Coronado Brewing Company (CBC) has been openly adaptive for many years. Even so, fall was a great time of flux for the 23-year-old brewing interest. Founders Ron and Rick Chapman transitioned to the company’s board of directors and a minority stake in offshoot operation SouthNorte Beer Co. And a CBC employee who helped bring that brand to life, former CEO Brandon Richards, departed to become president of Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing, leaving a key role to be filled. In doing so, the Chapmans brought on James Murray, a fourteen-year veteran of Ballast Point Brewing who saw the company through its most momentous periods of growth, most recently as vice president of brewing operations under the soon-to-be-relinquished ownership of Constellation Brands. We sat down with CBC’s new CEO to learn what’s on his mind as he assumes the leadership mantle at one of San Diego County’s longest-operating fermentation ventures.
What are some of your fondest accomplishments from your time with Ballast Point?
I am most proud of building a phenomenal team that executed five insane years of growth. At one point, we had growth just north of 135%. We had a very tight team who all worked well together and, at one point, we managed to produce more than 120,000 barrels out of Ballast Point’s 20,000-square-foot site in Scripps Ranch. Everyone fired on all cylinders and understood that it took a team to make it all happen. It was an amazing time in Ballast’s history. I was also fortunate to work with a great engineering and facilities team as we built and expanded multiple facilities on both coasts at the same time. Overall, it was an incredible experience and I learned so many valuable lessons that set me up for future opportunities, and I am excited to bring that knowledge and passion to my new role at Coronado.
What motivated you to join CBC’s team?
When the opportunity presented itself, I was immediately drawn to Coronado because we share many of the same values and I have great admiration for the founders. Coronado is a well-respected San Diego brewery and I am excited to help the company continue the momentum it has established these past few years. Coronado is a natural fit for my skill set and approach to leadership. I look forward to diving in and working to finesse efficiencies, grow our brand and continue to develop our people.
How will you work together with CBC’s founders?
We are really fortunate that Rick and Ron are hands-on with the business. They have built Coronado Brewing from the ground up and they continue to be involved. Both Rick and Ron serve as the board of directors and are intimately involved in the business. As we head into 2020, Rick and Ron will continue to help set strategy and lead us into the next evolution of CBC.
What inspired CBC’s ownership to take a step back with SouthNorte?
Coronado is simply putting more direct focus on growing our brand and portfolio. That being said, there is still a strong relationship between Coronado and SouthNorte. We maintain a minority stake in the company, and we are going to assist them through the first half of 2020 as they continue to fine-tune their strategy. That includes support across all departments, from marketing to accounting to brewing. The SouthNorte leadership team has a long history with Coronado Brewing and I have personally known [SouthNorte co-founder and brewmaster] Ryan Brooks for many years. I’m looking forward to the continued partnership and we want to see them succeed.
What opportunities do you see for CBC in the near- and long-term?
We are closing 2019 with strong numbers, distributor depletions are up 12% from 2018 and we’re seeing positive trends in key markets. We have partnered with Salty Crew to roll out a blonde ale that has seen great success in California, and we are excited to expand the launch nationally next year. In 2020, you can expect several new collaborations, both small- and large-scale, and we are starting to experiment with beverages outside of craft beer. We have a strategic growth plan in place and an exceptional leadership team to guide us through that growth. Very exciting times to say the least.
What developments are on the horizon for CBC?
We have a phenomenal culture of innovation. Part of our DNA is to constantly evolve. The R&D brewery on Coronado island is going to be very busy in 2020. We will be launching a new draft-only collaboration series to debut exclusively at our locations, as well as several fun, larger-scale collabs. We still have [the Imperial Beach Eco-Bikeway] site and are exploring multiple options for that great space. It is one of my priorities for 2020.