They piled out of cars driven by their chauffeurs and made their way through Sactown Union Brewery's front gates, chattering excitedly among themselves. They were drunk on the success of their recently concluded Little League season and ready to guzzle down whatever sodas were being sold out of the food truck.
Scenes like this aren't especially rare at Sacramento-area taprooms, Sactown Union brewmaster and co-owner Michael Barker said. Patrons far below the legal drinking age can be seen at nearly every craft beer hot spot in the region, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.
As pundits argue over whether America's craft beer market is nearing a saturation point, most taproom owners are doing their best to avoid limitations that might sway customers toward a competitor a few blocks over. That's clear at Urban Roots Brewery and Smokehouse, which opened Saturday with an emphasis on easily palatable European beers and kids toys tucked away next to a Dippin' Dots vending machine.
"(It's) a very American viewpoint that alcohol should be drunk in quiet corners away from the view of impressionable youths, and we absolutely reject that notion," Urban Roots co-founder Peter Hoey said. "A pub is a place for family."
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Establishments that serve alcohol can allow minors if they also sell any sort of food — even just snacks or sandwiches — on site, according to the California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control licensing system. People under 21 can also visit breweries, wineries or licensed clubs regardless of whether they serve food.
Few of the Sacramento area's most popular craft beer hubs restrict their customers based on age. Loomis Basin Brewing said "that's enough" to both kids and dogs two years ago, deciding that the few problem cases were obtrusive enough to merit a full ban. Capital Beer and Tap Room is another exception, though the downtown Capital Hop Shop serves food and allows kids of all ages.
Sacramento's craft beer scene began taking off in earnest around 2008-12. The youngest early customers are now in their late 20s or early 30s, many — like Tyler Stumbaugh's peers — with kids of their own.
A 30-year-old childless truck driver who lives in unincorporated Sacramento County near Rancho Cordova, Stumbaugh said he visits a local brewery or taproom at least twice a week. In a post to the Sacramento Beer Enthusiasts Facebook page this year, he took the admittedly controversial stance of wishing more breweries wouldn't allow kids, which elicited more than 300 comments from other group members.
Stumbaugh said his bar conversations with friends are interrupted about twice per month by the shrieks of children climbing unsupervised on bike racks and tables. Breweries that ban kids risk alienating some of their core customers, but many in the Sacramento area could do more to establish a designated adult zone, he said.
Short of that, he points the blame at negligent parents.
"I don't really have a problem with kids at breweries. I have a problem with parents letting their kids run around and act like they're at a playground, which they're not," Stumbaugh said. "It's only so much a business can do if parents are not going to parent."
But what if the kids were at a playground? That's what Larry and Dayle Rodenborn tried to do with The Craft House, a casual restaurant serving locally produced beer and wine, with sandboxes, climbing structures and gravel play areas they attempted to open on 24th Street in Curtis Park.
The Rodenborns, who live two blocks from the restaurant site and own Tryphon Vineyards in the Yuba County town of Camptonville, felt like there weren't many places in Sacramento designed for kids where adults could enjoy quality food and drinks. When the Rodenborns do bring their 7- and 5-year-old children to breweries and taprooms, they frequently find their kids bored or occupying the cornhole boards adults might otherwise use.
"I feel like a lot of breweries around here call themselves kid-friendly or family-friendly when I would actually call them kid-tolerant," Dayle Rodenborn said. "You can bring your kids there, but there's not actually any form of entertainment for them, and if there is, there's sort of a competition for it."
Plans for The Craft House were quashed last year when immediate neighbors' objections convinced the city planning commission not to rezone the property for commercial use, Dayle said. The Rodenborns are now trying to make the building leasable as a 9-5 office.
Sactown Union has tried to establish a line between children and their patrons who don't want much interaction with them, Barker said. Kids and dogs are welcome on the outdoor patio and in the front common area but are asked not to come inside the taproom itself for extended periods of time.
"In the taproom, we're just going for more of a relaxed vibe," Barker said. "You do have people that come out that want to enjoy a book or just a one-on-one conversation, and sometimes if there's a dog in there barking or a child running around, it may disturb that."
And as for taphouse customers who wish kids would leave entirely, Dayle Rodenborn said it goes both ways.
"Sometimes I'm out at a brewery and I would like the drunken millennials to go somewhere else, too, but that's not going to happen," she said. "There are plenty of places that they can go that are bars where kids are not welcome and not allowed."
The Bee's Benjy Egel is launching a new effort to cover Sacramento's dining and beer scene. Please send tips and story ideas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BenjyEgel or by phone at (916) 321-1052.