Sacramento will become the state’s epicenter of craft beer next week when the city plays host to the California Craft Beer Summit. Professional brewers, homebrewers, retailers, distributors and craft beer fans from across the state will descend on the Sacramento Convention Center on Sept. 6 and 7. On tap is two days of seminars, speeches, beer and food pairings and tradeshows, while parties, dinners and collaboration brews will occur all over the city.
The California Craft Beer Summit culminates on Sept. 8 with the Summit Beer Festival on Capitol Mall. Sacramento is home to several top-notch annual beer events, including the Track 7 IPA Invitational, the Sacramento Coffee Beerfest and the Art of Beer Invitational. However, the Summit Beer Festival is by far the best, with over 170 California independent craft breweries — including dozens that don’t distribute in the area — pouring roughly 500 different brews.
Even better for craft beer lovers, the spotlight of the Summit Beer Festival seems to inspire a healthy degree of competition in the participating breweries, so that new, rare and special beers abound. It is not possible to try everything at a beer festival of this magnitude, which is why I always do a fair amount of research beforehand. Since this might be the one opportunity for my obsessive-compulsiveness to benefit humanity, I will share my process of preparing for an event like the Summit Beer Festival:
Notice that I said “peruse,” and not “memorize” or “fall in love with.” The beer list is not a legal document, and therefore it is subject to change. However, it does give you a general idea of the participating breweries, and more importantly, which ones are planning to bring the heat. As I said before, most of the breweries at the Summit Beer Festival will be pouring new and rare beers, but there are always a few outfits that show up with the same-old standbys (cough, Modern Times, cough).
Target your favorite breweries
With such a deep selection of beers and a limited number of pours available before complete incapacitation sets in, I tend to stay away from any beers that I have tried before or can readily obtain. That said, there are a handful of A-list breweries and beers that I will queue up for any day of the week. These are the 12 lines that I’ll be standing in Saturday afternoon:
- Alvarado Street (Monterey) — their scheduled beers range from Toucan Touch This, a cocktail-inspired collaboration with The Jungle Bird, to a “yeast-driven” DIPA called My Dad’s Boat.
- Beachwood (Long Beach) — this SoCal giant will pour an IPA from their standard portfolio of beers, as well as one or more sours from their Beachwood Blendery line.
- Bottle Logic (Anaheim) — I enjoyed the few Bottle Logic beers that I have tried, and any brewery planning to pour a 13.4% ABV British-style imperial stout, and a Berliner weisse with peaches, oranges and cherries has my attention.
- Casa Agria (Oxnard) and Cellador Ales (North Hills) — these two sour-centric Southern California breweries were my great discoveries of the last two Summit Beer Festivals, and their brews remain practically impossible to find in the Sacramento area.
- FiftyFifty (Truckee), Russian River (Santa Rosa), Sante Adairius (Capitola) and Moonraker (Auburn) — Because I’ll take any opportunity I can get to sample a FiftyFifty barrel-aged imperial stout, a Russian River sour, a Sante Adairius Saison or a Moonraker hazy IPA.
- Heretic (Fairfield) — Heretic stole the show at last year’s with their big, boozy, barrel-aged Alternating Current, so even though I have become slightly intolerant of the lactose craze, I can’t wait to try Goo, a 12% imperial milk stout with chocolate, vanilla, coconut and lots of milk sugar.
- Mraz (El Dorado Hills) — Their beers are not that hard to find, but at least it will save me a trip to El Dorado Hills, and I’m very curious to try Fruit Bruters, the first fruited I have come across.
- The Rare Barrel (Berkeley) — these sour beer experts always bring the fire to the Summit Beer Festival, and this year’s anticipated offerings include Summer’s Gonna Hurt You, a golden sour with Masumoto peaches and nectarines, as well as a tart saison called Prism of Time.
Research new-to-me breweries
The Summit Beer Festival is not just about racking up white whales and revisiting old favorites. It also presents an ideal opportunity to sample new and unfamiliar breweries. I use the brewery scores on Untappd as a guide, although I have learned not to trust a score that isn’t supported by several thousand ratings. The Untappd ratings are not 100% reliable, as they tend to punish older breweries that don’t crank out trendy beers, but the results tend to be solid at the top and bottom ends of the spectrum. There is a ton of variance in the middle, but I have rarely encountered a brewery with a rating over 3.8 (or under 3.6) that didn’t deserve it. Therefore, these are the 10 newish breweries (and their Untappd scores) I am excited to try for the first time:
- Armistice (Richmond, 3.88)
- Arrow Lodge (Covina, 3.84)
- Blaker (Ceres, 3.84)
- Long Beach Beer Lab (Long Beach, 3.82)
- Pine and Palm (Fresno, 3.91)
- Secret Trail (Chico, 3.82)
- Skyland Ale Works (Corona, 3.82)
- State (Gardena, 3.89)
- Topa Topa (Ventura, 3.84)
- Wild Barrel (San Marcos, 3.97)
Trust the crowds
If you prefer to tone down the wonk level and toss out the playbook altogether, the smartest practice is to simply follow the crowds. Extended waits are rare in a beer festival this big, so it’s logical to assume that a long line of people will probably end in a great beer.
Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer, film critic, craft beer enthusiast and co-host of the Dare Daniel podcast. He can be reached at