From Homebrew to Helix

Cameron Ball of Helix Brewing in La Mesa, California Cameron Ball with a Helix brew in hand, PKW equipment standing by

Brooklyn Di Raffaele

Back in 2007 on a rainy fall day when the waves weren’t good for surfing, Cameron Ball and his Cal Poly roommates went to the local homebrew shop, Doc’s Cellar in San Luis Obispo, CA, for alternate activity. And he was instantly hooked on brewing.

From that day forward, Cameron homebrewed almost every week and became a dedicated brewer with ambitious roots that have gotten him to opening his own brewery.

Cameron is opening Helix Brewing in La Mesa, California. Focusing on brewing with integrity and creating beers that are more than just sessionable; Cameron is building a new business for himself and for San Diego craft beer lovers.

After finishing college and a graduate program in Civil Engineering, Cameron moved home to San Diego to pursue a structural engineering career, and instantly found himself building a pilot brewery in his basement- which is also used by commercial breweries including Stone Brewing Co., Russian River Brewing Company and Rogue Ales.

Soon enough his brews became popular with his friends and family and those twenty-gallon brews he was making were not enough. The common question of ‘when are you going to open a brewery?’ would surface every time someone was over to enjoy a Helix homebrew.

However, brewing was not just always about the beer for Cameron; it was about the opportunities for scientific experimentation.

“I enjoy the science and experimentation of brewing. I went to school for science and that’s what I am into,” Cameron said.

Cameron was always experimenting with how various ingredients and brewing techniques affected the finished beer’s flavor and composition. He focused on how ingredients, time and temperature worked together to create a specific beer style.

Cameron documented the entire brewing process from recipe creation to cleaning the last empty keg, always measuring, testing and tasting throughout the process to understand how the beer was made. Cameron explained “designing a beer is like designing a building- you can’t build a building without understanding how all the structural elements are connected together.”

When Cameron was ready to build Helix, he looked for over a year with his dad and found the perfect building in La Mesa. He said, “it was important to me to build Helix in the town I grew up in and where those who support me can enjoy it. When my dad found an old brick building with a wood trussed roof and outdoor area, I instantly knew it was the one.”

Cameron is not the only the brewer for Helix, he designed and built Helix himself with the help of family and friends. He said, “Helix was built by a community to create more community. The name ‘Helix’ is a tribute to the local area where more community will be built.”

He created the drawings for the city and even put his professional engineering license to use and stamped the set himself. He had some help from an electrician, a plumber and a weird concrete dude to build what he couldn’t do himself. Cameron closely monitored all aspects of construction and ensured nothing would interfere with the large fermenters and that every floor drain was placed properly, sloped to the drain design. He installed the brewing system, glycol lines and grain handling equipment at Helix. “What I didn’t know I had to learn and I had to learn it quick. Engineers don’t come with solutions to everything but they do come with the ability to figure it out.”

He designed the layout of Helix with customer curiosity in mind. Cameron wanted Helix to be as visible as possible and constructed the site to reflect that. “Helix is built to show the entire brewing process. I want people to enjoy Helix beer at the brewery and feel as if they are on the production floor and part of brewery operations…the only walls are the bathroom walls.”

The brewery itself is important to Cameron and so are all the beers being made there. Cameron is a very ambitious person and took that into the opening of Helix. On opening day there will be eight beers on tap to show the diversity of his brew selection.

“Helix is opening with a wide variety of beers I like to make and what others like to drink. There is a beer style for everyone to enjoy at Helix.”

The beers Helix will debut range with unique styles such as Acid Drop, a Bavarian Wizen with a refreshingly tart flavor from dropping the pH and coming in at 3.7% ABV, to the King Rufus Porter, a chocolate rye porter with copious amounts of layered chocolate malt and a large rye backbone.

Being a San Diego Brewery, Helix will also debut their take of hop-driven beers such as Red’N’Active, Active IPA, Galaxy Rye IPA and Black Eye Rye IPA. Cameron put his own spin on “session beers” and created Active Ales which are low alcohol beers with a hop character that can attest to the biggest beers around. This idea was driven by his active lifestyle and desire to create a beer that could go along for the adventure. “I am very active- whether it be swimming every morning or going on a trail run with the dog. I wanted to create beers that I could enjoy at night with friends that wouldn’t keep me in bed the next morning.”

Each beer was designed with the idea in mind to enjoy over time. The eight debut beers at Helix will range from 3.7%-7% ABV with robust flavors to take the traditional brewing practices to a new place. The goal is to have good beers to drink without getting a buzz early on. Instead the beers at Helix are created to drink with good company and be enjoyed into the second or third pint.

Cameron developed the recipes and built Helix but he did have some assistance from Portland, Oregon.

All of the beers at Helix Brewing Co. are made with Portland Kettle Works equipment. Portland Kettle Works and Helix want to bring the world more beer made with quality. The brewing systems are fabricated with American-made steel built in Portland. Portland Kettle Works specializes in man-made craft brewing equipment, ranging in nano and micro brewery equipment.

“It takes solid equipment to make solid beer,” Cameron said. “I saw a lot of talent and heart with the young team and I wanted to work with those who are like me. It was important to me to buy from America and put the money towards the jobs of the young adults like me who are also starting a dream.”

The Portland Kettle Works team helped Cameron create the brewery layout with a 10 barrel system at Helix’s location. PKW wants to see their clients’ breweries succeed and make great beer.

“I did not choose Portland Kettle Works because of their superior craftsmanship alone. I chose Portland Kettle Works because of their continued support, friendship and passion to craft beer,” Cameron said.

Helix Brewing Co. is opening late August 2015 and you will find Cameron and all those who helped build Helix there pouring their heart into each beer that crosses the bar.

“A ton of heart went into Helix Brewing Co. and that’s what makes Helix so rad.”

For more information on Helix Brewing Co., visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter