Now playing at a movie theater near you: Beer, and plenty of it

People line up to buy tickets at the Palladio 16 Cinemas in Folsom on Dec. 25, 2015.
People line up to buy tickets at the Palladio 16 Cinemas in Folsom on Dec. 25, 2015.

Just three years ago, not a single daily-use movie theater in the Sacramento area served beer. Now eight of them do, with more on the way.

Currently, the Tower Theatre, Esquire IMAX, Century Arden, Palladio 16 and Palladio Luxe in El Dorado Hills, Regal Natomas, UA Laguna and Studio Movie Grill in Rocklin all offer beer on tap (and sometimes in bottles). The Blue Oaks Century in Roseville expects to add beer service by the end of the year. (The Crest Theatre also serves beer in its sunken lounge, with taps curated by the adjacent Empress Tavern, but the classic movie palace shows only a few repertory films a month.)

Theaters make most of their money from concession – not ticket – sales, so in many respects, offering beer is a no-brainer for proprietors looking to boost bottom lines in an era of on-demand entertainment. But are any of these theaters truly catering to craft beer fans? And are they embracing or ignoring the thriving local beer scene?

An on-site tap survey during the first week of October confirmed that craft beer is becoming more ubiquitous at area movie theaters, with local options showing up at some spots as well. However, their mass-market cousins were far more prevalent. Almost every movie theater in the area offers some or all from the unholy trinity of Coors Light, Stella Artois and Blue Moon. And you’re much more likely to find “corporate craft” options such as Heineken-owned Lagunitas or Anheuser-InBev-owned 10 Barrel than a “true craft” option such as Track 7 Panic IPA.

Part of this is practical. Beer is an amenity offered by theaters once patrons already have purchased tickets, not a draw in and of itself. Most multiplexes are part of national or international corporate chains, so they’re catering to everyone, not to the specialized audience of craft beer. They need to stock beers that move, not beers that enhance their reputation, and despite the growing market share of independent craft breweries, macro beer still runs the world.

But part of this is systemic. Even though it has storied cinematic history that goes back to the silent era, Sacramento lacks a strong film culture, and there has been a longtime dearth of neighborhood theaters in the area. Go to the Bay Area or Oregon, and you’ll find lots of surviving single-, double- and triple-screen theaters serving their communities (and often whatever beer they chose). But minus the Tower and Crest, every movie theater in Sacramento is a multiplex, and it’s been that way for decades.

Still, Sacramento is a beer city, and its theaters have started to reflect that. The three-screen Tower, the only true daily-use neighborhood theater left in the area, started serving beer earlier this year, and it unsurprisingly offers the best array of local beers. Currently, Tower has only two taps, now pouring Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA and Track 7 Bee Line Blonde. (I’ve worked behind that snack bar, and trust me when I say it’s truly a feat of engineering that they fit even one keg back there.) Bottle options are even better, with three more Track 7 brews along with beers from Device and Knee Deep.

Knee Deep is proving to be the most popular local brewery at area theaters. During my survey, its beer appeared on taps at both Palladio theaters in El Dorado Hills and at the Studio Movie Grill in Rocklin. Studio Movie Grill also offered beers by Loomis Basin and Auburn Alehouse on tap, while the Esquire IMAX stocked a pale ale from Mraz.

A flight of beers at GoatHouse. Daniel Barnes

New farmhouse brewery

The farmhouse brewery tradition originated centuries ago in Belgium and France, got Americanized on the East Coast, and now has started taking root in Placer County.

After a brief soft-opening period, Hillenbrand Farmhaus in Newcastle held its grand opening Oct. 7, joining 4-year-old farmhouse brewery GoatHouse and the upcoming Dueling Dogs, both in Lincoln.

Hillenbrand offered five solid beers on opening day: a saison, a blonde, a pineapple IPA, a passionfruit kettle sour and the most surprisingly tasty entry – a s’mores-flavored, mahogany-colored brown ale served on a nitro tap.

Beer of the week

Auburn brewery Moonraker helped popularize the Northeast style of unfiltered IPAs on the West Coast, and its commitment to haze has only increased as of late.

A recent visit to its tasting room found 21 beers on tap, nearly half of them hazy IPAs. Putting together a tasting flight of a half-dozen hazy IPAs turned into an exercise in redundant greatness. To paraphrase “The Simpsons”: It felt like L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer were selling me the same honey.

And yet the crazy-juicy Northeast-style Double IPA Boruca Diablo (8.5 percent ABV) still stood out, with fruity aromas of orange and berry bouncing out of the glass, and deliciously creamy flavors of citrus, melon and wet grass welcoming the tongue.

Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer, film critic, beer enthusiast and one half of the blog “His & Her Beer Notes.” He can be reached at