Maybe Homer Simpson had the right idea after all. When forced to attend a baseball game without the distracting benefits of beer, "The Simpson" patriarch muttered, “I never realized how boring this game is.”
Certainly, my own growing apathy towards baseball over the last five years runs inverse to my growing passion for craft beer over the same span. Time spent in Alameda drinking bad beer and rooting for my beloved Oakland A’s began to feel more and more like time stolen from beloved Bay Area breweries like Temescal and Faction.
And evenings spent at Raley Field in West Sacramento gradually turned into evenings spent at Bike Dog and the Roco Wine and Spirits taproom not far from the ballpark.
When I last visited four years ago, the River Cats were still an A’s affiliate and Blue Moon was still the best beer in the house (and Billy Beane still hadn’t traded Josh Donaldson to Toronto for a bag of peanuts, but I digress).
A beer oasis was added to the Raley Field this season with the debut of Knee Deep Alley, a mini-beer garden off the first base line that pours six beers from the popular Auburn-based brewery, including the baseball-themed Sac Fly-PA and the controversial Breaking Bud.
Long dominated by macro-brewery branding, the world of professional baseball has finally started to embrace craft beer. Minnesota-based brewery Surly has been a fixture at the Twins' Target Field for the last five years. In Chicago, the Cubs' Wrigley Field in Chicago has a long-standing partnership with Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned Goose Island and the crosstown White Sox's Guaranteed Rate Field have a newly opened hometown tap room for Revolution Brewing. Danish brewing legend Mikkel Borg Bjergso opened a Mikkeller taproom and onsite brewery this April at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
On the local front, Giants fans are now able to purchase prized cans from the likes of Alvarado Street and Moonraker at AT&T Park, while Oakland Coliseum recently added in-seat beer service for the first time in more than three decades.
And the improved beer selection is part of a trend running with other sports venues. When the Kings were in Sleep Train Arena, the best beer options came down to a choice between Boston Lager and Shock Top (I ended up drinking a lot of Sprite). By contrast, the new Golden 1 Center overflows with a wide array of beers by local and independent breweries like Bike Dog, The Monk’s Cellar and Fort Rock.
In addition to Knee Deep Alley, there is an expanded Beer Garden behind the left-field seats at Raley Field. Both areas are themed to craft beer in the same way that Frontierland is themed to the Old West – strings of overhead lights and barrel tabletops give the illusion of authenticity. You are still far more likely to encounter “corporate craft” options from Ballast Point, Lagunitas, 10 Barrel, Hop Valley and Golden Road than you are beers by local, independent breweries like Device, Track 7 and YOLO.
However, it increasingly feels like conglomerates are using the craft beer facades of their expensive subsidiary labels to Trojan Horse their way into ostensibly family-friendly spaces.
A perfect example of this can be found after a game in midtown with the Golden Road beer garden, which stays open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, later than every independent brewery in town. While you won't find Budweiser at the A-B InBev-owned Golden Road, you will find faux craft beer and familiar theming, not to mention neighbors irritated by all the noise.
If you're looking to cap off a late night at Raley Field by drinking a beer with local roots, try the new Device taproom in the Ice Blocks, which stays open until 1 a.m. on Friday nights.
Beer of the week
“Where did you get that green beer?”
New Glory celebrated their fifth anniversary last weekend with Sudsapalooza, a blowout festival featuring several dozen top-shelf breweries, but all anyone could talk about was the green beer. Flatland Brewing Co. co-owner and brewer Andrew Mohsenzadegan created Adios (5.5% ABV) by blending two sour blonde beers with guava, pineapple and passion fruit, then he mixed in some Blue Raspberry Kool-Aid to achieve that gorgeous neon-lime color. Adios was a one-off keg made solely for Sudsapalooza, but Mohsenzadegan has plans for similar color and flavor experiments in the future.
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.