March 28th was a near perfect day in North County, San Diego, and there was a clear excitement in the air at Bagby Beer Company in Oceanside. Brewers and volunteers were busy running back and forth setting up for the event at Bagby Beer’s “campus,” an expansive location replete with four different draft service areas, a full kitchen, and plenty of spacious viewpoints and settings where it is easy to get lost in a glass of perfectly crafted San Diego beer.
Normal bar service is fantastic at Bagby Beer Company, but this day would be different. This day was BagbyFest, the Grand Opening celebration for what has arguably been the most successful new brewing operation to open in San Diego County within the past few years. Bagby Beer Company is the personification of the people who are behind the company, in this case, namely Jeff Bagby and his wife, Dande. Together, with a supporting cast of kitchen, hospitality, service, and brewing staff, they have built a beer destination unlike anything else. And folks recognize that this has been no small accomplishment.
“This might be the first beer festival that I have ever actually participated in,” said Tom Nickel, brewer and owner of Nickel Beer Company in Julian, California. “I have organized maybe 55 festivals, but it’s cool that this [BagbyFest] is my first festival where I am pouring Nickel beer.” And Tom Nickel was not the only well-known brewer to show up in support of Jeff Bagby, and to acknowledge what it means to have the former head brewer and director of brewing operations for Pizza Port back brewing again in San Diego. Colby Chandler of Ballast Point, Chuck Silva from Green Flash, and Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing Company and The Lost Abbey were all there. Pat and Val McIlhenney were there, pouring Alpine Beer. Adam Avery from Avery Brewing Company came all the way from Boulder, Colorado, and Matt Van Wyk from Oakshire Brewing came all the way from Eugene, Oregon. Bill Batten, brewer at AleSmith, Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes from Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Arne Johnson from Marin Brewing Company, Kyle Smith from Kern River, and Dustin Kral, the head brewer at Firestone Walker, as well.
All these incredible brewers were on hand at the festival, both to represent their respective breweries and to share some special beers with the folks who attended BagbyFest. But, more importantly, these brewers were all at Bagby Beer Company to pay testament to a brewer who paved the way for San Diego beer in so many ways. From his GABF medals and recognition, to the Alpha King awards, to the now infamous “Who the F#CK is Jeff Bagby?” tee-shirts, to the party pants…Jeff Bagby epitomizes what is means to brew clean, awesome beers across a diverse range of styles in an absolute professional manner, all while having a great time doing it. Without Jeff, and without everything that he has accomplished, the brewing community in San Diego would not be the same. Everyone in this industry here should never forget what he, in part, has helped to create. It was incredibly humbling and exciting to be a part of BagbyFest, recognizing what Jeff and Dande have done to elevate beer in San Diego, and working hard every day to not mess that up.