Cannabis-beer combos and other hot topics at upcoming California Craft Beer Summit

Dan Connolly, left, and Brian Palmer, co-owners of Claimstake Brewing in Rancho Cordova taste beers during the 2016 California Craft Beer Summit. The 2017 summit runs Sept. 7-9 in Sacramento.
Dan Connolly, left, and Brian Palmer, co-owners of Claimstake Brewing in Rancho Cordova taste beers during the 2016 California Craft Beer Summit. The 2017 summit runs Sept. 7-9 in Sacramento.

The inaugural California Craft Beer Summit in 2015 drew a few thousand people to the Sacramento Convention Center, with industry professionals and dedicated consumers gathering to mingle, talk about and taste the state’s brewing scene.

The event, now in its third year, is experiencing growth that mirrors California’s thriving craft beer industry. Organizers expect approximately 6,000 people to attend this year’s summit, which runs Thursday, Sept. 7, through Saturday, Sept. 9. About 200 of the state’s breweries will be represented, 160 of which will be pouring at Saturday’s outdoor beer festival on Capitol Mall.

The summit features guest speakers, educational sessions, and chef and brewer demos, many geared toward professionals but open to anyone who wants to purchase a ticket. Scheduled speakers include Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and David Walker of Firestone Walker, who is slated to discuss the evolving beer market.

Seminar subjects will include how to discern hop flavor and aroma, starting a brewery, marketing your beer and compensation within the industry. Cooking demonstrations will explore such topics as pairing beers with brunch.

Whether you plan to attend or sip your craft brew in the comforts of home, here are five beer-related issues that should be popular topics at this year’s summit:

The nexus of cannabis and beer

One of the event’s first seminars will examine how the legalization of recreational marijuana in California might affect the beer industry. Lori Ajax, chief of California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, will lead the talk – largely for brewers – on topics such as cross-licensing.

Could cannabis find its way into actual beer? It already has. Lagunitas Brewing Co., based in Petaluma, recently released its SuperCritical Ale brewed with terpenes, compounds of essential oils extracted from plants including cannabis and hops. The beer reportedly does not contain THC, the compound that gets you “high.”

Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, said he doesn’t expect this to become a trend, though. Colorado and Washington, states where recreational marijuana use has been legal, haven’t seen an outpouring of cannabis-infused beers, McCormick said, possibly because taste-wise it doesn’t add much to the brew.

Women and craft beer

Rachael Akin, a co-founder of San Diego’s Benchmark Brewing Company, will lead a Thursday seminar about how to make the industry more gender balanced.

Akin is Benchmark’s “brand czar,” managing the brewery’s sales and marketing (her husband, Matt, is the brewmaster). Akin said a prominent theme of her talk will be the need for brewers to be inclusive in their marketing strategies as women – especially younger women – become a bigger part of craft beer’s consumer group and workforce.

“Some of the issues that come up are things like ‘Buxom Blonde’ as a beer name and how that sort of sends a message not only to people who might potentially be interested in working in the industry, but who might potentially want to drink that beer,” Akin said. “I know people argue that it’s just a joke and all that stuff, but if your joke is costing you business, maybe it’s time to reconsider it.”

Pink Boots Society, an organization formed to support women in the beer profession, will also hold a mixer Thursday evening at midtown’s Federalist Public House.

Breweries closing on the local level

It surprised many when Rubicon, one of Sacramento’s longest-standing craft breweries, recently announced it would be ceasing operations. Around the same time, American River Brewing of Rancho Cordova closed its doors, fueling questions of whether Sacramento is experiencing a beer bubble.

McCormick said he does expect to see more such closures throughout the state.

“You just can’t have the growth and the numbers that we’ve been seeing go on forever,” he said.

In recent years, McCormick said, California has seen new breweries opening at a rate of two per week – or about 100 every year. Many of those are small craft breweries, but at some point, he said, the trend must “balance itself out.”

“I wouldn’t at all consider it a bursting of a bubble,” he said. “I think it’s a maturing of the industry and a natural healthy progression.”

The popularity of hazy, juicy IPAs

McCormick said no one style is “all the rage” on the beer scene right now – but the closest is probably the Northeast-style IPA.

Unlike the typical West Coast IPA, the Northeast IPA has more of a “juicy, tropical aroma and flavor that comes from the use of English yeasts and hop breeds like Citra and Mosaic,” according to Imbibe magazine. The Northeast version often has a softer mouth-feel than West Coast IPAs, the magazine wrote, and is hazier and less bitter.

While the summit celebrates a full range of styles, McCormick said, he anticipates that a number of breweries will showcase Northeast-style IPAs at the beer festival.

Competition from the big boys

A major summit theme, McCormick said, will be competition on the beer market – especially from large global breweries entering the craft beer scene by buying up smaller local breweries.

For example, McCormick pointed to Anheuser-Busch InBev purchasing a series of craft breweries in recent years, including Chicago’s Goose Island and Golden Road Brewing of Los Angeles, which has plans to open a brewpub in midtown Sacramento.

The trend, McCormick said, could affect both consumers (who could have less variety to choose from) and smaller brewers (who might be forced off of grocery store shelves or tap handles by corporate-owned brands).

Regulations exist to level the playing field for craft brewers. McCormick said part of the role of the CCBA, which puts on the California Craft Beer Summit, is to protect those regulations.

The California Craft Beer Summit

When: Thursday, Sept. 7, through Saturday, Sept. 9.

Where: Sacramento Convention Center (1400 J St.), with the Summit Beer Festival held on Capitol Mall

Cost: $60-$299