAS?
D.L. Tell us about Sea Rose. It’s an amazing sour.
C.C. It’s a tart, wheat ale with cherries and pomegranate. This is my “champagne” for New Years. If you add prosecco, it’s an amazing cocktail. For the holidays, we do Sculpin with dinner and dessert is Sea Rose and probably Red Velvet, too.
D.L. Somebody called Red Velvet the stout that takes the cake.
C.C. Our Red Velvet oatmeal stout is a real crowd pleaser. Like the cake that inspired it, the deep, red color comes from beets, which add a rich, earthy character that complements the chocolate flavor and aroma. The foamy head of the nitro pour is our “icing”. But this liquid dessert still finishes like a beer – not sweet, but just as satisfying. It’s only 5.5% ABV. It’s a good food beer too. I’ve had it with Humboldt Fog (fresh goat cheese), Chipotle BBQ sauce on baby back ribs and rhubarb pie with strawberry ice cream.
D.L. What’s your favorite beer?
C.C. I drink beer that enhances the moment, and the food I’m eating, because I’m a foodie at heart. Before coming to San Diego I owned a restaurant. I was the chef and I brewed beer. Not pairing food with beer is a wasted opportunity because one enhances the other.
D.L. You’ve done smoked lagers brewed with Thai peppers. Is that just a gimmick?
C.C. It all goes back to being a foodie. I love savory flavors in beer. Those flavors are already there, so when we add a spice or a vegetable, it pops out a flavor in the beer that’s been there all along. It enhances, not detracts from the beer. It’s like having a food and beer pairing in a glass. By the way, you can’t get those flavors in wine.
D.L. Ok, if you don’t have a favorite beer, is there one that has inspired you?
C.C. Yeah. Off the top of my head, Orval is one because it’s like four different beers in the same bottle. At first you taste the hops, then as it matures and the yeast works on it, the hops fade and you get sour notes, which years later will be different still. It ages gracefully.
D.L. Will IPAs always be the best selling craft style?
C.C. That’s not going to change anytime soon, but there are kids turning 21 who don’t want to drink their dad’s bitter beer. Every one knows hops. Soon I think the drinkers will rediscover malt. Even in a really hoppy beer, you need a nice, complex malt to make a stand out beer.
D.L. Are you down with that?
C.C. IPAs put us on the map, thanks to hops. That was our foundation to make more interesting beers. We’re strong in all styles and because we brew balanced beers, we are very comfortable with malts. Besides, I love giving adults new flavors to taste.
D.L. Is it true that the name Ballast was chosen because it refers to the weight and balance old ships needed to keep from keeling over?
C.C. Yes, that’s part of it. The old sailing ships would load up on cobblestones before they would sail back to Europe. They needed the weight in the cargo hold to balance the weight of the fails.They called it ballast. San Diego’s on the Pacific Ocean and it’s a reference to our city’s heritage. Plus it refers to the kind of beers we make. They are flavorful, but balanced. There is tons of meaning there.
D.L. What do you say to people who think Ballast isn’t the same since it was purchased by Constellation Brands?
C.C. Hey, it’s the American Dream. Constellation wants to get great liquid to consumers. As a brewer, that’s my goal too. Besides, I see it as an opportunity to learn from them. They have great wines in their portfolio, like Opus. I’m stoked about getting into wine and beer hybrids. The partnership with Constellation gives me access to some of the best wine barrels in the world! I want to explore a merlot style of beer. This could be the ticket for that.