I just got off the phone with the owner of a well-known brewery from the Bay Area (can’t tell you who it was or why I was calling, though I hope to be able to soon). We got to talking about Sacramento’s growing reputation as a great town for craft beer. This was not the case, he said, six or seven years ago, though there’s no disputing it now.
The Sacramento area has grown up beer-wise and we’re getting lots of attention. Consumers here are knowledgeable and supportive. This much we know.
But less clear is what to do with all these breweries and all the award-winning beer in our midst. Will breweries continue to go it alone in hopes of building their businesses one by one? Or is there now an opportunity to promote the beer scene as a whole and generate far more attention and enthusiasm than any one brewery could?
In March, I told you about a brewery map created by Aaron O’Callaghan, a beer enthusiast who saw an opportunity to help people focus on what was actually emerging here. He made the map for Sacramento Beer Week, which is the most comprehensive event to date for promoting the regional beer scene. O’Callaghan figured the map could show visitors and locals alike the way to all that local beer.
Now comes Phase II. O’Callaghan has been working behind the scenes with the Sacramento Area Brewers Guild to create an official beer destination initiative. You’ve seen the wine trail idea. This is the beer trail, dubbed the Sacramento Beer Frontier, with rewards for visiting a certain number of brewery tasting rooms.
Visit three breweries, for example, and you get a custom bottle opener; 15-20 breweries and you’ve earned a limited edition pint glass with custom logo.
O’Callaghan is using Kickstarter to raise money to launch the program, and he’s already received confirmation from 20 breweries that they’ll get involved. Sudwerk Brewing co-owner Trenton Yackzan sees this as an important step for a thriving beer community looking for a focused marketing message.
“Now that there are 50 breweries, we’ve got to find a way to work together to make us all stronger,” Yackzan said. “The ultimate goal behind it is how can we get people to actually use the map? How can they go out and actually visit breweries?”
The organizers came up with a passport-type program in which you get a booklet stamped each time you visit a new brewery. The more breweries you visit, the more stamps you accumulate and the more prizes you win. Visit all 50-and-counting breweries? Yes, they’re working on a reward for that!
Yackzan thinks this will especially help new breweries reach out to a larger pool of potential customers.
“A lot of these people are in extreme startup mode,” Yackzan said. “They don’t have time. They don’t have marketing dollars. This map could drive people to their breweries and let them tell their story.”
There are all kinds of ways to use this map and collect passport stamps. Pick a few for a bike-friendly outing. Make plans for a road trip to visit outlying breweries. Pinpoint one or two you have yet to try and make a point to get out there and get your passport stamped.
The Sacramento area beer scene already has a sense of community and a very enthusiastic consumer base. The Beer Frontier concept can be a win-win for craft beer – more opportunities for beer enthusiasts to have meaningful experiences, more chances for breweries to make new friends and build their customer base.
Mama Bear has it
When I met with Yackzan, we chatted over a couple of beers. and there’s one in particular I must tell you about. Yackzan calls it Mama Bear – the actual beer that launched Sudwerk’s superb barrel-aging program through its Brewer’s Cut series. These limited release beers are reserved mostly for the Brewer’s Cut club members, with small quantities available at the Sudwerk Dock Store (2001 Second St., Davis) and nowhere else.
Barrel aging is such an appealing way to make beer because it can offer a heightened drinking experience for those looking for nuance, complexity, balance, mystery. When Yackzan popped the cap on a bottle, we didn’t know what to think. He had yet to taste it. It had been aging and gathering all those interesting microbes while sealed in a Merlot French oak wine barrel.
The body was surprisingly light, and there was a long, gentle build of flavors that had melded so well over time, with a burst of apricot on the finish. This terrific beer is also available for a short time at the Dock Store.
If you haven’t tried Sudwerk in a while, you owe it to yourself to see how the brewery has updated its lineup and created some incredible new beers without losing its grasp on the centuries-old German brewing traditions that have defined it since opening in 1989.