Sacramento Beer Week 2018 roared through the finish line May 20, as 11 days of tap takeovers, collaboration brews, can releases, beer dinners and other suds-related happenings culminated with the third annual Track 7 Invitational.
Once again held at Track 7’s enormous facility in Natomas, this IPA-focused festival forgoes the usual all-for-one, one-for-all craft beer boosterism in favor of a little friendly competition.
Unlike the Sac Mac + Brew Review, the hyperlocal, all-inclusive beer fest that kicked off the week, the Track 7 event was intimate event with only a select dozen breweries invited to compete. These premier craft breweries from California and Oregon competed in a blind taste test judged by a panel of brewers and other insiders.
Some breweries submitted beers made special for the event, such as Fieldwork's All the Pulp Triple IPA, while others entered tried-and-true hop bombs like Firestone Walker's Union Jack. Reflecting the diversity of today’s IPAs, the beers were sorted into three categories – Best West Coast IPA, Best Northeast-Style (or hazy) IPA and Best Specialty IPA.
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That last category encompassed the many fruited IPAs seen during the festival, including the “milkshake IPAs” loaded with lactose. In fact, one of those milkshake IPAs – Murkshake, a hazy triple IPA with organic strawberries and vanilla bean brewed by Pure Project of San Diego – won the People’s Choice award.
But it came down to the blood oranges, easily the most ubiquitous IPA adjunct of the day. Santa Rosa-based Cooperage’s Turple Rain, an IPA brewed with blood orange zest terpenes, won the Best Specialty IPA category for the second year in a row. We also saw hoppy beers containing strawberries, coconuts, guavas, peaches, kumquats, pineapples and more.
The winners of the other blind-judged contests were no surprise: Hop gods Cellarmaker of San Francisco won the Best West Coast award for their Mo’ Citra, while haze gods Moonraker of Auburn won the Best Northeast-Style award for their outstanding Zulu Haze.
The Track 7 Invitational attracts an extremely knowledgeable crowd, and with the festival’s all-killer, no-filler lineup, it’s always telling to see which breweries attract the biggest crowds. This year, it seemed like Alvarado Street of Monterey and red-hot Moksa of Rocklin consistently attracted the longest lines, although hard-to-find out-of-town breweries like Pure Project and Great Notion of Portland, Oregon were also quite popular.
Other local winners included Bike Dog, earning a third-place notch in the Northeast-style category for Fog City – a new collaboration with Karl Strauss – as well as Urban Roots, which capped off a momentous week with a third-place finish among West Coast beers for Like Riding a Bike. Beers by the highly anticipated brewery and smokehouse co-owned by Rob Archie of Pangaea and local brewing legend Peter Hoey were ubiquitous during Sacramento Beer Week as the ambitious restaurant and beer garden finally opened to the public on May 19.
Our palate went completely numb to the nuances of hops around the ninth or tenth IPA, so sorting between dozens of entrants seems like a impossible task. Still, the best IPAs that we tried during the Track 7 Invitational included the pulpy fruit flavors of Alvarado Street’s hazy DIPA Raw Cuts, Humble Sea’s complexly crushable pale ale Water Wings, and Business and Pleasure, a tropical IPA made by Temescal of Oakland.
However, it was the non-IPAs that threatened to steal the show Sunday. The best beer we had all day was Into the Great Unknown, a Lambic-style sour blonde from Beachwood in Long Beach, while the crowds were buzzing about Oblivion Ring, a Modern Times barleywine brewed with NOLA-style coffee.
In addition to hosting the event, Track 7 is also preparing to open its East Sacramento taproom and restaurant The Other Side on May 31. They got off to a good start when they won the macaroni and cheese competition at the Sac Mac + Brew Review festival, beating six other brewery and restaurant teams by pairing their own beers with a crazy-delicious dish featuring beer cheese and Hatch green chilies. The menu by former Grange chef Oliver Ridgeway will focus on rotisserie-cooked meats, but if their amazing mac and cheese is any indication, The Other Side will also have some amazing sides.
Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer, film critic, craft beer enthusiast and co-host of the Dare Daniel podcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.