Ballast Point expanding to Chicago with new brewery


Aiming to expand its national footprint, San Diego’s Ballast Point today announced plans to open a pilot brewery, restaurant and rooftop bar in Chicago by early 2018.

“We’re thrilled to bring the San Diego spirit of Ballast Point to such a great beer-drinking city like Chicago,” Marty Birkel, Ballast Point’s president, said in a prepared statement. “The entire team is looking forward to sharing some of our new innovations and passion for great beer and food with Chicagoans.”

The news comes as Ballast Point puts the finishing touches on a production brewery in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, which is expected to open by mid-August.

“Ballast Point is turning its brand into a mega-brand, trying to make it the craft beer standard nationally,” said Gonzalo Quintero, who teaches beer marketing courses at San Diego State University.

The Chicago outpost will be relatively modest, a 12,000-square-foot space with a three-barrel brewing system that will supply fresh beer to the tasting room.

In contrast, Ballast Point opened a 259,000-square-foot property in Daleville, Va., last month. For now, the tasting room’s 128 taps dispense beer shipped from San Diego. That will change within two weeks, when the onsite brewery opens with an annual capacity in excess of 100,000 barrels of beer.

(Last year, Ballast Point sold more than 400,000 barrels of beer. Each barrel is 31 gallons.)

“It’s good business to have production facilities on both coasts,” Quintero said. “Not just for production, but especially for distribution. You can provide customers there with fresher, better beer.”

New York-based Constellation Brands bought Ballast Point in 2015 for $1 billion. Other large brewing corporations - notably Anheuser-Busch InBev - have focused on buying craft breweries around the country. Quintero noted that Constellation has a different business model, stressing one brand and its San Diego roots.

Rising in Chicago’s Fulton Market district, the new Ballast Point plans to serve Midwestern fare but also Baja-style fish tacos. Sculpin, the brewery’s flagship tropical IPA, will also be heavily promoted alongside specialty beers exclusive to Chicago.

“They are capitalizing on the world-renowned legacy of San Diego craft beer,” Quintero said. “Why reinvent the wheel when you can just recreate the wheel over and over, having a Ballast Point in every port?”

This will be Ballast Point’s seventh tasting room. Besides the one in Daleville, there are four in San Diego and one in Long Beach.