I find the phrase "soft opening" a little off-putting. I understand that any new business venture in the hospitality and service industries is likely to have some logistical hang-ups, but couching it as a soft opening undercuts my ability to cast judgment upon it. I'll happily wait an additional few minutes for my fries to arrive, but don't take away my need to be unnecessarily indignant about it.
That said, when you have an operation as ambitious as Bagby Beer Company (601 S. Coast Hwy. in Oceanside), testing the waters certainly makes sense. The scope of what former award-winning Pizza Port brewer Jeff Bagby has brought to bear in this establishment is staggering.
The magnitude of the square footage alone is daunting. It's more compound than restaurant, really. Just past the street-facing patio and main taproom is a sprawling open-air courtyard, seated dining, a bar with a fishbowl view of the brewery and even as-yet-unfinished upstairs facilities. All it's really missing is a charismatic cult leader, which, given Bagby's industry cred, might be a simple enough transition.
The bar options are no less voluminous. Bagby Beer Company not only features its own signature brews and cocktails, but also a sizable contingent of offerings from other breweries. At the time of my visit, the six house beers were accompanied by more than 30 beers and ciders from all over creation. The selection of beer styles among the draughts was very diverse and featured lots of popular collaborations, like the Highway 78 scotch ale and three different Sierra Beer Camp options. I'd originally intended to direct my focus to the native beers for this article, but they were not making it easy for me.
The available house brews will be shifting and eventually augmented with further options, but the choices on my visit covered the meat-and-potatoes of beer styles. This initial group favored moderate ABV brews (most hovered around 5 percent) executed in a classic yet nuanced way. For example, the Back Garden, a 4.7-percent-ABV English-style pale, offers a refreshing floral bitterness that won't curl your toes, but it will certainly prime your interest in further house creations. I particularly liked Asphalt Jungle (an Irish-style dry stout) for the way it produced substantial barbecue-esque smoky goodness without tasting heavy. It wasn't especially dry in the finish to me, but I liked it too much to care.
My favorite of the bunch was probably the Hop Whompus, a rust-colored imperial red ale with a thin, beady, taupe head. Its soft, bready aromas and resonating flavors of booze, pine and pineapple made it a sensory one-two punch. At 9.5-percent ABV, this sticky, flavorful brew is a monster.
Beers of any stripe should pair nicely with the offerings from Bagby's upscale brewpub-style menu. I really enjoyed the veggie sides, likely because both that I tried incorporated more than a light dusting of pork products (fair warning, vegetarians). More than that, I appreciated the expedient and friendly manner in which they were delivered, a tribute to surprisingly mature service staff.
Bagby Beer Company may open softly, but it carries a big stick.