Due to a mix-up, we all found out about the winners of the California State Fair Commercial Craft Beer competition several days sooner than we were supposed to.
Apparently, the list of winners is not locked up in a bomb-proof briefcase and guarded by a bunch of suits from Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that famously counts Academy Award ballots.
As we understand it, someone inadvertently posted the lengthy list in the Craft Beer booth at the fair more than a week before the awards ceremony.
The secret was out.
And a proud Julien Lux, owner of New Glory Brewing, was spotted snapping a picture of the list of winners. His porter took first place and he wanted to break the news on social media, as well he should.
OK, maybe this “leak” is not much of a scandal, but it certainly gives me a jump on telling you about the latest good news on the Sacramento-area beer scene. Indeed, the breweries around here showed very well against some incredible craft breweries in this high-profile competition.
Along with New Glory’s prize, New Helvetia won first place in the Light Lager category with Buffalo Lager; Berryessa Brewing claimed top honors in the increasingly popular Session beer category; and Coloma Brown, one of my longstanding favorites from American River Brewing, took the gold medal in the American Ale category. It also placed third in Best of Show. With a balance of dark chocolate and coffee notes, it’s as pleasing to the eye as it is to the taste buds.
“When we designed the beer originally, we were looking to be able to push the category as far as we could,” said David Mathis of American River Brewing, in Rancho Cordova.
What does winning a big beer prize do for a small Sacramento brewery?
“Whenever you win a prestigious award, which is definitely what the California State Fair is, it brings recognition to the brewery and to the beer itself,” Mathis said. “It brings attention to the Sacramento region and, specifically, Rancho Cordova.”
In addition to those claiming first place prizes, several other breweries showed well (second, third or honorable mention) in a range of categories, including Sudwerk, Lodi Beer Co., Mraz, Yolo Brewing, Ol’ Republic and Track 7.
“It reinforces what we all believe as brewers in the Sacramento region – that we’re ready to explode on the national level as a craft beer destination,” Mathis said.
That’s a bold statement, but there are enough good beers out there these days to back it up. When you go to a place like Berryessa Brewing in Winters and taste the quality of brewing in such a wide range of styles, you can see how this region is seriously upping its beer game.
Berryessa’s brewmaster, Chris Miller, is a big proponent of session beers – ones that are low in alcohol without skimping on flavor. His session saison bested entries from heavy-hitters 21st Amendment and Firestone Walker.
“It’s a fun category and I’m glad they actually added that,” Miller said. “We love those light beers, and I’m glad people are becoming more accepting of them. There is barely any hops in it and it’s super dry and crisp. It’s perfect for 110-degree heat.”
Referring to all the local breweries showing up on the State Fair prize list, Miller said, “It looks like Sacramento cleaned up.”
Another good choice for hot-weather quaffing is Buffalo Lager, which is a craft beer version of, say, Budweiser or Coors Light. The Light Lager category is especially respected by brewing aficionados because the simplicity of a light lager means that any flaws in flavor, color or aroma are readily apparent.
“We’re thrilled about it,” said New Helvetia’s David Gull. “This is the beer that essentially founded New Helvetia Brewing Company. We’re selling a ton of it and we’re excited it’s being recognized.”
Julien Lux of New Glory told me he’s unsure if winning gold for his porter, Heavy Cruiser, will translate into increased sales for the beer, which is available in stores in 22-ounce bottles. They plan to market it that way with point-of-sale signage about the State Fair prize.
“It means a lot to us,” Lux said. “We have won a couple of medals before, but nothing as prestigious as the State Fair. We’re really excited.”
On a more esoteric note, Rubicon Brewing, one of Sacramento’s old-guard craft breweries, showed its edgy, creative side by taking top honors in the specialty IPA category with a beer called Grapefruit Hopsauce. Watch for next week’s Beer Run when I’ll tell you about Rubicon’s summer beer series called SMASH. The idea is to make four distinct beers by using the same pale malt with four different hop varieties. I tasted the first one recently with German Huell Melon hops, and it was outstanding.