Don’t expect a long-winded speech from Claimstake brewmaster Brian Palmer during his company's second-anniversary celebration later this month.
“I’m not a limelight kind of guy,” said Palmer, who opened the popular craft brewery and taproom in Rancho Cordova with his father-in-law and former homebrewing partner Mike Ryan. “I like to stay in the background and have fun."
It's unlikely, though, that Palmer will be able to operate from the shadows for much longer. Claimstake consistently appears as one of the top five local breweries on influential beer-rating site Untappd. Its tasting room may not be the trendiest, but the brewery has developed an intensely loyal customer base in what is supposed to be the post loyal-customer-base era of craft beer.
“I think they’re growing organically, and they’re pretty much selling as much beer as they can make out of their taproom,” said Capitol Beer and Taproom owner Kenny Hotchkiss. “They’re growing in the right way; they’re not just fake hype.”
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Hotchkiss helped propel Palmer and Ryan from amateurs to professionals when the duo won CapTap’s first ever homebrewing competition in 2013 with Quaker’s Revenge, a “maple and brown sugar double oatmeal stout.”
As part of the prize, Palmer and Ryan were able to brew their winning recipe at San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery, which sponsored the competition. “I think that spawned our idea that we can brew on a commercial system,” Palmer said. “Obviously, when you have a master brewer showing you how to use a system, it’s a lot easier than when you get your own system."
Claimstake eventually paid Hotchkiss back by creating Kenny MF’n Hotchkiss, a tropical IPA brewed in honor of CapTap’s five-year anniversary. Palmer and Ryan name their beers after friends, customers, colleagues, bands or one-time events, a tradition that goes back to their homebrewing days.
“Trying to have a meaning is important for us for everything that we do,” Palmer said. “I really want every name of every beer to have a story."
Even their five fermentation tanks are named after friends who helped build the brewery: Shane and Chris were plumber pals of Palmer’s father; childhood chum Barry was an electrician who helped wire the brewhouse; Mike was a family friend who put up the drywall; and Dave was the neighbor who got Palmer interested in craft beer in the first place.
A beer fan first and a brewer second, Palmer said he still prefers the West Coast IPAs and imperial stouts that originally captured his imagination. But he works to make sure Claimstake always offers a nice mix of styles.
“It’s not completely about what we like to drink," Palmer said. "It’s really about giving an experience to our regulars, our locals and our customers with a diverse (menu) board. The red ales we brew ... I probably drink one glass out of each batch just to see how it is, and I never touch it again.”
When Claimstake opened two years ago in a Rancho Cordova business park, it was an anomaly in the area. But now it’s the veteran of that city’s ever-growing Barrel District. “We knew back then that (local officials) wanted to get Rancho Cordova up with the breweries and the wineries, distilleries, meaderies, and they’re doing that now,” Palmer said.
Palmer and Ryan own their building in Rancho Cordova, and they’re in no hurry to open additional Claimstake locations. Expanding the brewhouse capacity and adding additional hours of operation currently are their top priorities.
For their anniversary celebration on March 24-25, Palmer said the brewery will open one hour earlier — 11 a.m. — but won't stay open past the usual closing time. “We don’t want too much of a late-night party,” Palmer said.
Characteristically, Claimstake wants to make its anniversary celebration about the beer, and to that end, it will release a mixed four-pack of collaborations. It brewed hazy IPAs with Fieldwork of Berkeley and Dionysus of Bakersfield and a “hybrid IPA” with Revision Brewing of Sparks, Nev. It also harmonized with Inu Island Ales of Oahu, Hawaii on a kettle sour finished with Hawaiian Punch powder.
"(Palmer and Ryan) are not really after flagship beers," Hotchkiss said. "They’re just trying to push the envelope and be creative. People want something new, and they always come out with something new.”
Claimstake Brewing Company: 11366 Monier Park Place, Rancho Cordova; 916-661-5249; claimstakebrewing.com
Beer of the week
Depending on which contrarian is talking, so-called “pastry stouts” (i.e., sweet stouts brewed with baking ingredients like chocolate, peanut butter and vanilla) will either save the craft beer industry or destroy it.
As with kettle sours and hazy IPAs, the style often is either overzealously admired or automatically dismissed. But as with any style, nuance counts, and a good brewery probably makes a good version of it.
Piano-key black with a beach-sand-colored head, New Glory’s Ace Venchurro (9 percent ABV) was brewed with lactose, cinnamon, vanilla and whole churros, but the result is surprisingly restrained and complex, with savory and spicy notes up front and bitter chocolate on the finish.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.