If you consider yourself a beer aficionado and you don't know about Track 7, you're late to the party.
I've dropped in several times in recent months and I can't think of a beer experience I have enjoyed more than this one. It's easy, low-key, affordable and inspiring.
You pull off busy Sutterville Road into a grimy industrial park not far from Sacramento City College and there it is, an expansive cinder-block building where you'd expect to encounter a guy in grease-stained Dickies who will rebuild your radiator or straighten a bent axle.
Instead, there are crowds of folks hanging out and tasting some of the best beer going.
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Since Track 7 Brewing Co. opened nearly 18 months ago in this unlikely but instantly cool locale, scores of beer lovers have not only discovered this place, they've anointed it as a community hub. While adults of all ages and from all walks of life sip beer and socialize, kids play in the parking lot and dogs snooze at their owners' feet.
In the early days, Track 7 had to beg food trucks to drop by. Now they're clamoring to be there, and some are customizing their menus to pair with the beer.
There's plenty of beer to see and sample – the subtle Beeline Blonde infused with local honey, the Panic IPA that's robust, edgy and balanced with plenty of hops but none of the harshness. The daring might opt for the powerful, hoppy Big 4 strong ale; 10 percent alcohol by volume, it's a way to taste the expressive qualities of the four main "C" hops – Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus.
In recent weeks, Track 7 started bottling its beer and selling it in local stores. Now it has to wrestle with new questions. How will its product stand out? What is Track 7's message? And how does that come through in its beer? For now, it's all a work in progress.
Nevertheless, when we talk about how craft beer is booming in Sacramento – about how these high- quality upstarts can infuse this region with new kinds of charm, personality and economic significance – this scene off Sutterville is what we're getting at.
Track 7 is the work of two couples – Geoff and Becca Scott and Ryan and Jeanna Graham – who launched their dream with no advertising and little fanfare.
Ryan Graham, the 33- year-old brewmaster with two master's degrees (one is in international relations, the other urban and regional planning), started home-brewing as a teenager and never stopped.
The brewery has become a key part of the neighborhood. When Graham, who often works 16-hour days, looks out at the crowd, he'll see neighbors. He'll see kids who might go to school with his kids.
"We did take this very seriously," he said, noting that Track 7 just hired two more employees. "We're not just here to capitalize on what's a bull beer market at the moment."
Soon enough, they'll pony up for an HVAC system so folks can enjoy their beers without succumbing to the summer swelter. They'll also install bike racks. Yes, people ride here in droves. They walk. They drive. It's well worth the trip.
Track 7, 3747 W. Pacific Ave., Suite F, Sacramento, (916) 520-4677; track7brewing.com
May is Bike Month. Buy a pepperoni pizza and a pint of New Belgium's Shift Pale Ale (the one with a bike gears on the can) for $10 at any Cafe Bernardo location and the restaurant will donate $1 to the American River Parkway Foundation.
What we're tasting: Track 7 Panic IPA, an excellent bold and balanced India pale ale in the distinctive West Coast style, meaning that hoppy burst on the palate with a pleasing bitterness lingering on the finish.
Upcoming events: May 15, Track 7 tap takeover at Capitol Beer and Tap Room, 2222 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento.
Where we're headed next: Extreme Pizza and Hot City Pizza, which have distinguished themselves from other pizzerias in part by focusing on serving great beer.
Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.