Discussion in 'Beer Travel, Events and Releases' started by drbenzo, Nov 16, 2015.
I generally read them here because I basically forget that BA exists, but I don’t mind either way. Although, the way this place has been run lately (during last week’s outage I honestly thought the admins had completely pulled the plug), I’d suggest the other new site as an alternate.
I’m not on those other two sites and while I haven’t bought much from MT lately I enjoy reading your notes and knowing what’s going on there.
Just echoing the comments for continued Xul tasting notes. Never on BA anymore and Facebook is only a repository for the best pug memes Sage finds on Facebook. Always enjoy the summaries!
I, too, like seeing the notes here. The FB group can be too much of a circle jerk for me and I don't go to BA much, so here is nice.
I go to both sites regularly as well as Facebook. I see no harm in continued posting everywhere. It's easy enough to just scroll past for anyone uninterested in reading them. I like the other tidbits you post before you get to the tasting notes, as it's often stuff that was mentioned at one tasting but not another, or something I didn't hear.
As far as the tasting notes themselves, I don't "care" about yours or anyone else's all THAT much... I trust my own palate. That is of course said with all due respect. Cheers.
While I’m not the MT stan I used to be. I did pickup a mega spaceways. Wow! Xul was right well worth the purchase.
Nice deep dive on the Ballast Point deal by Peter Rowe in today's UT. Says the sale price is estimated by industry observers at between $75 million and $200 million. Not sure how much the production facility that Constellation is keeping is worth, but wow what a drop.
How did a tiny Illinois brewery acquire a craft beer icon once valued at $1 billion?
By Peter Rowe
Dec. 8, 2019
Fresh off a family trip to Rome, Chris Bradley sat down with Brendan Watters, his partner at Kings & Convicts, a little Illinois brewery. Anything happen, Bradley asked, during his vacation?
“We’re buying Ballast Point,” Watters announced.
“What?” Bradley sputtered. “How?”
That exchange occurred in a Chicago suburb this summer. Similar scenes played out across the U.S. last week, when Constellation Brands — Ballast Point’s current owner — and Kings & Convicts announced the deal. Really? How could an obscure two-year-old brewery from Highwood, Ill., (2018 production: 550 barrels of beer) land an industry icon (2018 production: 320,000 barrels) once worth $1 billion?
The full answer is cloaked in nondisclosure statements, but a partial explanation involves 9/11, golf and a desperate seller. New York-based Constellation was eager to dump Ballast Point, with its plummeting sales and a trademark value — a measure of its worth outside of its assets — in free fall, cratering from $223 million in January 2018 to $17 million in October 2019.
“I think they decided it was time to get what they could,” Bart Watson, the Brewers Association’s chief economist, said of Constellation, “and focus on their core brands.”
The rise, fall and re-invention of Ballast Point is one of the most dramatic chapters in the annals of American craft beer, illustrating this industry’s much-hyped promise and often overlooked fault lines. The arc of Ballast’s story, from rags to riches to near irrelevance, is a cautionary tale within the industry, while its possible resurgence is a sign of hope for craft beer’s true believers.
Much depends on the savvy of Bradley and Watters, two craft beer rookies and expats — Bradley, “The King,” is from England while Watters, “The Convict,” from Australia. Having enjoyed financial success in other professions and in other cities, both express confidence in their ability to revive Ballast.
Still, they understand the skeptics. Consider their original plan.
“What we wanted,” Watters said, laughing, “was to have a place to homebrew, put up some TVs and have a place for our friends to gather.”
Not something of Ballast’s size and reputation? “In our wildest dreams,” he said.
From calamity to crisis
With his just-us-mates style, Watters appears to be a simple, free and easy Aussie. He’s not.
His resume includes an MBA from the London Business School; a directorship with Avanade, a joint venture of Microsoft and Accenture; 15 years as owner and CEO of a hotel firm, Boomerang, which he sold the Red Lion group for $8.4 million; and two years as vice president of Le Meridien hotels, overseeing that international chain’s corporate finance, purchases and sales.
He secured that last job on Sept. 10, 2001, with a handshake in a New York City boardroom. The next day, he caught a United flight out of JFK, bound for Seattle, where he lived with his wife and children.
Soon after takeoff, the FAA re-routed his flight to Minneapolis, as authorities grappled with the unfolding calamity of 9/11. “We were one of the last flights to land in the United States that day,” he said.
The 9/11 attacks killed thousands, launched the West’s ongoing war on terrorism and shook global markets. Among the casualties was the travel industry, as flights were cancelled and countless people chose to stay home. Watters moved to London to help Le Meridien recover. Flying around the world, he evaluated the chain’s strengths and weaknesses, adding promising hotels and discarding weak links.
“That really taught me the hotel trade,” Watters said.
When his two-year term was up, he founded his own hotelier business, eventually moving to the Chicago area. He led Boomerang through another crisis — the Great Recession — until 2015, when Red Lion made an irresistible offer.
Around that time, he met Bradley. The son of a British foreign service officer, Bradley was a former executive with Navman Wireless, a New Zealand purveyor of consumer GPS devices. He had nodding acquaintance with Watters, due to a personal tragedy.
Lisa and Brendan Watters’ family includes two daughters, a son and a beloved memory. Benny was 5 when he died in 2010, a victim of a rare form of brain cancer. Benny’s World, the charity his parents founded to fund cancer research, held fundraisers that the Bradleys had attended.
The friends’ desire to homebrew led them to a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Highwood, a town on Lake Michigan’s shoreline 30 miles north of Chicago. The warehouse was too large for a mere amateur operation but sufficient for a small commercial brewery.
They signed the lease in 2016, sold their first pint in 2017, began planning a larger brewery in 2018. They visited about 50 major craft breweries, from Minneapolis’ Surly to Escondido’s Stone. Using this list of best practices, they began building Kings & Convicts’ new home, a 48,000-square-foot production brewery in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., five miles beyond the Illinois border.
Then Bradley took the family to Rome and Watters took some Constellation executives golfing.
(continued in next post because character limit)
Caught in the middle
Watters has some pull at Conway Farms, a lush course developed by pro golfer Tom Fazio in upscale Lake Forest, Ill. Before hosting the Constellation contingent, he made sure the clubhouse served one of that corporation’s beers, Corona.
After the game, he inquired about Ballast.
Why? the Constellation reps asked.
“I just blurted it out,” Watters said. “We want to buy it.”
A day later, he took a call from Constellation’s Mergers & Acquisitions department.
Constellation made headlines in 2015 by buying Ballast for a reported $1 billion. Crazy money, yes, but at the time it did not seem totally insane.
Ballast had an appealing back story, emerging in 1996 from a homebrewer shop, Home Brew Mart. Its award-winning IPA, Sculpin, was so popular it made cameo appearances on cable TV (HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) and the funny pages (the “Bliss” comic strip). Ballast’s brewers cranked out fan-favorites: Victory at Sea, an imperial porter; Sour Wench, a pioneering American sour; and small-batch experimental brews, the Homework Series.
If Constellation overpaid, many figured the investment would eventually pay off. The corporation used its marketing muscle to distribute Ballast in 49 states — the lone exception is West Virginia — and touted the brand with billboards and TV ads. An additional fortune was spent on Ballast brewpubs in Long Beach, Anaheim and Chicago plus an East Coast brewery in Daleville, Va.
Sales initially rose, peaking at almost 431,000 barrels (one barrel of beer equals 31 gallons). Then came the collapse. Early estimates for 2019 are somewhere north of 200,000 barrels, while the brand’s trademark value fell by more than 90 percent in less than two years.
Why the decline? Several reasons are cited:
In San Diego and other craft beer havens, the cognoscenti shunned Ballast, seeing its sale as a betrayal of the brewery’s local, independent roots.
Constellation bought Ballast just as the explosive growth fueling U.S. craft beer began to slow.
Craft breweries are now so numerous, there’s been a shift away from bigger brands like Ballast in favor of neighborhood breweries.
“Ballast Point faces the same challenges that a lot of regional breweries face these days,” said the Brewers Association’s Watson. “They are caught between hyper-local breweries and the largest brewing companies.”
Constellation was ready to sell. Watters contacted a handful of investors who had backed his previous ventures; banks that had financed those enterprises; then briefed his stunned partner. In a Chicago “war room,” Bradley and Watters spent two weeks poring over Ballast’s books. After consulting with attorneys, financial planners, friends and family, they came to a decision.
“We can take one of the most iconic brands in beer, with a footprint to die for, with brewpubs in fantastic locations, with a beer that we love?” Watters said. “This is awesome.”
On Sept. 12, California’s Secretary of State registered a new company: Kings & Convicts BP LLC.
Boring as bat guano
This deal still needs approval by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. While financial details have not been released, industry observers estimate the sales price between $75 million to $200 million.
Today, Kings & Convicts BP has six partners: Watters and Bradley (20 percent each); Richard Mahoney, former chief financial officer for The Wine Group, a consortium behind Cupcake, Franzia, Concannon and other wineries (24.9 percent); and three unnamed individuals,including one commodities trader. Several also have a stake in Kings & Convicts’ Pleasant Prairie expansion.
None, Watters said, owns more than 25 percent of the company.
That’s important because the Brewers Association define “craft breweries” as those making fewer than 6 million barrels of beer a year; using traditional methods and ingredients; and “independent,” with no more than 25 percent owned by an outside entity.
The new company will be headquartered in San Diego. While Ballast’s Miramar brewery will devote some time and brew kettle space to Kings & Convicts beers, especially those intended for export to Australia and New Zealand, the partners insisted the emphasis will be on reviving Ballast.
Expect redesigned labels — the one for Ballast Lager, Watters said, is “boring as bat guano,” or words to that effect — and increased advertising and events in the San Diego and California markets. Bradley promised a revival of the barrel-aged beer program and renewed emphasis on small batch of experimental beers, including some geared toward specific geographic regions.
The partners say Ballast will retain its 49-state footprint, with the focus on a dozen: California, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Constellation, attempting a more uniform cross-country approach, found itself stuck with a declining brand. Will Kings & Convicts BP LLC suffer a similar fate?
“Even though there’s been decline, Ballast Point is going to sell more than 200,000 barrels this year,” said the Brewers Association’s Watson. “In the context of the craft landscape, that’s fairly strong.”
It’s certainly more than 550 barrels.
January 2020 Preview Tasting
1 - Steven and Leanne hosted tonight, with Alanna joining them while responding to the deluge of emails they've received over the past couple of days. She was also kind enough to regale us with her story of being bit by a black widow and the ensuing allergies she's suffered since. My primary takeaways from the story were 1) black widows will fuck your shit right up if you don't get proper treatment, and 2) nature - hell, just going outside - is scary. My affinity for kalsarikännit grows stronger by the day.
2 - Derek Freese was also in the house and briefly (too briefly, some might say) stole Steven's mic to update us on what's happening with upcoming events. He rattled off a long list of coffee roasters and breweries that will be at Carnival of Caffeination (02/08 at Liberty Station), including J Wakefield, who just confirmed today. If you haven't already bought your ticket, get on it. Additionally, he confirmed that Lomaland will once again be hosting a Second Halloween party on 02/14 - which is the only holiday worth celebrating on that particular date - and a tie-dye party on 04/20. Details to come on those, but both events are rad.
3 - League members can expect to receive an email with sale information at some point mid-day today, and Steven/Leanne will post in the League FB group when it goes out. They usually don't send the email out until after the Tuesday night tastings, but with the email issues on Friday, they're sending it out earlier to ensure everything is resolved, and everyone has the info they need to participate in the sale on Wednesday.
4 - Another note related to the sale - included bottles do not count towards the limits stated in the sale email. If a beer has two bottles included and then says limit two for the sale (as a random example), you can buy those two bottles on top of the two you have included in your membership.
5 - Additionally, an email will go out at 10AM on Friday with allocation increases for beers that haven't sold out already. The email will explain this clearly, but as a preview, any purchases you've already made count towards the new limit. If a beer had a limit of two during the initial sale on Wednesday (and you bought both), and the limit goes up to four, you can only buy two more to get up to a total of four. It's not a limit reset, just a limit increase.
6 - The dates for the League welcome parties are not set, but they will be in Q1. We'll hear about it via email as soon as they can lock down the details.
7 - On the merch front, our challenge coins and lunchboxes will be available for pick up next week, along with our first included bottles (Modem Tones Aged in Bourbon Barrels w/ Vanilla). Even if you don't buy any beers this month - which, you do you, but that would be a silly mistake - the coin, lunchbox, and MTV will be waiting for you at the location you selected in the membership survey we received late last year. Glassware should be arriving soon, so it will likely be available next month, but as with all other League-related matters, they'll keep us updated.
8 - Our included bar credit should be ready by January 15th. For those who aren't clear on that, League members receive $40 in credit to use on draft beer - tasters, full pours, or crowlers. On-site bottles are not included, nor is anything from the mini-mart. I'm sure they'll notify us when the credit is live in the PoS system but expect it around the 15th.
9 - The construction team in Anaheim continues to make progress. The floor in the brewhouse/cellar was recently poured, some tanks have already been installed, and both the brewhouse and more tanks are en route. Yes, it's really happening, yes, there is actually going to be a pool, and no, they still don't have a precise date. When they do, we'll know.
1 - Reality Maze: Banana Coconut Cream Pie Edition
Style: Pastry Stout w/ Coconut, Vanilla, & Banana
Notes: The base on this is very similar to the Reality Maze that was released in July 2019, although the ABV went up slightly, and a new set of adjuncts was used. This time, they added Madagascar vanilla at a rate of .63 lbs/bbl, coconut at a rate of 17 lbs/bbl (half toasted/half untoasted), and dried wild Thai bananas at a rate of 8.3 lbs/bbl. The dried bananas were stewed in a kettle with a small portion of the beer until they mostly broke down, then that slurry was added to the recirculation tank through which the rest of the batch was pumped to impart banana character. Dense, overripe bananas are prominent on the aroma, followed by coconut and vanilla that are roughly in balance, semisweet chocolate, and light baking spices wafting around in the background. Coconut and light spices hit first on the tongue, giving way to chocolate-covered bananas. The vanilla really pulls the cocoa notes out of the base beer and creates a rich milk-chocolate note that melds beautifully with the bananas. Coconut pops back in towards the backend but acts as a supporting element through a finish of vanilla, chocolate, and bananas. The body is towards the middle of the road for a pastry stout, and it's surprisingly not terribly sweet for the style and adjuncts. I certainly wouldn't call it dry, but it's nowhere near Doom Hawk territory. I suspect a lot of you are wary of this one on paper, but several people remarked last night that it worked better than they were expecting.
2 - Modem Tones Aged in Bourbon Barrels w/ Vanilla
Style: Bourbon BA Stout w/ Vanilla
Notes: If there's one beer in Modern Times' portfolio that needs no introduction, it's Modem Tones w/ Vanilla. This year's release is a blend of three batches that were aged from eight to ten months in a variety of bourbon barrels, including Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Woodford, and Old Fitzgerald. They conditioned the blend on a mix of 55% Mexican vanilla and 45% Madagascar vanilla at a rate of 1 lb/bbl, which is tied for the second most vanilla they've ever used, behind only MT Ultra: Vanilla Edition. The taster came out a bit too cold and seemed rather boozy on first blush, but a few minutes of cradling the glass like a degenerate Gollum clutching his precious sugar water warmed it right up. Vanilla dominates the aroma with a blend of creamy sweetness, spices, and touches of floral character. Deep, sweet chocolate provides a canvas for the aforementioned vanilla, complemented by assertive bourbon and touches of vanilla-heavy oak. On the palate, a dry, dark cocoa note leads but is quickly subsumed by bourbon-tinged vanilla, creating a fudgy amalgam redolent of fresh brownie batter. Vanilla acts as both a focus and complementary note, standing out but also building into the chocolate character from the base beer. A long, sweet finish of boozy brownie batter coats the back of the tongue. Thick, fudgy, with restrained heat. I think a few months will benefit it, but it's better out of the gate than batch two was.
3 - Modem Tones Aged in Bourbon Barrels w/ Vanilla, Hazelnuts, & Maple Syrup
Style: Bourbon BA Stout w/ Vanilla, Hazelnuts, & Maple Syrup
Notes: This variant uses the same base blend as MTV, but the adjunct mix is .75 lbs/bbl Madagascar vanilla, 7.5 lbs/bbl roasted & salted hazelnuts (roasted in-house by the special projects team), and 3.3 lbs/bbl barrel-aged maple syrup. The nose opens with a wave of vanilla, but roasty hazelnuts join the fray quickly, along with assertive bourbon, maple syrup, and dark chocolate. As it warms, the adjuncts ebb and flow but never to extremes of dominance or subservience - they always work harmoniously, leaving room for the base to express itself. The flavor mostly follows the nose, as a wave of vanilla arrives first, quickly melding with hazelnuts and the fudgy base beer to throw of hints of Nutella, backed by maple syrup, bourbon, and sweet oak notes. The maple really comes out the longer it sits in the glass and builds a maple syrup-soaked Nutella finish that coats the palate in the best way possible. The body is thick but not overwhelming. I'd say they surpassed batch one with this - decadent, beautifully integrated, and utterly delicious.
4 - Transit of Venus Aged in Gin Barrels
Style: Gin BA Funky Rye Grisette
Notes: Several people asked if the gin barrels were the same as Slow Ice (Stonecutter gin) - they are not. This batch of Transit of Venus was fermented in a medium-toast American oak foeder, then aged in gin barrels from Koval and Caledonia Spirits for three months. The aroma is a harmonious symphony of complementary scents. Earthy and barnyardy funk pop out first with wet forest floor, light hay, and horse blanket, followed by gin barrel - juniper, coriander, eucalyptus, and white pepper - that is assertive but not overwhelming. Mild lactic acidity, touches of rye spice, minerality, and hints of oak work in the background. On the tongue, a spritz of lemony tartness gives way to rye and dry oak before earthy funk strikes on the mid-palate, while gin brings a sweet complementary element with more coriander and eucalyptus than juniper. The base beer's minerality and rye spice pop in towards the backend, leading to a funky, rustic finish tinged by gin botanicals. Effervescent mouthfeel, this one is both something I could crush pints of and spend an hour and a half just smelling. The gin barrels are remarkably restrained compared to Slow Ice, providing well-integrated flavors without being overbearing.
5 - School of Certain Victory
Style: Red Wine BA Blond Sour w/ Apricots
Notes: The base blend for this is a selection of blond sours aged in red wine barrels between one and three years, which they refermented on fresh Sunny Cal Farms Robada apricots (4 lbs/gallon) and B&R Farms Blenheim apricot puree (2 lbs/gallon). It only takes one whiff to understand why they used so much fruit, as apricot leaps right out of the glass. Think perfectly ripe apricot flesh and skin, with just hints of a juicy aspect backing it. The base beer asserts itself rather quickly with robust lactic acidity, along with oak and touches of funk. The flavor mostly follows the script, with substantial fleshy apricot and massive tartness. Oak provides some structure around the edges and hints of funk poke through, but this is a reasonably linear duel between fruit and acid. While the apricot character is outstanding, I'm left with the feeling that I'd enjoy it far more if it was less sour. The soft acidity from Valley of Sound is more my pace. I really can't overstate how stellar the fruit is in this beer, but your overall enjoyment is going to depend on how sour you like your beers. This isn't into Upland territory, but it's hitting a bit harder than I'd prefer.
ISO: Transit of Venus Aged in Gin Barrels
I'm a sucker for gin barrel aged wild ales.
Someday they'll get this. I thought they turned the corner with Valley of Sound, but that seems to be a one off.
Stone fruit can be tough to tame acidity while still getting the huge fruit aroma and flavor.
MTV and the Hazelnut, Vanilla, Maple version were both crazy good. My favorite batch of either. HVM is (was) intense. MTV seemed thicker/fudgier than last year.
Gin barrel Transit of Venus was the surprise for me. Went in to the tasting indifferent about it, left buying my allotment.
Reality Maze was better than I expected, but I'm a sucker for banana. Also left the tasting buying more than I intended.