Green Cheek Beer’s co-founder on coming to San Diego

Details about the Orange County brewery’s acquisition of Bagby Beer Co. as well as plans for the Oceanside brewpub and its beers

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Over the past year, stories of local brewery closures have become far too common, almost routine. Which is what made the announcement of 10-year-old Oceanside brewpub Bagby Beer Co. going out of business such big news with fans tired of checking the craft-beer obituaries. This story was different and included the heralding of a new chapter in the business’ lifespan, one which would see it taken over by a popular Southern California brewing company, Green Cheek Beer Co., with married founders Jeff and Dande Bagby staying on to continue helming its brewing and hospitality programs, respectively. Rather than using it to light a funeral pyre, the torch was handed from one set of colleagues to another in a show of faith and friendship emblematic of the craft-beer industry. While a handful of details were shared the day of the announcement, there were plenty of questions left to be answered. We were able to book some time with Green Cheek’s co-founding Head Brewer Evan Price to dig deeper into this development and find out more about what’s in store for the Orange-based company’s fourth and newest location, which is currently on track to make its debut Friday, March 1.

How did the opportunity to take over Bagby Beer arise?
They reached out to us and shared that they’d put in as much as they could but had come to the realization that they needed to close their incredible brewpub. They floated the idea of us taking it over. Jeff and Dande are very principled and thoughtful in what they do. They built the coolest brewpub out there and they wanted to make sure it went to people they thought could keep it going. To be honest, I wasn’t that interested initially, but then they said they wanted to stay on and that Jeff wanted to continue to brew. That’s where things turned around for me and the whole thing got fun and interesting. My business partner and I have been friends with Jeff and Dande forever. We’ve traveled to places like London, Copenhagen and Ireland, and I have a photo on my wall of all of us drinking together at Bagbyfest. And I was a fan before we became friends. When they opened Bagby Beer I was there the first weekend. It’s my favorite brewpub, and when people ask me why I like it so much, I always say, “Have you seen this place?!”

How does it feel to have Jeff on your team and what will he be brewing now?
I’m over-the-moon excited about working together. There’s a lot I can learn from him. I’m excited to get him brewing modern West Coast IPAs again. I mean, he’s the original Alpha King*! That said, he’s been really excited about lagers and a large range of traditional beer styles for a long time, so we want to keep him doing what he’s been so good at doing. Why would we get in the way of that? We’ll mix that in with our ever-evolving lineup of modern West Coast and hazy IPAs, our Lavender Lemonade hard seltzer, barrel-aged stouts, super-weird beers and everything else that we can dream up. We already make a fair amount of lagers but this is going to push us to make an even wider variety of them. There’s going to be some familiarity for people who like what Jeff was doing but also all these other things that a range of other people can be excited about, so just about everybody can come in and find something they like.

* Editor’s Note: Held annually in conjunction with the Great American Beer Festival, the Alpha King Challenge crowns the brewer producing the best hoppy beer in the country.

What excites you about the project site and how do you intend to alter it?
There’s nothing like being at this brewpub. It has four different bars and a huge, wonderful patio. Jeff and Dande put time and attention into every facet of the guest experience from when you step in the door to when you leave. So, there’s not much we need to do because the place is already beautiful, but we will be putting our playful branding all over it. Our mascot, Cheeky, and our other birds ‒ Pierre, Kee Wee and Matt ‒ will be prominently displayed, as well as some sweet murals from our artist Patrick Carrie.

What’s your opinion of San Diego’s beer scene and where it’s headed?
I am originally from San Diego and have a lot of family here. Oceanside, Carlsbad and Encinitas were the beaches I was at nearly every weekend. It’s so interesting how full-circle this whole thing is to be opening a business here. I’m really excited about that. San Diego was the mecca of craft beer. Between Pizza Port, The Lost Abbey, Ballast Point, Stone and small guys like Alpine, there was so much rad beer coming out of this area that it was really taking the world by storm. Like most things, there was huge demand and, at a certain point, supply got too big, so here we are. We’re all well aware of what’s happening to our industry, whether it’s people not drinking anymore or a lack of interest in craft beer, but there’s still enough people out there who are thirsty for good beer.

How does it feel to be laying down stakes in your old hometown?
We participated in Burgeon Beer Co.’s recent invitational beer festival, and it was like getting a big hug from the San Diego craft-beer community. There was this overwhelming excitement. I don’t think I’m being overdramatic. Almost every person who came up to our booth to get a beer was either super-excited about us coming to Oceanside or a little suspect. The skeptics shared what big fans of Jeff they are, and we told them that was great because Jeff will continue to brew at the Oceanside location. Once they heard that, they seemed good with it. The whole day was amazing.

Which members of the local industry are you particularly excited to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with?
One of my closest friends is Kelsey McNair over at North Park Beer Co. We talk at least a few times a week minimum, so we’re constantly collaborating, throwing ideas back and forth to each other, doing podcasts together. Outside of that, I really like what Burgeon has been up to. They’ve continued to create such a neat business that’s also focused on, for the most part, fresh hoppy beer, and they do a good job. Craft Coast Beer & Tacos is another place I’m excited to be close to. 

What are you most excited about with the new location?
I’m excited to see what we’ll mold this place into. There’s just so much opportunity with this beautiful space that they created and the beers–between what we make and what Jeff makes. That in itself is something that’s going to be truly special.

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