Home Brew Mart under new old management

Former manager of historic homebrew-supply outlet purchasing venue from Ballast Point parent company Kings & Convicts Brewing

It’s been a roller-coaster ride for Ballast Point Brewing since the company was famously purchased for $1 billion dollars by multinational beverage conglomerate Constellation Brands back in 2015. That colossal price tag was based on a valuation inspired by the rapid growth of the company’s distribution footprint and sales over the half-decade leading up to the sale, coupled with a then healthy craft-beer industry that showed few, if any, signs of slowing down.

By then, Ballast Point’s near-singular focus had long been on increasing production and advancing the company, making it an attractive asset at a time when macro-beer behemoths led by Anheuser Busch InBev and MillerCoors were acquiring numerous craft breweries such as 10 Barrel Brewing, Elysian Brewing and Goose Island Beer Co., in order to disrupt the marketplace and gain back shares lost to the burgeoning craft-beer category. That didn’t leave much attention for Ballast Point’s venue of origin, Home Brew Mart, a homebrew supply store in San Diego’s Morena community that served as the starting point for Ballast Point, and employed, educated and inspired homebrewers who would go on to open and work in high-profile brewing positions for numerous brewing companies in and beyond San Diego. 

The situation did not improve once Constellation Brands took over and began working feverishly to try to catch up in the “crafty beer” (a term for so-called beer brands acquired or, in some cases, created by Big Beer conglomerates) arms race. Four years in, following major financial losses, Constellation Brands unloaded Ballast Point, selling it to Kings & Convicts Brewing, a small but well-funded Illinois outfit that acquired the brand for far less than its predecessors paid for it.

The new ownership group aspired to get Ballast Point back to its roots and restore its local reputation. That desire led to some much-needed attention for Home Brew Mart, which celebrated the venue’s 30-year anniversary in grand fashion in 2022, and has teamed with San Diego Beer News to assist with its Homebrew Summer initiatives over the past four years. Still, as a non-manufacturing locale for a large company whose battles are primarily fought at arenas and ballparks, grocery, liquor and big-box stores, Home Brew Mart has remained a sore thumb in need of some attention. And now it appears it’s about to get some.

Following last month’s announcement that Kings & Convicts has ceased brewery operations at its 107,000-square-foot Miramar headquarters, opting instead to have its beers temporarily contract-brewed by an incoming beer concern it will be leasing the facility to as it searches for a location to site a smaller brewery, the company is in the process of selling Home Brew Mart. The purchaser is Jim Johnson, a former employee who served as General Manager of Home Brew Mart from 2015 to 2021, where he oversaw an expansion and remodel that included the addition of a 40-tap tasting room, coordinated removal of a large production brewery and installation of a one-barrel pilot system in its place, helped introduce a two-and-a-half-gallon beginner’s brewing kit to the store’s line of goods and establish Spanish-language homebrew classes. 

Johnson managed Home Brew Mart under three different ownership regimes and was in charge throughout the pandemic, during which he and his staff kept homebrewing supplies and ingredient sales going despite fluctuating governmental restrictions. In 2021, Johnson moved from Home Brew Mart to Ballast Point’s Miramar headquarters, where he managed its onsite bar and restaurant until last September, when he left the company. 

When the opportunity to purchase his old stomping grounds arose roughly a month ago, Johnson says he didn’t think twice. His passion for the business, its staff, its history and its storied place in the craft-beer community kicked in, and he’s been charging full-steam-ahead ever since.

Home Brew Mart is important to San Diego. It’s important to me. It’s my connection to humble people doing great things. It has given me and my family of friends a way to inform our work with our passion. Imagine every name that ever existed on the payroll at Home Brew Mart and every aspiring brewer who frequented the store, then think about what breweries they founded and led. What would the capital of craft look like without the acorn that grew the oak?”

Jim Johnson, Owner, Home Brew Mart

Kings & Convicts closed Home Brew Mart last Sunday, and though the sale has yet to be finalized, Johnson is on track to assume ownership in a matter of days. He hopes to reopen the store on Saturday, June 1, then get to work making multiple changes. While he played an integral role in growing the store’s footprint and adding to its amenities, this time around he will be working to consolidate the business to the original suite it occupied at its Linda Vista Road strip-mall home. This will lower Home Brew Mart’s square-footage from 8,500 to about 4,250. He says he wants to right-size the business while bringing it back to what it used to be. 

Most notably, the aforementioned tasting room will be eliminated and beer service will be brought back to an 11-tap panel at a separate tasting bar behind the store. That immediate move will be supplemented by installation of taps inside the store itself, a throwback to the old days of Home Brew Mart when patrons would surrender their driver’s licenses to partake of dollar-a-piece four-ounce tasters of beers brewed on-site.

“Since opening the large tasting room, people have chosen whether or not to connect it with the homebrew store. We’re getting the band back together and moving the show from the stadium to the juke joint,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot going on here with our short timeframe and the difficulties of licensing, but our immediate goal is to minimize any interruption to service, keep the doors open and the flow of supplies running to our brewing customers.” 

It’s a lot to handle in a short period of time. Fortunately, Johnson will not be alone. He will have the assistance of Home Brew Mart’s veteran crew members. Just as he believes his status as a former staffer will help get the homebrew store back to its former glory, Johnson feels it will be invaluable to retain invested staffers that represent the lifeblood of the iconic business. This extends to Home Brew Mart’s brewing, which is done by committee. As soon as necessary licensing is approved, the crew will resume brewing, including a number of Home Brew Mart-exclusive beers spanning the venue’s lifespan.

“For nine years, Home Brew Mart has been under ownership whose goals are not strongly supported by Home Brew Mart’s activity. I’m excited to return it to its good graces in the San Diego brewing community,” says Johnson. “I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of support from old friends and look forward to restoring a mutually supportive environment where it all began.”

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