18 May 2018

A load of ballasts

With much fanfare, a range of beers from San Diego's iconic Ballast Point brewery landed in Ireland recently, brought by importer FourCorners. I first encountered them at the official launch event in UnderDog.

My starting point here was Sour Wench, a sour beer with added blackberries. It's a big-hitter at 7% ABV, and is a full-on dense-looking shade of purple. The flavour is extremely jam-like: excessively sweet and missing any real sourness. Mercifully it doesn't cloy, and the finish is neatly clean, but I couldn't shake a feeling that I was drinking the topping from a cheap supermarket cheesecake. I prefer my wenches with more class than this.

Sculpin I've had in the past, and didn't particularly enjoy, and the same went for Grapefruit Sculpin when that came my way a couple of years ago. I still gave Unfiltered Sculpin a go while it was there, and was glad I did. This just seems better balanced than the others; its flavours more integrated and harmonious. A bright jaffa aroma starts it off, and the flavour blends sweet sherbet and orangeade with a stimulating kick of bitter hops. It's altogether smoother and more drinkable than the filtered one. Sculpin as it should be.

I picked up others in the range for drinking at home. Both cans and bottles are available.

Mango Even Keel is a rare beast indeed: an imported American IPA with an ABV under 4%. It's only 3.8% but doesn't look at all understated, being a handsome rich copper colour. It smells quite sugary, like sweet candy or... syrup, which I guess it actually contains. The flavour is powerfully sweet, an overwhelming blast of perfumed candy, lurid artificial treats from the impulse section of the corner shop. Whatever the opposite of wholesome is, it's that. The fake-fruit and perfume effect clings to the back of the tongue and sits there, unwelcome, long after swallowing. There's still a hollow dry fizz behind it, probably where the balancing malt ought to be. I refuse to believe any grown adult actually wants their beer to taste like this. I expected mango, I expected juicy, and I expected some hops. What I got was an off-brand pop from Uzbekistan's cheapest discount supermarket.

I needed something straighter to fix my palate after that, and relied on Fathom IPA to do the job. It looks pretty straightforward, being 6% ABV and unembellished. It's a perfect red-gold colour too, though I didn't get much of an aroma from it, just a mild dankness.The flavour is... understated. There's a pleasant sticky and bitter resin thing, and a dusting of light citrus: jaffa and mandarin. Though the body is as big as the ABV suggests, the finish is quick. While undoubtedly plain, it's good quality and well suited to drinking more than one.

Last of this takehome set is Victory at Sea, described as an imperial porter with added coffee and vanilla, about which I was intensely sceptical. It looked nice, though, pouring a smooth and flawless black topped by loose ivory bubbles. As anticipated it's intensely sweet, with an aroma of ersatz milk chocolate and a flavour adding gooey sugary fondant to that. Cadbury's Creme Egg as a beer? Pretty much. There is something resembling a bitter tang in the finish, but it's artificial and metallic, not tasting like it comes from hops or dark grains. There may well be a decent beer underneath the syrupy gloop, but they've buried it deep.

It's hard to believe they thought this unbeery mess needed further "enhancement", but back in UnderDog there was a hacked version: Coconut Victory at Sea. The hacking is done pretty crudely and it tastes and smells like a generous dollop of coconut sun lotion has been dumped into the glass. It does at least cover up the problems with the above beer, but it does so by adding its own brand of artificial syrupyness, and though the coconut mellows as it goes (or maybe I just got used to it) I really don't see the point of this.

Switching pubs, finally, for the double IPA Manta Ray which P. Mac's had on tap. Far from cheap at €9 for 33cl. And for all that it's rather plain: clear gold in the glass, thick and resinous but with no more than a light zest for flavour. It's fine: understated double IPAs are probably better than the ones that come on too strong, but it left me feeling that I got a very poor return on my investment, tastewise.

I went into this as a Ballast Point doubter, and have come out with that confirmed. Unfiltered Sculpin is a rare highlight, but the rest taste either sticky and fake, or just plain dull.


  1. Can still taste the horrible Mango, yuck

  2. I quite like a Dark Mild of theirs I had in San Diego.

  3. hi,

    Have to agree with your summation of the Brewery's range.
    Like Stone, another San Diego brewery, I just can't understand what all the hyp is about. There is much better beer being made out there by breweries who hardly get any fanfair like thewse two.

    I was actually in San Diego recently and deliberately avoided Ballast Point and Stone.
    If you are there I highly recommend a visit to Alesmith and also Amplified brewery. Alesmith especially is producing a fantastic range of beers.


  4. I have never understood the hype that Ballast Point get, most of their beers are undrinkably sweet, I guess it appeals to the alcopop generation. Having said that, their Logfin helles lager is actually pretty decent on draught.

  5. Gotta say, I never knew they were so reviled. Stick to the dark mild is the lesson here. For everyone.

  6. There was some serious hype involved when these beers became available in Ireland so I was expecting great things but was disappointed with most of them.Will someone for the love of God start importing Great Divide again.