The line started forming outside the California Auto Museum on Thursday long before doors opened at 6 p.m. for the Brewers’ Showcase, the all-local tasting event that features a cast of 40-plus breweries and kicks off Sacramento Beer Week.
By all accounts, the showcase’s popularity reflected the explosive growth of the local brewing scene, which now includes Fort Rock, the newest brewery in the local lineup, opening just days ago at Highway 50 and Hazel Avenue in Rancho Cordova. The only disappointment was the absence of Moonraker, which has attracted so much attention in recent weeks that it can be forgiven for being unable to staff the event.
“I think Sacramento has grown leaps and bounds with the breweries that have come in, especially with the outlying areas like Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Auburn,” said Sam Blackmon, an avid home brewer and certified beer judge. “These little breweries are coming in and they’re going to make everyone raise their games.”
Flatland Brewing, of Elk Grove, was the surprise winner of the People’s Choice Award with a hazy Northeast-style session India pale ale. The alcohol was only 5 percent, but judges were impressed with the big aromas, juicy body and the non-bitter finish of this beer.
Flatland owner/brewmaster Andrew Mohsenzadegan has been quick to embrace the unfiltered hazy IPA style, made popular locally by the major success of Moonraker in Auburn. This is the seventh different hazy beer Flatland has produced.
“I love these things. They’re hideous to look at but amazing to drink,” he said.
Blackmon, who was one of 10 judges for the People’s Choice Award, gave high marks to the Flatland entry, noting that its low alcohol did not inhibit the flavor and body of what was an outstanding session beer.
I was also one of the People’s Choice judges, tasting my way through several dozen beers. I found several top-notch contenders for the overall prize. My favorite IPA of the night turned out to be a beautifully balanced collaboration between Rubicon and Sudwerk. That beer will be released Friday at Rubicon; a slightly different version of the collaboration will be released Saturday at Sudwerk, which used a lager yeast while Rubicon employed its house ale yeast. It would be ideal to taste these beers side by side to note how the different yeasts affect the flavor.
Speaking of the Davis brewery, Blackmon and I agreed on our overall favorite of the night – Fünke Hop Farm, Sudwerk’s acclaimed barrel-aged, dry-hopped saison. This is truly a world-class beer, and it was a treat to taste it once again in this context. It was a 2016 gold medal winner at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival. The beer will be available at the brewery tasting room Friday for those eager to try it.
“The overall depth and complexity of that beer, it’s just delicious,” Blackmon told me.
MC Brambles, a chocolate and raspberry stout from Bike Dog in collaboration with Hop Dogma Brewing from El Granada (north of Half Moon Bay), was another strong contender. The rich and slightly bitter chocolate notes up front with an overlay of gently tart raspberry on the finish were a real treat. Bike Dog just released this beer in 16-ounce cans.
More than 900 people attended the showcase Thursday night, which is the first of several high-profile events over 11 days. Beer Week concludes on March 12 with the Capitol Beer Fest.