Of all the pizzerias in town, two stand out as bona fide destinations for the serious beer connoisseur.
Extreme Pizza on Exposition Boulevard and Hot City Pizza on J Street in east Sacramento may look like modest, unassuming pizza joints. But their beer selections have transformed their business models.
Although Extreme Pizza is a chain, this one is unique. It has 11 taps featuring craft beers exclusively. Hot City has 14 taps and a small but obsessively curated selection of bottled beer for sale.
During Sacramento Beer Week in February (when the line for beer and pizza spilled out onto the sidewalk), I dropped by Hot City to find all of the taps devoted to the once-strange and esoteric world of sour beer, several of which had been aged in barrels for three or more years.
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On another day, it was all India Pale Ale on draft at Hot City, including a relatively refined Ballast Point Sculpin IPA as well as a beverage aptly named the Palate Wrecker by Green Flash – an exceptionally bitter explosion of hops that scrapes across the tongue in a way that will either dazzle you or make you gasp with anguish.
Hot City owner Colby Pettenger wasn't always a craft beer aficionado. Three years ago, beer was beer – until he tasted a Chimay Blue Cap.
"It made me realize the complexity that beer could really have," he said.
Hot City started selling craft beer. Word spread, and it went from a struggling pizzeria to a craft beer hot spot.
"That was our turning point," Pettenger said. "The worst month we ever had was right before we got (craft) beer. It's only gotten better."
For a tiny pizzeria in a tiny strip mall, the offerings at Hot City are astounding. When did Sacramento grow up like this and demand world-class beer – odd, edgy, esoteric – so different from the Heineken, Budweiser and even Stella Artois world of not so long ago?
During Beer Week, I had an MOA Imperial Stout that had been aged in pinot noir barrels, and a Trois Dames Winter Sour. Excellent beers – and incredibly different from the mainstream beer-is-beer mindset.
At Extreme Pizza, it's a little less extreme, oddly enough. In 2007, when proprietor Fred Munday bought a franchise, it had the standard beer selection.
Then one night, he stopped by Rubicon Bewing Co. in midtown, had one of its excellent fermented creations and everything changed. Munday started with four taps of craft beer and that grew to 11. Different beers rotate in and out.
"We've never looked back," Munday said. "Our beer sales have increased double-digits every year. As we went through the recession, I think it was our craft beer that kept us going."
I asked Munday how he deals with newcomers to craft beer.
"Teaching has become a very important part of the business," he said. "You sit down and you talk to them. That's something I do best. We always try to have something on tap that a novice craft beer person would enjoy. Once they got to like that, I would move them up to a pale ale or even an IPA."
Whether you're a newcomer, seasoned beer lover or someone seeking the newest, edgiest offerings available, put Extreme and Hot City on your to-do list.
The employees are helpful and low-key – and they won't look at you oddly if you don't know the difference between a lambic and a lager.
Saturday from 1-5 p.m. is the 14th annual West Coast Brew Fest at Miller Park. Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the gate. For more info: www.westcoastbrewfest.com.
Beer & Ballet, May 24, 7-9 p.m.: One of Sacramento's great cultural traditions continues with this informal way of seeing the dancers perform wonderful works they've created themselves. Beer is sponsored by Ruhstaller and Low Brau. Tickets are $35. Sacramento Ballet studio, 1631 K St., Sacramento. For tickets, (916) 552-5200 or www.sacballet.org.
Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @blarob.