Big Sexy Brewing Co. isn’t particularly big – its 2017 output of 250 barrels ranks somewhere near the bottom of Sacramento-area breweries. Nor is a converted warehouse in an industrial park near the intersection of Fruitridge Road and Watt Avenue a particularly attractive venue.
On the week of its two-year anniversary, however, Big Sexy made arguably the largest splash in company history.
Dan Rafferty left a plum gig as Track 7 Brewing Co.’s head brewer to take over brewing operations at Big Sexy on Aug. 10, with an eye toward not just improving but revolutionizing the beers served there. His presence should allow Big Sexy to produce two to three times as much beer from this year to next, said co-founder James Thompson.
Rafferty started his career at Track 7 a few months after the brewery opened in 2012. He became the head brewer at the Curtis Park location about three years ago, working mostly on seasonal beers, before adding the Natomas facility to his responsibilities in April after Jared Long left for Fort Rock Brewing.
Track 7 produces around 20,000 barrels of beer annually, Rafferty said, while Big Sexy is on pace to fill 500 in its second full year in business. But the necessity of brewing repeatedly popular IPAs such as Panic, Blood Transfusion and Left Eye Right Eye made Rafferty feel like he needed to go elsewhere to grow.
“For a long time, there were just style ideas written down in my phone. Now I actually get to make these ideas into reality,” he said. “I’m a liquid poet, and I’ve got a lot to say. I’m looking forward to the chance to finally say those things.”
More than 60 people applied for Big Sexy’s head brewer position, Thompson said, including brewers from Denver and Minnesota. Rafferty sought the brewery out near the end of the recruitment process and wowed Thompson and Taylor with the plans for unorthodox beers.
Big Sexy will fire-roast its own barley over old bourbon barrels before Rafferty uses it in a dry Irish stout, giving the Guinness-like beer an American twang. A Mexican lager/brut IPA medley will shoot for a dry, citrusy flavor, while a brut (at 12 percent alcohol by volume) is scheduled to be released around New Year’s Eve will more closely mimic a glass of champagne.
Co-founder Mark Taylor — whose nickname, given to him by Thompson more than a decade ago, became the brewery’s title — will move from being the lead brewer to focusing on an expanded roster of blended sours and barrel-aged beers. Rafferty’s first batch of beers will be ready to be tapped around mid-October, he said.
Rafferty’s old role has been filled by former quality operations manager Miles Soto, Track 7 co-owner Ryan Graham said. Graham called Rafferty “a tremendous part of our success” over the last six-and-a-half years, but said it was clear he was looking for something new.
“In the past year, Track 7 started to grow in size beyond where Dan wanted to be professionally. And it is my understanding that he took the job at Big Sexy to focus on small-batch (brewing),” Graham wrote in an email. “We wish Dan and Big Sexy great success together, and we are excited to see what great things their partnership creates in the future.”
Having a full-time brewer on board should allow Big Sexy to put out 1,000 to 1,500 barrels over the next 12 months, Thompson said. Big Sexy has the infrastructure to eventually brew up to 4,000 barrels annually, Thompson said, and plans to expand past that down the road.
Big Sexy first tried to start up in Auburn in 2014, but ultimately opened at 5861 88th St., Suite 800, in September 2016. The brewery’s Sexi Mexi took the silver medal for Vienna lagers in the U.S. Open Beer Championship in July, while the 9.1 percent ABV whiskey-tinged Barrel Ryed won bronze for blended barrel-aged beers.
“You’re going to get some world-class beers coming out of here,” Thompson said. “We’ve made good beers, but we’re ready to start making some great beers.”