Sacramento Beer Week, which ends Sunday, is a lot of things. It’s a way to promote the burgeoning beer scene that has transformed the region over the past few years. It’s a way to invite new people into craft brew and get them to see what it’s all about. It’s a chance to engage the serious beer geeks among us and show them the latest/greatest releases from the upper-echelon breweries.
But more than anything, based on all the calls and texts I’m getting, Beer Week is bringing in the money – and beer consumers can’t get enough. New beers, especially those released in cans, are selling out in hours, if not minutes. They’re draining kegs in record time at Capitol Beer and Tap Room. They’re buying up all the tickets for the Berryessa beer pairing dinner at Empress Tavern. Folks are packing the tasting room at midtown’s Big Stump, a newcomer on the scene. They’re tasting their way through all kinds of amazing sours at Mraz, which doubled its Beer Week business from last year. And they’re snapping up T-shirts, beer, more T-shirts and more beer at Bike Dog.
The good news? If you’re counting the days of Beer Week, you end up down to your toes – it’s 11 days of beer, good times, dancing dollar signs.
“I can tell you that the ‘Embrace the Haze or Savor the Sours’ event and cornhole tournament, as well as the Cupcake & Beer Pairing, were insanely busier than last year,” said Amy Ruthnick of Final Gravity, one of the area’s top beer bars. She attributes some of the surge to an increased emphasis on marketing the events.
“We’re almost exactly double from last year for the same days,” said A.J. Tendick of Bike Dog. “That means the first weekend of Beer Week this year is what we did all week last year.”
How does he account for the serious uptick? Sure, the folks at Bike Dog are energetic on social media. Tendick says that played a role. Lots of content. Lots of photos. But we’re starting to see a new driver in the local craft brewing business – it’s called the can release.
“We’ve done a special beer for Beer Week, but we’ve never packaged them before,” said Tendick of the three recent releases, all in 16-ounce four-packs. “They’re coming in for the cans, but then they stay and have a beer, so that helps with sales.”
Those four-packs aren’t cheap – $14 – but clearly there is an audience eager to chase down great new beer and support local. Moonraker’s two-can releases on the second day of Beer Week were gobbled up within two hours, and that’s with a three four-pack limit per person.
New Glory and Device know the value of can releases, too. You basically have to take a vacation day and get to New Glory when it opens the doors if you want one of the new beers. I can only dream of getting my hands on a spiffy-looking four-pack of Infinite Void Imperial Stout, which comes in at 15 percent alcohol by volume and was released on Tuesday.
Device’s Beer Week numbers are impressive, but some of that might be attributed to the brewery’s rapid growth overall. From 2015 to 2016, beer sold to accounts (bottle shops, bars, restaurants, etc.) grew by 350 percent. Device owner Ken Anthony is one of the top brewing talents around, but he knows that to continue to grow, he’ll need a more engaged, savvier and expanding consumer base. That was the thinking behind the Device beer education and tasting event on the eve of Beer Week. The response? Sold out, at $40 per person.
“It was people who were hungry to learn – how to evaluate beer, how to distinguish styles. They learned about ingredients and the brewing process,” Anthony told me.
And if they were dialed in, they would know about Friday’s release of Curious Haze, a Northeast-style India pale ale that’s hazy, bursting with tropical fruit and citrus aromas. It costs $16 for four cans and, to my dismay, will be long gone by the time I get off work!