When the explosion of new breweries began about four years back, the cynics eventually started to wonder which ones would go bust first and how long it would take.
But that hasn’t happened yet. As the new beer scene melds with the old, we’ve started to look to places like San Diego and Portland when someone raises the question, “How much is too much?” Those great beer towns have yet to overdo it. And given Sacramento’s marketing demographics, which suggest an abundance of discerning and enthusiastic craft beer consumers, our saturation point just might be way off in the future.
Sure, there are some underperforming local breweries and some underwhelming beers. But several terrific breweries more than make up for it, and the best ones are not resting on their laurels.
The questions no one really seemed to be asking a couple of years ago, as the boom hit full stride, were, “Which of the newcomers would exceed expectations?” and “Which humble, little brewery would dial up good beer and dial in all the little things that add up to a pleasing beer-drinking experience?” The answer is Bike Dog Brewing.
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It started even before its grand opening, the catalyst for something of a West Sacramento craft beer festival, complete with a packed house, plenty of bikes, lots of dogs, food trucks, beer, laughter, optimism and, by the time it wound down, an infusion of goodwill.
Bike Dog celebrated its second anniversary last week, and it’s worth taking a look at what this once-tiny brewery has done so well. It’s owned and operated by four guys – A.J. Tendick, Sage Smith, Raef Porter and Pete Atwood – who kept their day jobs. The business plan at the outset was modest. Make small batches of good beer, become a community hub for people to drop by and have a good time, get the beer into select pubs and restaurants, and see what happens from there.
As someone who has frequented the tasting room since a pre-opening event with my West Coast IPA-loving pit bull, Ruby, I have seen Bike Dog grow from fledgling nano brewery to breakout star, with all kinds of upside. To me, here are some of the reasons Bike Dog is thriving:
1. The beer. The brewery started out with a very solid IPA and a couple of other beers, and really honed its craft. Yes, the beer was good from the outset and has continued to evolve, with a highly touted milk stout, a tasty saison, a wonderfully pungent and delicious Mosaic pale ale, a variety of IPAs and, for the anniversary bash, a new brew, Cone of Shame IPA, that pushes the flavor and aroma profiles beyond the brewery’s style zone.
2. Likability. The four owners, despite their full-time jobs, share the workload and have a presence in the tasting room. They tell their story well. They’re active on social media. They’re friendly, modest, enthusiastic. They’re beer nerds who truly love the craft beer industry. Despite the stress and strain of running a business, maintaining family relations and managing growth, they seem to be truly living the dream.
3. Identity. Bike Dog is cool. But it doesn’t try to be cool. The charming logo has become instantly recognizable and looks great on T-shirts, caps and glassware. The name may have seemed odd or awkward at first, but now it fits and just rolls off the tongue. These days, Bike Dog is synonymous with good beer and a good time at a cool location.
4. Loyalty. The place is filled with regulars – canines and humans alike. Because the brewery had an underdog vibe from the outset and set up in an industrial park in West Sacramento, it was easy to pull for this place. The sincerity shined through.
Now, Bike Dog has lost its puppy teeth and is becoming a big dog. It heads into its third year with plenty of momentum and some potential pitfalls.
How will it manage its growth? It has already taken over the space next door, doubled its footprint and dramatically expanded its equipment and brewing output. But it has also outgrown its current facility, and relocating once its lease is up in two years seems inevitable. As you grow and change and prosper, the magic can sometimes slip away. Things get busy. It starts to feel more like a business than an avocation.
With Bike Dog doing so well and West Sacramento poised to become a craft beer destination – brewing star Jeremy Warren’s Revision Brewing is set to join the party – now is hardly the time to ask when it will all come crashing down. With so much talent and great beer being brewed locally, it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ride.