OCEANSIDE — Beer has never been more popular. Especially here in North County, where craft brewers have found a home, most notably along the Hops Highway, aka Highway 78.
And each year, North County’s best put their best selections up for several prestigious awards at events such as the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup.
Jeff Bagby, co-founder of Bagby Beer in Oceanside, didn’t win any ribbons this year, but he has been a judge at the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival for years. For him, it’s an opportunity to see and taste the competition and grow an international network.
This year, he spent several days in Nashville, Tennessee, as a judge for the bi-annual World Beer Cup. Bagby said there were 8,225 submissions and 296 judges.
“In the World Beer Cup, the judging is always split at least 70 percent international judges and 30 percent American,” he added. “They do that for different palates and different styles.”
One local brewery, Rouleur Brewing Co. of Carlsbad, took home a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup for its Domestique Belgian Blonde Ale in the Belgian-Style Pale Ale or Blonde Ale category. In addition, Rip Current Crewing in San Marcos took bronze for its Breakline Bock in the German-Style Bock or Maibock category.
Tomme Arthur, co-founder of San Marcos-based Lost Abbey and Port Brewing Company, was awarded the Russell Scherer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing.
Bagby said the competition is about showcasing the region’s talents for brewing.
“It’s probably the best beer competition in terms the expertise of the judges,” he said.
Bagby began judging the World Beer Cup in 2004 and has worked every subsequent event with the exception of 2014 and 2016, which is when he opened his own brewery. As for the Great American Beer Festival, he started in 2003 and has judged all but one or two events since then.
At the World Beer Cup, Bagby judged the German Style Helles, Imperial IPA, Scotch Ale and coffee, porter and stouts, to name a few. He said judging incorporates blind tastings and judges use a set of parameters to advance the brews. From there, they gather the finalists and award the top three finishers.
“Every category has style parameters,” Bagby said. “You talk about the style guide, what flavors and profiles that you are looking for, what would or would not be acceptable in that category.”
Judges are also responsible for commenting on every aspect of their beers after the first round. It gives the brewers feedback on what works or doesn’t work and allows them to make adjustments in either selecting the correct category, changing the recipe or leaving it as is.
As for the industry, Bagby said the craft brewery market is flooded and may have peaked. One reason, he said, is the number of selections for consumers can be overwhelming. New approaches to brewing and a small segment of breweries influencing the industry have also contributed.
“Got a lot of new people and new approaches to making beer,” Bagby said. “There is a very influential set … using the social media aspect to kind of shape the way things happen. We’re very classic style focused and we’re not the shiny new toy people.”