If you want to see firsthand the makings of a great annual beer event, stop what you’re doing and get your tickets to the Track 7 Brewery Invitational + Competition.
Sure, it’s $60 per person, but if you’re into outstanding beer and want to be part of a festival where the crowd is lively but manageable and the lines for high-quality beer are mercifully short, this should be part of your Sacramento Beer Week itinerary.
Tickets are capped at 650, even though they could easily sell twice as many. The event is at Track 7’s production brewery in Natomas (826 Professor Lane, Suite 100) on March 5 from 1-5 p.m.
I’m highlighting the invitational because it plays an import role in elevating the Sacramento region’s beer scene. Here’s the dirty little secret about beer festivals: There are a lot of them and some of them are kinda lame. You and 3,000 people are handed a tiny plastic cup, then you stand in line for beers everybody has already had. The breweries put up their beer for free because there’s a charity involved, and maybe they’ll get some positive exposure out of the deal. Drunken rookie beer bros? Watch them overdo everything, then double over behind the snow fence.
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Track 7 is doing it differently. It’s showing leadership and helping build Sacramento’s rep as a serious beer town. Just look at the participating breweries. It’s all heavy hitters in the business of IPAs and IBUs — Knee Deep, Device, Moonraker, New Glory, Beachwood, Alvarado Street, Pizza Port, Kern River, Marble, Modern Times, and on and on. Every participating brewery is truly bringing the IPA heat. Many of them will pour special beers you’ve probably never seen.
What’s my favorite IPA in the Sacramento area? That changes from time to time, but right now New Glory’s Ubahdank is pretty amazing – hoppy, smooth, balanced, with a nuanced flavor profile that stands apart. Auburn Alehouse’s Gold Digger might be the best IPA no one is talking about. It’s quietly, consistently first-rate. It also didn’t get invited to the T7 event. Moonraker? The Auburn standout can’t brew its hazy Yojo masterpiece fast enough. Oh, Track 7 has pretty amazing hoppy beers in its own right — Panic IPA in a can is a beautiful thing. Hoppy Palm pale ale is my personal favorite, and its recent small-batch releases of hazy Northeast-style creations like Sukahop sell out whenever they’re brewed.
Last year, with 27 breweries in play, the invitational was a big hit, and Sacramento came out of it looking like a bona fide brewing center. This year, there will be 10 more breweries. The inaugural event also showed how good Sacramento beer is — Device finished second behind Saint Archer and ahead of Kern River in the “Best Use of Hops” category. Berkeley-based Fieldwork won the “people’s choice.”
“The event was designed to break even,” said Track 7 co-owner Ryan Graham. “We took the approach that anyone who came out and provided beer should be fully compensated for their beer. Then we did something that no other festival I’ve been involved with ever did – we took all of the remaining money, divided it up and gave it back to all of the breweries as a participation fee.”
Each brewery wound up with an additional $700. That’s why when Track 7 put out invites, everyone wanted back in. Winning the Brewery Invitational is certain to become a prestigious thing in the years to come. The event is going to be known for its very high standards, so winning could launch an unheralded brewery, just as taking gold at the Bistro Double IPA Festival in Hayward catapults unknown beer into the limelight.