Meet Sean Brannan, a craft beer enthusiast with a competitive streak that recently served him well. Just the other day – on National Beer Day, no less – Brannan became the first person to complete the Sacramento Beer Frontier Brewery Passport.
Starting on Feb. 26 with a stop at Device Brewing, he visited all 52 participating breweries in the region in about six weeks, collected a passport stamp from each and tasted 110 beers.
It’s not only a very cool accomplishment, it says plenty about how craft beer has helped redefine the Sacramento area for the better. If you’re looking for a fun adventure that will help you see the area in a new and engaging way this spring and summer, you might want to follow in Brannan’s footsteps and complete the passport yourself.
Aaron O’Callaghan, the creator of the passport and the brewery map, confirmed Brannan is the first to achieve the feat. About 1,000 people are actively using the passport, which costs $14, and at least 15 are three-quarters of the way through. You get a special pint glass when you collect your first 16 stamps.
“There was some good, friendly ribbing going on among a handful of folks who were really trying to make this happen,” O’Callaghan said.
I sat down with the affable Brannan, known to many as the host of Little Sean’s Big Quiz at several local breweries, to ask about his passport peregrinations and, now that he’s finished, what he thinks about Sacramento beer. Our meeting place? Capitol Beer and Tap Room on a Tuesday, moments after it opened at 11 a.m..
After Device, which he considers a home away from home, Brannan kicked it into high gear and got motoring.
“What I like about (the passport) is you can make a whole bunch of little beer trips out of it. I would go to an area where there would be a bunch of breweries. The (fold-out) map (that’s included in the passport) makes it easy. There are so many that are clustered right up with each other. The biggest single trip I did was in early March,” he told me.
Starting at Moonraker in Auburn that epic day, he went to eight breweries in a single day, including Three Forks and Ol’ Republic in Nevada City, the three other breweries in Auburn (Auburn Alehouse, Knee Deep and Crooked Lane), Cool Beerwerks and Gold Hill Brewery.
I asked about the highlights, and there were many.
“As far as pure visuals, the location itself, Gold Hill was one of them. Once I got off the main highway, it was almost half an hour driving through the mountains and then two minutes down a dirt road. But at the end of this dirt road, on the very highest part of the Gold Hill property, is where they put the taproom. It was just beautiful.
“I got the same type of feel in a different way when I went out to GoatHouse – I loved GoatHouse. The people there were so cool. It’s all on their farm. Amazing beer. Goats hanging out in the back. And probably the best nonalcoholic beverage I had at all 52 breweries.”
Brannan and I agreed on many of the elevated beer experiences, including the superb barrel-aged beers at Mraz in El Dorado Hills and the excellent beer and vibe at Berryessa in the Winters countryside. Blue Note in Woodland? He was blown away by the quality there, too. Sudwerk’s barrel-aged imperial lager introduced him to a style he had never heard of, let alone tasted (he loved it).
Which leads us to the big question, one best answered by a serious beer enthusiast who has seen and tasted all the Sacramento region has to offer. How do we stack up?
“I think our quality is up at the top, comparable with anywhere. San Diego and Portland (Ore.), of course, are the bigger ones, but they’re also some of the bigger ones in the world. I try their beers regularly, and I don’t think we lose to them at all. We might not be as well-known because they’ve had more time getting national distribution, but that’s changing,” he said.
Agree or disagree? Grab your passport, fold out that map and start exploring.