The inaugural California Craft Beer Summit launches this Friday by not only drawing the top commercial brewing talent in the state but thousands of enthusiastic beer lovers looking to learn, hobnob and discover. With the beer world watching closely, Sacramento, once a major brewing center a century ago, is poised to show off its new and thriving beer scene.
Local breweries are winning medals at major competitions and drawing large crowds to their on-site tasting rooms. Several new breweries have already invested millions of dollars to expand, proving wrong skeptics who predicted a market glut.
Beer bars such as Pangaea, LowBrau, The Shack, Final Gravity and Capitol Beer and Tap Room routinely feature some of the best beers in the world and continue to thrive. Sacramento Beer Week, which started seven years ago with eight local breweries, is now looking for a new venue for its all-local Brewers Showcase kickoff event featuring 40-plus breweries, having outgrown the 72,000-square-foot California Automobile Museum.
Local craft beer lovers are also more educated and discerning than ever, touting their favorite saison, session beer, double India pale ale or Belgian sour as if they’d been drinking them for decades.
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“I think it’s time to show off a little,” said Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, which launched the Craft Beer Summit as a first-of-its-kind interactive beer experience for both industry insiders and beer consumers. Seminars and panel discussions, along with displays and demonstrations, will let participants see, smell, touch and taste various elements of the beer-making process.
“Brewers from all over the state will be coming to Sacramento. Many local breweries will be opening their doors and inviting their comrades to visit,” McCormick said. “It’s the perfect time. It’s certainly not premature. This is the most exciting time in Sacramento for the craft beer industry ever.”
Statistics back up the local craft beer frenzy. According to so-called scan data compiled by the company IRI, Sacramento consumers spend 29.6 percent of overall beer purchases on craft beer, on par with brewing hotbeds San Diego and the Bay Area, and well ahead of Los Angeles (10.3 percent). The nationwide average is about 6 percent and growing. In California, it’s closer to 18 percent.
It’s the perfect time. It’s certainly not premature. This is the most exciting time in Sacramento for the craft beer industry ever.
Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association
While the Sacramento area’s 40 craft breweries lag well behind the 100 in and around San Digeo, the brewing scene here is on a serious upswing.
The consensus is that Sacramento’s beer community is ready to host an event that organizers hope will evolve into one of the most important craft beer gatherings in the nation.
About 1,800 people are expected to attend the summit, which concludes with a star-studded, all-California beer festival Saturday on the Capitol Mall. Some 3,000 to 3,500 people are projected to visit the Brewers Showcase, which costs $60 and features 150 of the state’s top breweries, many of them bringing one-of-a-kind beers specifically for the festival. The summit will include seminars for industry insiders and beer consumers alike, including presentations on the finances of opening a brewery, women in the craft beer industry, a technical discussion of draft systems and user-friendly rundowns on beer styles and pairings.
“This event is going to be a test for Sacramento as a host city, and we’ve got to do a good job of welcoming visitors coming here for good beer and highlighting why Sacramento is a great beer town – it’s not just because we are close to other places,” said David Gull, co-owner of New Helvetia Brewing. At the summit, New Helvetia will be serving its Thurston Adambier, which won a 2014 gold medal in the Historical Beer category at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival, or GABF, in Denver.
While Sacramento was slow to pick up on the craft beer boom, the area is making up for lost time.
Industry insiders say many elements of a significant craft beer center are in place here, including a diversity of breweries and bona fide brewing stars such as Chris Miller of Berryessa Brewing, Mike Mraz of Mraz Brewing and Jeremy Warren, formerly of Knee Deep and now with soon-to-launch startup Revision. The region also claims breakout breweries such as fast-expanding and much lauded Track 7, breweries that tap into the city’s rich brewing history (New Helvetia and Ruhstaller) and all kinds of beers winning raves from beer geeks, including Rubicon’s new and edgy double IPA Grapefruit Hop Sauce, Integral IPA from Device Brewing and a spate of barrel-aged marvels by the reinvigorated Sudwerk Brewing in Davis.
Additionally, the beer scene has sprouted significant clusters of breweries in the region, including the increasingly vital Roseville/Rocklin area with Out of Bounds, Monk’s Cellar, Dragas, Roseville Brewing and Boneshaker, as well as bars with large craft beer selections such as Final Gravity, Boneshaker Public House and Yard House. Plymouth, Lincoln, Winters, Auburn, Nevada City? They’re all making beer, too.
Beyond all that, you can find extensive craft beer lists in the most unexpected settings, including the dive pizza joint Hot City Pizza in East Sacramento and cheese specialist The Rind in midtown.
“Coming from where we’ve come from, it’s kind of weird seeing the growth,” said Rob Archie, who opened the highly regarded Pangaea Bier Cafe in Curtis Park in 2008. “San Diego is really crazy, but there is a lot of cool stuff going on in Sacramento. Track 7 is really getting into sour beers. We’re starting to see more barrel-aged programs. It’s getting better and better. As a small business owner, it’s taking up the challenge of being your own worst critic. This is a process. Craft beer is a lifestyle. It’s not about arriving. It’s about continuing to improve.”
While Archie says several breweries deserve accolades, others opened with ho-hum beers and or without making clear how they stand out from the pack.
“We’ve had experiences where I don’t really get the concept,” he said. “If you went into some of these places blindfolded and they put their beers in front of you, would you be able to tell where you’re at? These breweries need to ask themselves, ‘What’s our story? Who’s our audience?’ You’re not just trying to emulate others. You’re supposed to come up with something fresh and new.”
Onetime brewing star Peter Hoey remembers a much different Sacramento beer scene – and it wasn’t so long ago.
“We have a history of really great beer being made here,” said Hoey, who transitioned from brewing to sales, and is now regional sales director for Brewers Supply Group and deals with breweries throughout the West Coast.
“Sacramento Brewing, where I brewed for a time, was making award-winning beer,” he said. “Elk Grove Brewing won ‘Pub of the Year’ at the Great American Beer Festival in 1999. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Rubicon won the first two IPA categories at GABF.”
Prior to the current boom, brewers such as Hoey would return from festivals with their medals and accolades, but often could barely give away their prized brews. Before long, craft beer was in decline. His then-employer, Sacramento Brewing, shuttered in 2009, just a few years before the local scene exploded.
“It was really disheartening to see the guys who were really making killer beer and nobody was turning up to drink it,” he said. “It was really a dark time.”
Those days are long gone. When Mraz releases one of its specialty bottles in El Dorado Hills, for instance, it sells out in hours. Knee Deep is doing so well that Sacramentans routinely encounter its beer when they visit New York City. And what started as a part-time passion project for the four partners of Bike Dog Brewing has continued snowballing. Thanks to the success of its Mosaic pale ale, milk stout, IPA and other beers, the West Sacramento nano-brewery recently invested in new equipment, expanded into the industrial park space next door and is looking to open a Sacramento taproom in the next two years.
“I think we are maybe four or five years behind those other markets like San Diego and Portland,” Hoey said. “What we’ve seen happen in the last four or five years has been phenomenal. We have these centers of beer evangelism that are popping all over town and they are converting people one beer drinker at a time.”
The California Craft Beer Summit starts at noon Friday and concludes Saturday at 3 p.m. The seminars and expo take place at the Sacramento Convention Center. A range of price and ticket options are available. For details, visit www.californiacraftbeer.com.The Brewers Showcase Beer Festival happens Saturday, from 4-8 p.m. on the Capitol Mall. Tickets are $60. Designated driver, $15.