In the latest sign of San Diego's craft brewers exiting their niche market and breaking into the city's mainstream, Ballast Point Brewing Company's CEO Jack White won this year’s local Small Business Administration's award for small businessman of the year.
The decorated founder of one of the city's first breweries recently attended the national awards in Washington, D.C. White adds the SBA award to a trophy case full of acknowledgments his company has received over the years, including overall brewery of the year at the World Beer Cup two years ago.
"The business side really turned the corner and got the critical acclaim it deserves," he said on May 18, which in 2010 the San Diego City Council declared Ballast Point Day, following its receipt of the World Beer Cup award. "The business acclaim on top of that is really icing on the cake."
And once he gets home, it's back to the state of his business for most of its life: growth.
By the end of the year, White could triple Ballast Point's brewing capacity.
The company currently occupies 5,000 square feet at Home Brew Mart in Linda Vista, where White started the company fresh out of college in 1992, as a passionate home brewer who recognized a market need for quality brewing equipment and ingredients in a city with a nascent brewing community.
Ballast Point's main production brewery in Kearny Mesa is housed in another roughly 25,000 square feet.
But like many others in the field, it can't make beer fast enough to meet demand. The company has maxed out its production ability, and is now searching for another 50,000 to 100,000 square feet — the high end of which would make it among the county's largest breweries — in terms of real estate footprint only.
White said he has narrowed the list to a few options and expects to announce a decision by the end of the year.
Once the kettles are firing and the fermenters fermenting, White said the new space would let it double or triple its distribution overnight, simply by filling backlog demand. Then he'd bring in new sales people and look to sign on with new distributors, many of which are waiting in line to carry White's nautical themed ales.
"There's a lot of potential there," he said. "The brand's gained recognition. A lot of individuals have asked for the beer in their area."
As it grows, Ballast Point is expanding into more and farther flung markets, but White said he only briefly considered the idea of opening a production facility on the East Coast to control shipping costs, something of a trend this year among breweries west of the Rocky Mountains.
Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., along with Colorado’s Oskar Blues and New Belgium Brewing Company, all decided to open operations in Asheville, North Carolina, while Petaluma's Lagunitas decided to split the difference, announcing a new facility to be built in Chicago.
White, though, said he quickly realized such a move didn't pencil out for Ballast Point. Most of its business remains on the West Coast.
"We're at a point where we have flexibility, so we want something big enough to grow into," he said. "To this point we've tried to keep the company close, but there's quite a bit more planning to go into this phase, to make sure there's room for growth."
As craft beer continues to gain market share, with new entrants rushing to join a segment that still doesn't represent even 10 percent of beer consumed in America, the big question it faces is when it'll reach saturation.
As long as making quality beer remains the motivation, White said there's plenty of room for new brewers.
"Consumers are more educated these days," he said. "They're looking for good beer, so that's good, but they're discriminating. There's room for all different sizes of breweries, but there's no room for ventures that are just money-making schemes. It's just too dependent on quality."
Mayor Jerry Sanders has touted San Diego's breweries as a growth industry driving both hospitality and manufacturing. It has the potential to provide good jobs, he said, while also serving as a solid export.
"I'm not a macroeconomist and I'm not a politician, so I don't know if I could make that prediction," White said. "All I know is we have a thriving beer community, and it's exciting to be a part of the Napa Valley of beer."