During my teen years, I had a dirty little habit of staying up long past the witching hour and watching the worst films imaginable. After midnight, that meant cheesy erotica—hey, I was a teenager!—and bloody B-movie dreck, be it rogue soldiers battling terrorist kidnappers or terrifying creatures treating mankind like an afternoon snack.
Mostly, though, I devoured horror-movie sequels. Leprechaun 2. Psycho III. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. Puppet Master 5. Friday the 13th Part VI. Movie producers spun blockbusters and cult films into franchises that, like Jason Voorhees, could never die. I’d watched till my eyes were as red as stage blood, hoping the flicks could capture a kernel of the original's allure. Whenever a sequel flashed across the screen I’d settle in, thinking, Maybe this time it’ll be better.
Across the beer landscape, I’ve increasingly noticed that breweries are giving their blockbuster beers the sequel and spin-off treatment. Now, this is no novel notion. Think of Budweiser, which begat Bud Light, Budweiser Black Crown, Bud Light Lime-A-Rita, and too many other affronts against good taste. The tactic is akin to cloning your cash cow, inserting new DNA, then milking the creature dry.
I get it. Brewing is a business. Folks must make a buck. But flavor need not lose out in the race to the bottom line. While it’ll be a cold day in Cozumel before I drink another Straw-Ber-Rita (or 3 a.m. at a Philadelphia dive bar, but that’s another tale), many sequel beers are worth seeking out. Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout now comes in versions spiked with cocoa nibs or espresso, and last year Anderson Valley rolled out a killer blood-orange version of its salty-sour gose. Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA has spawned a bitter brood encompassing low-alcohol Easy Jack, brawny Double Jack, and dark Wookey Jack. Then there’s the story of Ballast Point.
The San Diego brewery’s roots date to 1992, when founder Jack White opened Home Brew Mart, doling out hops and grains to amateur brewers. The first employee was decorated homebrewer Yuseff Cherney, who’d recently graduated college. Four years later, the twosome turned the store’s rear room into the aquatic- and fishing-themed Ballast Point Brewing. Over several decades, the humble homebrew-shop outpost has become one of America’s most exciting and exacting breweries, with a portfolio that resists typecasting. Name a style and Ballast Point crushes it. Longfin Lager is an agreeable, well-balanced German helles. Wahoo White is a refreshing witbier with citrusy verve. Black Marlin is a smooth and roasty porter rocking chocolaty complexity. Calico Amber Ale, Sea Monster Imperial Stout, Piper Down Scottish Ale—there’s nary a misstep.
Despite the stylistic dexterity, one beer looms large in Ballast Point’s sea. Named after a tasty fish with a venomous sting, the lush and tropical Sculpin IPA is packed with juicy flavors of peaches, apricots, and pineapples, alongside grounding grapefruit bitterness. Scuplin, which fittingly started life as a homebrew recipe, now accounts for more than 50 percent of Ballast Point’s annual sales. I’m partly responsible. Whenever I spot a fresh six-pack of cans, I buy it lickety-split. Like a fish wriggling on a line, I’m hooked on Sculpin.
... Ballast Point accentuates the grapefruit to the nth degree ... Uncapping the bottle releases a grove-fresh fragrance, like Florida distilled into a 12-ounce serving.
Given the IPA’s chart-topping success, it’s a no-brainer that Ballast Point would spin off several variations. For heat-seekers there’s Habanero Sculpin, which is sort of like drinking liquid endorphins. The peppers have a floral warmth that jibes well with the base IPA, but there’s too much burn for me to savor more than a single bottle. I want my beer to eliminate, not provide pain.
The second variant is Grapefruit Sculpin, which I don’t really want to discuss. That’s because I want to drink every drop. Remember when I mentioned grapefruit in Sculpin’s flavor profile? Well, Ballast Point accentuates the grapefruit to the nth degree, while still retaining Sculpin’s fruity underpinning. Uncapping the bottle releases a grove-fresh fragrance, like Florida distilled into a 12-ounce serving. The grapefruit’s tartness turns Sculpin into a tangy thirst-quencher, a neat trick for a beer boasting a substantial 7 percent ABV. The arranged marriage of citrus and bitterness is almost too easy drinking, too easy to find myself the proud owner of six empty bottles. Grapefruit Sculpin deserves to be in every IPA fan’s spring and summer rotation, a steady facilitator of sun-soaked merriment.
Sometimes, you see, a sequel can be just as good as the original.