Fulton Market/West Loop’s third brewpub has arrived as Ballast Point Brewing today officially debuts its 12,000-square-foot restaurant and taproom in Chicago. The San Diego-based brewery is best known for its Sculpin IPA, a beer that’s already on many Chicago bar tap lists. Ballast Point’s story isn’t too different from Chicago’s Goose Island — a once small company whose success enticed a larger company to purchase the brand in hopes of earning credibility among craft beer drinkers.
Is Chicago ready for another brewpub? Here’s what visitors should know before making a visit:
- The space’s proper name is the “Ballast Point Tasting Room and Kitchen.” Ballast Point management has stressed that they’re not just about beer. The mussels will use Ballast Point Thai Chili Wahoo, a Belgian wit with Thai peppers. The bar seats 38 while the remaining dining room seats 400.
- The menu, overseen in Chicago by executive sous chef John Diaz (who comes from D.C.’s DMV area), includes fish tacos and other items from other Ballast Point brewpubs. Chicago-only items include “Habanero Sculpin IPA Bratwurst.”
- While the majority of the space is devoted to the restaurant, visitors can look for barrel-aged and variant beers unavailable at bars or stores. The beer list, for now, is divided into five sections: “Crisp and Bright,” “Fruit & Spice,” “Barrel-Aged,” “Rich & Malty,” and “Hops, Hops, & More Hops.” As with most brewery taprooms, Ballast Point officials say they’ll go experimental with small-batch beers. Notable brews include the Bourbon Piper Down aged 10 months in Heaven Hill barrels and Watermelon Dorado IPA. There’s 100 draft lines with 40 to 50 beers on tap at any given time, according to a news release.
- Ballast Point was founded in 1996 “by a small group of homebrewers,” according to the same news release. The marketing materials omit that the brewery was sold for $1 billion in 2015. Constellation Brands is Ballast Point’s parent company, much like Goose Island Brewing is owned by Budweiser’s parents. Constellation owns Corona and Modelo Especial and teamed-up with chef Rick Bayless on the release of his beer, Tocayo. They don’t appear to have anything to do with Cruz Blanca, Bayless’s Mexican nearby brewpub.
- There’s a rooftop beer garden planned that’s not ready just yet. There’s also a secret room that could be used for a more intimate tasting experience. Management isn’t ready to share details.
- Ballast Point has six California locations and one in Virginia. This is its first venture into the Midwest and ownership plans to open in Disneyland later this year. West Loop neighborhood groups constantly engage in conversation over the future of Randolph Street on social media. They wonder if out-of-town chains will drastically change the look and feel of the area. One conversation included this comment: “While excited, I fear that this place will attract the Federales type crowd and further push the West Loop further to bro-bar-douchery.” Other comments asked to let the place open before jumping to judgements.
- Many breweries exist nearby, and some — including Goose Island and On Tour Brewing — have taprooms. If drinkers want a craft beer off Randolph Street, their main options are Cruz Blanca, and the neighborhood’s other brewpub, Haymarket Pub & Brewery. As far as bar/restaurants, the options include Lone Wolf, The Publican, and Kuma’s Corner. Chicago’s already heard the narrative about how brewery taprooms are poised to take away customers from the corner bar. But Ballast Point’s arrival raises new questions about how an out-of-state brewery can be a threat to local beer makers. There isn’t a shortage of local brewers, so will the bubble burst with brewers like Ballast Point thirsty for more customers? When Lagunitas Brewing arrived in Chicago in 2014, it was an independent brewery setting up shop in Douglas Park, an area not known for its thriving restaurant and bar scene. Compare that to Ballast Point, which has moved into one of the country’s most fashionable dining areas. As the Tribune pointed out, Ballast Point is trying to establish a national identity.
The dining room will serve lunch and dinner and eventually brunch. Will Ballast Point find Midwest success? Check out the area’s newest addition starting today.
Ballast Point Tasting Room and Kitchen, 212 N. Green Street, (312) 243-9570 open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.