Driving down this unsuspecting stretch of Interstate 15 in San Diego County, it's hard to tell that some of Southern California's most notable craft breweries are just off the freeway.
If coming down the 5 from Los Angeles, take the 78 East in Carlsbad to the 15 South; before Downtown even has a chance to come into view, you've already passed Iron Fist, Lost Abbey, Stone, Green Flash, Alesmith and, lastly, Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits.
As one of 18 breweries in the country that also have an on-site distillery, Ballast Point is the only one in Southern California and the closest one to Los Angeles. That means that, in addition to 40-plus beers in constant rotation, Ballast Point makes its own gin, vodka, rum and -- as soon as it's done aging -- whiskey. In addition to the daily booze production, Ballast Point is six months into an expansion that will double its annual brewing capacity (to 60,000 barrels) over the next year.
Last week, head brewer and head distiller Yuseff Cherney gave us a tour of his growing -- from 11,000 to 20,000 square feet -- Scripps Ranch facility and let us in on some of the best add-ons. Turn the page to read Cherney's own words on the coolest things we saw.
"This is one of our more expensive things in the brewery. This apparatus is a centrifuge. It helps clarify the beer prior to filtration so we get a little bit more consistent product going into filtration. It spins at 7,000 RPMs and beer goes in and out at about 30-40 barrels an hour. By the time it goes to that little tray sheet on the bottom, it's pretty much clear and then we just put a final polish on the plating frame.
Before we'd have to send it right over the filter and sometimes we'd get a real sediment-y batch that would bind up the filter and then you got a long day ahead of you. So the centrifuge homogenizes the clarity so you know what you're getting yourself into. You need to filter on this day and if the beer doesn't filter right, then your whole production gets thrown into a tizzy, so this keeps the production on schedule."
The (Former) Parking Lot:
"This is literally happening today. They dug this out, there's going to be a concrete pad here, there's going to be up to about nine of those 200-barrel tanks. In the back area where those tents are, another grain silo will be erected there in hopefully about six weeks and that way we can take two truckloads of grain.
We're going through a truckload every four or five days -- that's about 50,000 pounds of grain. One of the differences between breweries and distilleries is that most of the big distilleries will use distillers malts, which are one step above feed, so the brewers who become distillers use the same malt that they use for their beer, which is a much better barley."
The Vodka Filter:
"This is the vodka filter here. Essentially, it's pharmaceutical-grade stainless and all it's doing is running the spirit through a multistage filter. There's technically 15 filters because the bigger ones have multiple cartridges, so it's carbon, carbon, carbon, until you get to particulate, then a finer particulate and then a little bit of diamonds.
There are 15 carats of faceted gem-quality diamonds up there and it does absolutely nothing -- we just put it in there for fun. A friend of mine who is a diamond merchant likes our vodka, so we just put some in there just to tell people it's been run through diamonds. It's funny because people always talk about diamond filtration on their bottles, but we like to call it the 'diamond vortex that ensures proper blending before bottling.' But there's not a whole lot that it actually does."
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"A friend of mine built this schnapps still, and we are in the process of getting it set up so we can make some fruit schnapps. A traditional German schnapps is 80 proof-100 proof and clear and maybe closer to what you would call an eau de vie, which is just a straight, distilled, high-proof spirit made from fruit.
So if you took pears and fermented it and distilled it to a fine distillate, it is not syrupy at all -- exactly the opposite of what we think of as schnapps. You'll start seeing more of the traditional schnapps being made, but it's so hard to change the American mentality of what the word schnapps means."
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