Colby Chandler started at Ballast Point in 1997 and serves as brewmaster at the company’s original San Diego location, which shares space with the Home Brew Mart. He currently oversees the facility’s 1500-barrel production, which includes his Hout series, a limited line of sours that’s flavored with ingredients like black currant and cherry. Chandler has also been President of the San Diego Brewers Guild for the past five years, helping to add events like the annual Guild Festival and generating 100% participation from San Diego breweries. We met at Ballast Point/Home Brew Mart, where he discussed his background and approach.
How did you become so interested in beer?
It goes back to my parents. They lived up in the Pacific Northwest, so when I would go visit them, it was right around when Red Hook was coming out, and all the good hoppy Northwest beers that we really hadn’t had before. That definitely got me started in beer, and I started home brewing once I moved to San Diego, for about three years.
What year did you move to San Diego?
What brought you down here?
I worked for Ruth’s Chris steakhouse. I was a server at Ruth’s Chris and became a corporate trainer, helped to open up different Ruth’s Chris around the United States.
Do you have a first beer memory?
I actually have pictures of me in the Olympia tasting room, four years old, drinking a beer. So that’s been engraved in my brain for awhile. It’s not genes, it’s an environment kind of thing.
What was the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your approach on that?
Sour Wench and the Brother Levonian Saison. We don’t really do seasonals. We have 35, 40 beers that we’ve done over the course of Ballast Point. So we’re coming back and brewing those same beers. Saison, it’s a tribute beer to one of our first home brew customers. [Proceeds from sales of Brother Levonian Saison go to the college fund of the late Levonian’s daughter. The beer contains honey, coriander, grains of paradise and orange peel.]
How did you catch on at Ballast Point originally?
I’ve done well with getting jobs at places where I really liked their product. It’s easy to sell stuff when you enjoy it yourself already. Ballast Point had just started up and we were actually selling Ballast Point at Ruth’s Chris. The Wit beer and sometimes the Amber. Back then it was called Copper Ale. I was familiar with their beers. My two favorite breweries were Pizza Port and Ballast Point. I applied to both and Ballast Point hired me. I used to get home brewing supplies here too. It was kind of like at Ruth’s Chris, I got a discount on steaks. I got a discount on home brewing supplies too.
What was the first beer that you brewed at home?
It was a pale ale. It was hoppy. I was kind of shooting for McTarnahan’s kind of amber.
How did it work out?
It was overcarbonated, foamy, typical. It was delicious though, and fun to share with people. It was better than I thought it was going to taste.
Do you have a beer mentor?
No, not really. I think there are so many good brewers in San Diego that there’s not really one particular mentor. Obviously Pete [A’Hearn], who was the original brewer here and did the master brewer’s program, was a smart guy to learn from, but honestly it’s Home Brew Mart University. That’s what really taught me, reading all the magazines, all the books, being able to be able to go pick ingredients out of the store at a whim has been a really big advantage.
Who’s another brewer that you respect nearby, and how come?
I’ve always been a big fan of hops. Again, that’s the Northwest background and getting into home brewing because beers weren’t hoppy enough. Pat out at Alpine has been doing a really good job with helping to create the San Diego pale ale, the double IPA style. We kind of both started our double IPAs at about the same time. The Dorado, I’ve been doing for about 11 years now. He started with Pure Hoppiness at about the same time. It’s been fun to grow up with his beers and my beers. We’ve fed off each other a little bit too. He’s a nice guy.
How did you get involved in the San Diego Brewers Guild?
I became President five years ago. At the time the President was working here at the Home Brew Mart. It had fallen aside for a few years. The CBC was coming here for the first time in 2004. The Craft Brewers Conference was a big meeting they actually have here every four years now because we’ve taken such good care of them the past two times. We finally got back together, rebanded, got through the CBC and the President at the time, Joe Cuozzo, took off to Vegas to open up another brewery, so that left the position open, so I jumped up in, basically. There were things that hadn’t gotten done yet. We hadn’t had the Guild Fest yet. We didn’t have the website. It wasn’t 100% participation. All the breweries weren’t part of the Guild in the County. I’ve been able to do all that in the past five years, plus have our sixth Guild Fest this year. We’ve also done Lager Fest and had multiple tables. We were at the Great American Beer Festival this year with a Guild table. We were at the Mutineer launch party with a table. It’s kind of cool to bring all the breweries from San Diego and show what we’re doing down here.
When you’re not here, what are some bars that you like to drink at?
I was fortunate enough to move over by 30th Street two years ago. Since I moved there, Hamilton’s was just getting started. The Linkery was just getting started. Ritual wasn’t open yet. Toronado wasn’t open yet. Blind Lady was just opening. Soda Bar. The area over there, there are just too many places to go. When I walk in, I hear, “Where have you been? How come you’re not here?” I was at the other ten bars.
If you could only drink one more pint, what would it be?
That’s not fair…Where am I at and what am I eating? Then I’ll tell you what that single beer is going to be. Desert island kind of thing? Probably a double IPA. Because you can water it down to be a session beer. You can water it down to be a pale ale. You can drink it straight as a double IPA. Put some coffee in there and call it a porter. I like hops.