Crafting an ale or lager with a professional brewer is a big deal for any beer nerd. A remarkably small percentage of enthusiasts get a taste of such a brew day, but the opportunity to share one with one of the most famous and award-winning brewmasters exists right in San Diego County, and that’s not hyperbole. Participants in Bagby Beer Co.’s “Beerleader” program team together with owner Jeff Bagby and his brewing team to produce unique beers.
As anyone aware of Bagby’s pedigree would guess, these sessions have garnered so much interest that there is a long waiting list. At this point, it’s more than 100 names deep. For those wondering whether Beerleaders is “special enough” to merit jockeying for position in such a robust queue, the answer is “yes.” While similar promotions—and even many professional collaboration brew days—keep foreign participants at arm’s length, relegating them to spectator status, Bagby and the team at his Oceanside brewpub have worked to make Beerleaders an educational experience that allows attendees to have real input on the creative process.
“After people sign up, they are sent an email describing the day and what they can expect. We also give them three different styles of beer to vote on brewing. This ain’t always easy as it is, of course, determined by what we have going ingredients-wise in the brewery,” says Bagby. “The participants rank each beer from what they want to brew most to least, we tally the scores and brew the winner. The Beerleaders also have the chance to make decisions the day of the brew on things like last-minute malt and other possible ingredients, as well as hop selection.”
Additionally, Bagby shares information on brewing history, beer styles, tasting techniques, beer-and-food pairing, and the business of craft beer. The latter includes the process of naming a beer with marketability in mind, something Beerleaders get to practice first-hand as they develop a moniker for their beery creations. Beyond that it’s the business of making beer, literally: milling, mashing in, adding hops, pitching yeast, and more.
Bagby says participants have run the gamut from homebrewers to brewing-industry personnel to beer lovers and even complete newbies. That eclectic blend has led to some wide-ranging creations thus far. The following are the offerings Beerleaders has yielded so far, along with commentary from Bagby.
Schwarz Story (German-style Schwarzbier): It was fun to do a lager and this one came out great. It has some nice, dark-malt aromas and flavors with just a hint of roasted character. It is very dark in color, but not black, with a super-smooth lager character and it’s clean all the way through.
- Dream of the Hop (American IPA): This went a little different than our normal house IPAs, as we let the group choose a very wide range of hops, and they selected some combos that we don’t normally go with. The beer came out great. High bitterness, hop aroma and flavor. Bright, very light, pale color, and a dry finish with a lingering hop character.
- Loch Mess (Scotch-style Ale): We added a small amount of a couple different dark sugars for this one. It was a warming and pleasant sipper featuring rich, deep malt flavors without being sweet or cloying.
- Name TBD (English-style IPA): This one’s still in the fermenter. A large amount of British hops were used and, so far, it has a firm bitterness, a very English hop character and aroma, with a nice hint of malt background.
Other perks of a Beerleader brew day include breakfast and lunch, a taster flight and post-work shift beer, custom glassware, t-shirt, Bagby Beer merchandise discount and an invitation to an exclusive barbecue expected to take place this fall. It’s no wonder so many people want to be a part of it, but there’s a good reason for that waiting list.
“We can only comfortably handle ten Beeleaders at a time,” says Bagby. “This enables everyone to participate and ensures the experience is at the highest level for everyone.”