In early September, Bagby Beer Company poured beers at the inaugural Beavertown Extravaganza, a sold-out beer festival in London featuring dozens of the planet's most acclaimed breweries. Several other San Diego beer companies were there, including AleSmith, Lost Abbey, Modern Times, and Pizza Port, the company where Jeff Bagby established his reputation as a world-class brewer before leaving to start his namesake brewery back in 2014.
601 South Coast Highway, Oceanside
However, relative to those other companies, Bagby Beer keeps a low profile. Known among craft enthusiasts for producing flawless, true to style beers, Bagby doesn't sell bottles and cans, and it self-distributes, content to grow out of its Oceanside brewpub. "We distribute all over California…and we've got a few out-of-state accounts," says Dande Bagby, Jeff's wife and partner. "But it's peanuts compared to our overall production."
Most Bagby beers are poured in Oceanside. For the rest of the world, the only sure way to taste Bagby brews is to attend beer festivals.
In addition to London, Bagby remains active on the festival circuit, pouring beer everywhere from Rome, Italy, to the the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The past three years, Bagby Beer has also been a regular fixture at many of the world's top-curated beer festivals, including: the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest in Paso Robles; The Festival, a roaming annual event put together by high-end beer importer Shelton Brothers; and Mikkeller's Copenhagen Beer Celebration.
"It's been a fun part of the business for us," says Dande, who explains the value is more about developing and maintaining relationships within the international brewing community than selling beer. "It's not really revenue-generating."
Jeff Bagby personally pours his beers for festival-goers and freely answers their often-detailed questions about his brewing process. But he says a career of attending such events has been a part of expanding his brewing skill set. "There's formal schooling you can go to, and classes you can take," he says, “but some of the best learning comes from talking with other brewers about what they're doing."
Just as consistent quality among San Diego's breweries is often attributed to the willingness of brewers to share information and advice with one another — say, the use of different brewing processes, equipment, or ingredients — Jeff Bagby describes trading notes with a cadre of American and international brewers who essentially meet up to drink each other's beer throughout the year. "I've forged friendships by going to festivals for the last 20 years with brewers all over the world," he says.
The Bagbys don't just bring back recipe ideas. They also find beers that don't typically make it to the San Diego market, and they share them with brewpub customers. For example, September 23rd they hosted a small, ticketed event celebrating Zwanze Day, a global celebration serving rare beers from Belgium's revered wild-ale specialist, Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon. The Bagby brewpub was one of only four West Coast locations hosting the Cantillon event.
On October 21st, they'll host an "international exposition," the second iteration of Bagby Fest. For that party, they'll curate a lineup made up of beers the Bagbys have discovered through their travels. It should offer a small peek into the sort of global craft-beer dialogue many of the planet's top brewers are having at their favorite festivals.