Step into New Helvetia Brewing Co. on Thursday evenings and you’ll be greeted by a jovial and spirited group of sweaty athletes wearing colorful shoes and orange T-shirts sporting the motto “We Run Sactown.”
Meet the members of the Sloppy Moose Running Club, a fitness and drinking community based at the brewery, where the ritual of running and refueling afterward with craft beers is practiced each week.
“The aroma and hoppiness helps with the body aches and leg cramps,” said Nick Gould, a 34-year-old midtown resident, knocking back a glass of the signature Buffalo Craft Lager. “It’s my recovery drink.”
On Thursdays, Sloppy Moose members gather at New Helvetia for a 3-mile run around the leafy neighborhoods of Land Park, Curtis Park and midtown. They jog down tree-canopied residential streets and along car-crowded boulevards before returning to the brewery to enjoy a pint as well as camaraderie and friendship.
Sloppy Moose members include people of different ages and abilities, from hard-core racers to casual joggers and walkers. The group is popular with people who want to exercise, network and unwind with a brew near the end of the workweek, organizers said.
“We just wanted to create a social outing where a few active friends could burn off some calories before a beer or two,” founder Kyle Blaikie, an Air Force reservist currently deployed in Southeast Asia, said in a recent phone interview.
Since its launch in March 2013, Sloppy Moose – a moniker inspired by Blaikie and wife Angie’s Boston Terrier, named Moose – has grown to 200 individuals. On average, 40 runners participate in the weekly runs.
In June, Sloppy Moose was listed as one of the 11 great beer running groups by Runner’s World Magazine, a distinction, Kyle said, that was both humbling and amazing.
“For being a small running club, to be featured is incredible,” said Blaikie, 33.
The Blaikies moved to Sacramento in 2009 and were looking to engage in a fun, social activity. The city’s weather, love of year-round fitness and emerging craft beer scene made a running/drinking club a no-brainer. The couple based Sloppy Moose on the Flying Irish Running Club in Spokane, Wash., where they previously lived. (Its motto: “We run Spokane.”)
“Sacramento is perfect because it is a big enough town but without the hassles of a big city,” said Blaikie, a native of Long Island, N.Y. “The city embraces the weather. Everyone is like-minded (and) fitness-oriented. It’s one of the healthiest cities out there.”
Curtis Park resident Tim Smith, who said he heard about the group via social media, said the weekly runs are a good way to mix working out with meeting new people. “You come out and exercise enough to reward yourself with a beer afterward,” he said. “It’s an awesome group of people to be around.”
Beer-based running clubs are nothing new. They can be found in Denver, Philadelphia, Boston and other cities throughout the country. The Hash House Harriers, an international running group with more than 2,000 chapters, carries a local presence in the Sacramento area. (It’s self-billed as “the drinking club with a running problem.”)
At a recent outing celebrating Sacramento BLT Week, Sloppy Moose hosted a special fun run, with proceeds going to local nonprofits Fitness Without Borders (an organization dedicated to the development and fitness education of children) and the Sacramento Food Bank.
There is no cost to join Sloppy Moose, but when the club is hosting a special event, members are expected to chip in $20 to $30 to participate in the run. After competing in five runs, new members receive a free orange T-shirt.
Although Sloppy Moose members must be over 21 to drink alcohol, kids are permitted in the brewery when accompanied by a parent or guardian. There is no age requirement to compete in the runs, and members sometimes bring their children and their pets.
“We’ve now become that pathetic group that brings our dogs,” Blaikie said sarcastically.
Not all Sloppy Moose members want beer after their workouts, which is why New Helvetia offers flavored organic beverages such as Kombucha, a carbonated fermented tea made of bacteria and yeast.
“Some people can have a beer after a run and that sits fine with them, but for me, I can’t run 3 and drink a beer,” said Dana Thompson, a 24-year-old graphic design student at California State University, Sacramento.
Sloppy Moose has elevated the experience at the brewery, said Owen Largent, tasting room manager at New Helvetia.
Largent recalled a conversation he had with Blaikie in early 2013 about his idea to base Sloppy Moose at the brewery. Largent was reluctant at first but warmed up to the idea when he realized it could be a boon for business.
“I told him, ‘Let me get this straight. You’re going to bring a bunch of sweaty people into my bar?” said Largent. “I never heard of a running club before. But I was giving (Kyle) a hard time. … We were eager to have them. It gets our name out there. They bring a positive spin to our brewery.”