After ten years of dreaming, two years of permitting and construction, several weeks of brewing and a packed schedule of Sacramento Beer Week-related events, Rob Archie and Peter Hoey finally opened Urban Roots Brewing & Smokehouse on May 19.
With the Urban Roots hype train building up steam for the last year, beer and BBQ fans turned out in droves. The kitchen put out more than 1,300 plates of food on opening day.
"It was a better response from the community than we could have imagined," said Hoey, a local brewing legend best known as the former brewmaster at Sacramento Brewing Co. and co-owner of the short-lived Odanata. "You make all these plans and you build a space like this and you hope that people like it, and I'm just overjoyed that it seems to be resonating with folks."
With its authentic biergarten, a stylish and spacious interior and stunning outdoor murals by Maren Conrad and Lily Therens, Urban Roots has already established itself as one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Sacramento. Its enormous industrial smoker was imported from Texas, with enough room to roast six whole hogs at once.
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But what about the beer? Could it possibly live up to the hype? There were nine Urban Roots solo offerings and four collaboration beers with respected breweries like Beachwood, Bottle Logic and FiftyFifty on the board when we visited. The most noticeable thing off the bat is the diversity of styles.
While many craft breweries bow to the market by stuffing their boards with mostly hop-forward beers, only three of Urban Roots' 13 opening day beers fit that description. Among the remaining 10 beers were three Saisons, three dark beers, two lagers, a pilsner and a wheat wine. That mix of styles is intentional.
"I like to drink lots of different things, so the self-imposed mandate is to always have something light, something dark, something hoppy, something malty," Hoey said. "We want a little something for everyone."
A huge fan of traditional lagers, Hoey plans to keep the light, easy-drinking style in heavy rotation at Urban Roots, despite their time-consuming nature. "When I brew lagers in these tanks, we do traditional cold-aging, so it takes 45 to 60 days to make, as opposed to an IPA that I can push through in 14 to 21 days," he said.
His two debut lagers were Sidework, a crushable rice beer, and Luna de Miel, a Mexican amber lager that Hoey first brewed for his wedding in 2007. "At our wedding, we served ceviche and tacos, so we had a Mexican amber lager," he said. "It was a recipe I knew I liked, and I wanted it to be one of our opening beers."
Of course, that's not to say Hoey can't brew a darn good IPA. He named his inaugural IPA Like Riding a Bike as a self-referential joke on his return to brewing, but that humorous arrogance was validated when the beer took home a medal at the Track 7 Invitational. A clean, crisp, relatively low-alcohol IPA brewed with Simcoe and Mosaic hops, Like Riding a Bike took third place in the West Coast IPA category against formidable competition.
"It's absolutely humbling and amazing to get that out of the gate, and I felt even more self-conscious about the name of the beer," Hoey said.
While still adhering to traditional methods, Hoey also understands the need to provide trendy options like pastry stouts, milkshake IPAs and hazy beers. A famous early skeptic of unfiltered IPAs, Hoey remained reluctant to fully embrace the haze, so he named his initial Northeast-style IPA Church Hug.
Hoey mitigates his concerns about the style's shelf stability by only brewing half-batches. "If those beers linger, then you start getting those negative flavor impacts from the yeast," he said. Customers rewarded Hoey's tentative embrace by making Church Hug the top-selling beer at Urban Roots.
Despite the flavor wheel of styles, there remains a remarkable consistency to Hoey's beers. We sampled 11 of the 13 beers on the Urban Roots opening day board, and from the pilsner to the bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Porter, every single one could be fairly described as clean, balanced and drinkable. The attention to detail is obvious in every sip, and the quality and consistency are especially impressive given that Hoey brews every beer and cleans every tank on his own.
"We built the system with a lot of efficiencies, both for labor and scale of production so that one person should be able to produce about 1,500 barrels a year out of here," Hoey said. "That's where the serving tanks come into play."
Instead of putting his freshly brewed beer into kegs, Hoey serves it directly to customers through eight 30-barrel serving tanks. "Every time I brew a batch of beer, I don’t have to clean and fill and move sixty kegs," he said. "It takes me a couple hours to clean the serving tank."
On the day that we visited, Hoey was brewing his first Imperial Stout, with the intention of putting the beer into 16 Evan Williams bourbon barrels.
"I had an opening in the brew schedule and had all of the house beers pretty well taken care of, so it was time to start laying beers down for the future," he said. The Imperial Stout will most likely never appear in its un-barreled form, as Hoey prefers a higher finishing gravity on beers intended for the barrel.
"The whiskey in the barrel and the barrel character tends to thin beers out, so if you go in with a beer that's too dry, the resulting beer can be really whiskey-forward and not have enough body once it comes out of the barrel," Hoey said.
Hundreds of barrels are stacked in the cavernous barrel room at Urban Roots, but only a half-dozen tanks and an enormous oak foeder (essentially, an oversized, upright barrel) are filled right now. However, Hoey is eager to start the aging process for these beers, which won't be available in their finished forms for at least a year.
"We'll start filling barrels with different stuff, laying it down for the future," Hoey said. "We'll play with different base styles - Rob really wants me to do a barrel-aged Belgian Tripel."
As Hoey plots a sour future for Urban Roots, the brewery is also releasing arguably its most ambitious collaboration beer to date. This weekend, Urban Roots released Maui Roots, a "cocktail-inspired beer" brewed with Maui Brewing Co. Attempting to mimic a Dark and Stormy cocktail, the two breweries filled a strong blonde base beer with fresh lime zest and 45 pounds of fresh Maui ginger, then aged the double-digit ABV concoction in Hawaiian rum barrels.
In addition to showcasing that unusual collaboration beer, Urban Roots will also serve five or six Maui Brewing beers, along with a special Hawaiian-themed menu certain to feature roasted whole hogs.
"We partner with people who inspire us, who are our friends, who we love working with," Hoey said. "Whenever we do these collaborations, we want to bring in as many of the beers as we can from the same brewery."