Brewery sellouts have become a tired narrative in craft beer. As each domino goes down, weary industry watchers care a little bit less. The story has been told. Complaints have been heard. It is no longer news.
But when a billion-dollar sellout loses its chief executive officer and chief commercial officer on the same day, eyebrows are raised. When, two days later, two co-founders also depart—one of them the head brewer and distiller—it raises more than eyebrows. Red flags are hoisted. Sirens sound. Mothers cower with their children. What in the hell is going on at Ballast Point?
Constellation Brands President of Sales and new Ballast Point President Marty Birkil said things continue as usual.
"We have the same, highly talented brewers and production teams," Birkil said in an email. "Our entire team loves producing the same high-quality, award-winning beer that has made Ballast Point a consumer favorite. This will not change."
One brewer they are moving forward without is Yuseff Cherney. The former head brewer/head distiller was one of the four in Ballast Point's leadership to jump ship. Other casualties include CEO/President Jim Buechler, CCO Earl Kight and founder Jack White. With the departures goes years of experience in the San Diego brewing industry as well as the chief architects of the company's meteoric rise and earth-shattering sale to Constellation.
"Jack and Yuseff left the company to turn their attention fully to their new spirits business," Birkil said. "We wish them well in their new venture."
Birkil did not respond to questions about the nature of the departure. Constellation Brands spokesperson Michael McGrew told Brewbound.com that the decision came from Constellation, but Birkil would not comment on the accuracy of his statement. Constellation did not respond to inquiries from CityBeat.
A salesman is probably exactly what Ballast Point needed. The brewery has long abandoned the hardcore craft beer enthusiast in its pursuit of mainstream success. Its never-ending line of fruited IPAs, the source of much ire from purists, can be found in more retail outlets in ever-expanding markets. The brewery, single-handedly to blame for the obnoxious trend of artificially fruit-flavored beer, has its sights set on world domination.
"We've been very pleased with consumer demand for Watermelon Dorado so far," McGrew said when asked if the maligned beer was here to stay. "In fact it's one of our top-selling brands."
What the San Diego beer community should make of this is simple. Ballast Point, the company that helped cement San Diego as a brewing powerhouse, is no longer just a "San Diego Brewery." It is a national brand that happens to be headquartered in San Diego. The company has, for better or worse, graduated from AAA and is competing on a larger field and in a much larger market. The little can-do brewery launched from a nondescript Linda Vista strip mall is now in the big leagues, and big league teams need big league managers. In Birkil, that is what it now has—a New York executive, beholden to other New York executives, now in town to see to his boss' billion-dollar investment.