Jeff Bagby had a storied career even before he and wife Dande cofounded Bagby Beer in 2014 in Oceanside, California. While at Pizza Port, he won the Great American Beer Festival’s Brewery and Brewer of the Year honor three years in a row, besides previous experience at Stone and Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing. The honors have continued at his own brewery—most recently GABF silver in 2022 for their Three Beagles Brown ale.
With a lot of fond memories collected along the way, Bagby took a historical approach to his chosen six-pack. “I’ve been in brewing for a long time,” he says, looking back on the things that got him excited about beer in the first place.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
“It’s a beer that my wife and I always have available in our fridge at home. It’s been a favorite of mine since I was in college. A good friend with whom I homebrewed and I would always have Sierra Pale on tap at our house. And we exposed many people to that going to school at UC Santa Barbara. It’s just a classic that has been such an amazing beer through time. And to bring a hop like Cascade—which is still used everywhere—to the forefront!
“A lot of times, it’s canned, so a while back I kind of nicknamed it ‘green soda.’ ‘I’m gonna go grab a green soda. Do you want one?’ Sometimes it’s that simple. It’s just a refreshing end-of-the-day kind of beer; I know what I’m going to get. And I’m still excited every time I have one, even though I’m looking at it from a different perspective. I now think about whole-cone hops and what they do in a beer versus pellets. I think that this beer is still what it is. And it’s got crystal malt in it!
“So many brewers these days have shied away from anything that resembles pale ale. To me, the aroma and flavors bring back so many memories of having the beer over the years. To be able to have that access any time I want is great.”
“I’ll switch gears a little here and say Cantillon Classic Gueuze for my second beer. This is another beer that takes me back—to being at Cantillon and having it there, and many other times and places and having just great drinking experiences. Also, for its style and for what it is, it’s kind of a founding beer, in the sense that it is always a blend of three different vintages. While it is gueuze, it has such an awesome and delicate balance to it but also a depth for a beer that is 5 percent [ABV]. It’s always consistent.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have super-old vintages that have just blown my mind. I was there once on my birthday. Jean [Van Roy] asked what year I was born. I told him, and he just started smiling and then zoomed off down to somewhere in the depths of the brewery and came back with this bottle. It was a 750-millileter bottle, but the thickness of the glass made it look like a tank. He popped it, and he had this look on his face. We tasted it, and I thought it was remarkable, but I could tell that he wasn’t happy with it. And I’m like, ‘This is crazy; this is amazing.’ We were talking about a beer that’s about 40 years old.
“’Come with me,’ he said. And he showed me this little area where he had these old bottles; he popped another one. It popped like champagne, and it had the effervescence of champagne. It was one of the most amazing beers I’ve ever had. It was bright, effervescent, just amazing. We sat there talking about it. And he said, ‘The only thing I don’t know is whether my father or my grandfather blended it.’ I’ll never forget that tasting and sharing that bottle.
“I respect a lot of what they do at Cantillon, and a lot of the adaptations that they’ve done over the years to keep things creative and on the forefront of what they do, the realm of brewing that they’re in. But I guess Classic Gueuze harkens back to my feeling of classic beer. If you look at that style and that type of brewing historically, there probably weren’t a lot of fruit and spices and other things added to a lot of what they made. Yes, kriek has been around for a very long time. And I think what he’s doing with wine grapes and different aging—and now even some herbs and spices—are all really exciting. But I keep coming back to that delicate, amazing balance, effervescence, and brightness of Classic Gueuze. And so, while I love several of the other fruited beers, several other different types of beers, and they’re so creative and have just amazing flavor depth, Classic is just classic. And that’s to me where it starts.”
Bierstadt Lagerhaus Slow Pour Pils
“For Beer No. 3, I’ll shift gears yet again and go with something that is newer, but also a classic. And that’s Bierstadt Lagerhaus Slow Pour Pils. I can’t think of another German pilsner that has brought tears to my eyes. Slow Pour is just perfect—the way that they do it time after time, the way that they’re so strict about the pouring, and the depth, the delicacy, the hop brightness and bitterness, just balanced with a really awesome malt character.
“I didn’t grow up in Germany; most of the German pilsners that I had growing up were oxidized or older. To me, Slow Pour tastes like what I would think or hope that real German pilsner should taste like, and I haven’t had one in the United States or pretty much anywhere that has what Slow Pour has. Bill [Eye] and Ashleigh [Carter] are good friends of ours, and I’m lucky enough to be able to have access to the beer pretty much whenever, so that helps. But to me, it’s just such a defining beer for that style. And just like everybody says, you haven’t been to Denver if you haven’t had a Slow Pour Pils. Every time I go and have a fresh one there, it just all comes back.”
Timothy Taylor’s Landlord
Keighley, West Yorkshire, England
“I’m going across the pond again for my next beer—different style, different genre, different everything—and that’s Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. The best ones I’ve had have obviously been on cask over in the United Kingdom. We were able to get some bottles of it not too long ago, and they were actually holding up pretty well.
“But again, English pale ale. Real ale. Live beer. Landlord is a beer I could drink a ton of. It takes me back to my experiences in the United Kingdom. And it’s just such a well-balanced but also hoppy little beer. And yeah, I miss it sometimes.
“One of the things that I’ve noticed is when and where it’s on tap, it’s consistent—or, for the most part, it’s more consistent than some other British cask ales that I also love and cherish. But some of those beers don’t always show well; they’ll be a little clumsy or a little flabby or have a diacetyl level that’s a little too high, or even some DMS. A lot of that can happen in the cellar at the pub. I’ve spent time in those cellars talking to cellarmen about how they bring a cask ale to the glass. I did a tour of Timothy Taylor’s brewery once, and it was pretty remarkable how clean the entire brewery was, and I have to think that that transfers to the final product. And I also think that they’re looking at their hop storage and what they’re using. They’re also creative and really good at knowing how to blend hops to get that consistent character each and every time.
“Obviously, we’re talking about a lot faster beer than something like a Cantillon Gueuze. You know, I think from brew to glass, they’re probably looking at seven to 10 days—and, again, something that has crystal malts in it and has some color. While I love my hops—and I love really pale hoppy beer—with Landlord, I just feel like I’m drinking something that has been around for a long time.”
Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba
“I’m going to go back to Belgium and Brussels to another friend—another friendship brewery, I’ll call it. De la Senne Taras Boulba is a very pale, hoppy beer that screams ‘de la Senne’ and that city. I have so many fond memories of being there with good friends, drinking liters of it, and it’s just so good. It’s one of those things you can’t set down. It’s 4.5 percent [ABV], so it’s not going to hammer you. And Yvan [De Baets] picks really nice European hops for that beer. They’re German, but it’s so bright and so hoppy that I think some people wouldn’t recognize that they’re actually European hops. Taras Boulba is another beer that is just perfect from head to toe. I buy it whenever I can get it.”
Port Brewing Hop-15
(an Marcos, California
“For my last beer, I’m going to pick one whose history I’ve been a part of, so it’s a little different: Port Brewing Hop-15. Tomme [Arthur] and I created that beer in Solana Beach years and years ago. The first iteration had much more color in it than some of the later ones. We had this idea to choose 15 different hops and add them every 15 minutes in the boil, and then just dry hop the heck out of it for a big imperial IPA. It was when the hops race was going on—how much bitterness, how many hops, can you put in a beer? But I think we also achieved some real balance with that beer. It was right at 10 percent [ABV]. It had not too strong of a malt character and was dried out enough so that it wasn’t this huge, weighted beer that some of those old imperial IPAs were. We won a medal with it in Denver, and it’s won Alpha King a couple times [2004 and 2008]. I don’t brew a lot of big hoppy beer anymore, but I still love Hop-15.
“They’re still brewing it as a seasonal, which is cool. I kind of keep my eye on when it comes around, and I try to go have a fresh one and maybe buy a little bit of it. When I have it, it still brings back the memories and still has just this powerful kind of classic West Coast hop character to it. I feel like I don’t see very much of that anymore.
“It also has this nostalgia for that time, that era of not only brewing in Solana Beach with Tomme, but also having those beers that other people were making, not just in San Diego and California, but everywhere. And to taste everyone’s and see what it was like. The industry was so much smaller back then and so much more tightly knit. You’d go to a [Craft Brewers Conference], and you’d know 80 percent of the people there instead of 15 percent.
“I have heard from some other brewers that Hop-15 inspired them, and that’s really cool to hear. I wouldn’t have known it at the time. I wouldn’t have thought about it at all. Our only thought was, we’re just going to make this big hoppy thing and see what happens. It’s cool that it’s still made. It’s cool that people recognize it as something that’s been around for a while.”