Interview: brewmaster Jeff Bagby (Pizza Port Carlsbad)

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Brewmaster San Diego

Photo courtesy of Pizza Port

Pizza Port Carlsbad has become a required stop for any SoCal beer lover who’s on their way to visit San Diego breweries. Check that, Pizza Port has become a destination in its own right, and Jeff Bagby has been one of the key reasons. In September 1997, the Encinitas native scored his first beer-related job, driving the delivery truck for Stone Brewing Co. before graduating to the brewery. He spent some time with the Encinitas YMCA and was working at White Labs in San Diego before Tomme Arthur hired him on as a brewing assistant for Pizza Port Solana Beach. He became a head brewer for the first time in 2003, at Oggi’s, before Pizza Port hired him back in 2005, for their Carlsbad location.

Bagby currently serves as Pizza Port Carlsbad’s Director of Brewpub Operations & Head Brewer and recently helped the establishment secure Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year at GABF, along with nabbing gold medals for Beech Street Bitter, Revelations and Reed’s Wee Heavy, silvers for Coffee Monster, Good Grief Brown and Night Rider Imperial Stout and a bronze for Port Truck Stout. It’s a good time to be Jeff Bagby. We recently caught up via e-mail, where he shared insights about his background and approach.

How did you become so interested in beer?

I began to realize that there was beer that tasted much better than I what I was used to drinking when I first got into college. As time went on, I spent more and more time learning, tasting, visiting, and talking about beer. I still do this as much as I can.

What’s your first beer memory?

Don’t know how old I was, probably under the age of 4. I remember smelling then tasting my Dad’s bottle of Coors. He drank banquet beer when I was younger. I remember that I didn’t like or dislike the aroma but the CO2 got me when I took a sip. That’s about all I can remember. It was in our family room. I remember that.

What’s the first beer that you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?

My friend Wes and I homebrewed a batch of pale ale. All extract at his place in college at UCSB. I remember thinking it was OK. It was drinkable. That’s about all I remember about it.

What was your major at UCSB?

I went to California Lutheran University for 2 years then finished at UCSB. My major was Communications.

How do you think that impacts what you do for a living now?

By the time I got to Santa Barbara I was heavily into beer. We were always trying to find a new beer that we hadn’t had before. This was early to mid ’90s so there was a craft beer boom going on. Some beer was good, some was great, some was not good at all. I guess what I’m saying is both in and out of the classroom I learned things that help me everyday. Spending time in class taught me a lot about how people interact and how things are perceived through all types of communication. I had no idea at the time that the time I was spending with beer would eventually lead to a career in brewing.

Would you say that you have any brewing mentors?

Most definitely. I would say Steve Wagner and Lee Chase when I was at Stone were big influences. Of course Tomme Arthur (Port Brewing/Lost Abbey) and Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River) and Brit Antrim (formerly of Anderson Valley, Kona, and Great Divide). There is a long list of others too but these people are the ones that I look up to and from whom I have gained the most knowledge.

What distinguishes your beer from other Port locations? From other breweries?

I think that all of the Pizza Port locations are making beers that are somewhat similar. We all brew in the same fashion with many of the same ingredients. The difference comes in what each of us feels at the time of recipe formulation. I would like to say that all of our beers are very approachable to anyone. Maybe not the bigger styles, but the theme of something for everyone is one thing I like to continue to strive for.

Who are some other brewers that you respect, and how come?

There are too many to list. There are so many breweries and brewers out there that are continuing to follow their passion and bring amazing beer to people everywhere. Small and large, in the U.S. and abroad, the beer just keeps getting better and more exciting.

What are some beers that you typically enjoy drinking?

Anything that is well made, fresh, and respectful. If you aren’t drinking a wide variety of beer, then you shouldn’t call yourself a beer drinker.

What’s the most recent beer that you developed, and what was your approach?

I made a beer with my friend Eric Rose up at Hollister Brewing Co. in Goleta, California. We wanted to make a beer that was like a Belgian style blonde. Only we were thinking very light colored, light bodied, and dry. We also wanted it to be hoppy but not from American hops. We thought about some beers that we’ve had that resemble this and also looked at some past brews that we’ve both done. We came up with some ideas and went for it. I haven’t had it yet but he said the beer tastes great. I hope to have some soon.

If you could only drink one more glass of beer, what would be in the glass?

Ha! Impossible question. There are too many beers to choose from and I could never choose just one. It would also depend on where I was, who I was with, if there was any food going with it, and what I had drank last.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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