The Ballast Point Unicorn: Big News in the World of Small(ish) Beers

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Have been off the grid, mainly in Mississippi, so here is a good-news way to ease back in.

Sculpin IPA, from the Ballast Point site

1) Ballast Point Bonanza. I’ve long enjoyed Ballast Point beers, from San Diego. Earlier this month I mentioned its lightish Longfin Lager. My favorites from its lineup are actually its Sculpin IPA, as shown at right, and the packs-a-punch, spicy-plus-bitter Habanero Sculpin. Also great: Ballast Point’s Fathom IPL (India Pale Lager), Big Eye IPA, and Dorado Double IPA.

In addition to liking the beer, I’ve liked the idea that Ballast Point was co-founded by fellow Cirrus airplane pilot (and skilled flight instructor) Bill Graham, whom I’ve come to know at a number of aviation gatherings over the years. When I saw him at a Cirrus convention in Dallas a few weeks ago, he didn’t mention that he was about to sell the craft brewery for … one billion dollars. That’s the news — sale of Ballast Point to Constellation Brands as a California-based non-tech billion-dollar “unicorn” — that was announced yesterday. Congratulations to the company, and to the Graham family.

Only little cloud on the horizon: some of Constellation’s other beer brands include Corona, Pacifico, and Tsingtao. Hmmm. Please keep your brewmasters, Bill!

Hop Devil IPA, from Victory

2) Beer Road Trip. From Nathan Yau at FlowingData, a wonderful algorithmically generated map of how to visit the greatest number of the nation’s best craft breweries with the most efficient route. Not all of them are there — no Bent Paddle or Fitger’s of Duluth, Minnesota, no Yazoo of Nashville,  no Victory Brewing (and its famous Hop Devil) of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, no DC Brau of DC, no Terrapin of Athens, Georgia, none of the Mississippi breweries I’ll be writing about shortly, of course no Hangar 24 or Escape or Ritual of Redlands, California — but, to be fair, it covers a lot. Nice job.

Highlights of American craft brewing, all in one go, by Nathan Yau for Flowing Data.

3) Know Your Craft Beers. The LA Times story on the Ballast Point sale also has a interesting / challenging test on “craft” vs. “crafty” beers — ones that are still independent, versus brands that are part (as Ballast Point is about to be) of larger chains. Many of the “crafty” beers are still very good! But see if you do better on this test than I did…