I have a few cynical friends who have been joking lately that they’re going to start a new business venture – used brewery equipment.
Yes, craft breweries have been opening faster than you can say hoppy with a malt spine. And those of us who have been taking in all of the action have been wondering for at least a year: can this pace continue? Or will some of these start-ups sputter and fail?
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen because many of us believe Sacramento is nowhere close to the saturation point when it comes to craft breweries. Several of these breweries have been flourishing, and we’re seeing more and more of them bottling and canning and competing for retail shelf space.
But what about beer bars (and some restaurants that specialize in beer)? When do we reach overkill? This comes into focus more than ever with the recent opening of University of Beer on 16th Street (there is another location in Davis). This sparkling brew pub/sports bar has 100 beers on tap. Beer snobs will scoff and say that’s the carpet-bomb approach to beer. But it looks like University of Beer intends to be a serious player.
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I visited during its first week and enjoyed a very nice Petrus aged pale ale in a tulip glass. The bar was loaded with TVs and the acoustics were terrible – LowBrau can no longer hold its head in shame as the noisiest, echo-chamber beer joint on the grid. The crowd was also very young. (The doorman called me “sir,” which made me feel entirely non-hipster. Whatevs.)
From my perspective, if you’re a serious beer joint, you don’t need a bunch of screens with SportsCenter on mute to hold our interest. But others see it differently and competition will allow us more choices. I wouldn’t mind watching the Floyd Mayweather fight on Sept. 13 at Alley Katz, however.
With Firestone Public House and de Vere’s a few blocks away at 16th and L streets, LowBrau nearby on 20th, Pour House on Q Street and Alley Katz on O Street, there is now some big-time competition in bars focused on craft beer. And don’t forget K Street’s Der Biergarten and the soon-opening Federalist Public House near 20th and N streets. Personalities and tendencies are emerging. Service and product knowledge is improving. The last two times I have visited LowBrau, I was blown away by how good the service was and how the beer list was so wonderfully conceived.
Several restaurants are now heavily into beer, including Burgers and Brew in midtown, 1022 in Old Sacramento and Blackbird downtown. In East Sacramento, The Shack, Hot City Pizza and Clark’s Corner are all top-notch beer spots.
Beyond the grid, Capitol Beer & Taproom is poised to compete with its superb beer selection that changes constantly. Pangaea has established itself as a leader, and it even has its own lambic bar. Final Gravity and Boneshaker Public House in Rocklin are getting serious props for their excellent beer lists and stylish settings. And let’s not forget Yard House, a beer-focused chain with a super-sized beer list.
Do all these choices mean something’s got to give? Or are we on the verge of becoming known as a great beer town, along the lines of Portland or San Diego? Some think we’re headed that way. There’s certainly some momentum to suggest that. I asked Troy Paski, longtime owner of Hoppy Brewing, if the bubble was about to burst or if the growth will continue.
Says Paski: “Sacramento is and has been 10 to 15 years behind Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego here on the West Coast, and others around the country. … I think some of the brewery tasting rooms will grow into brewpubs. I think some of the fake tap houses will go away. … Consumers will figure out when they’re being taken advantage of.”
All of this competition and these new openings are exciting. They bring new energy to the city. They make consumers more savvy. Six people at the table behind me at LowBrau on recent weekday were engaged in a conversation about “brettanomyces” (a form of yeast) and Belgian farmhouse ales . You didn’t hear much of that five years ago.