Moving across the country is not a ton harder than moving across town. The fundamentals are similar no matter whether you’re going two miles or 3,000. You box up your stuff. You put your boxes in a truck. You drive. You unload the boxes.
When my wife and I moved to Sacramento in August a year ago, I needed a beer. In Salt Lake City the night before coming to Sacramento, my chocolate Lab ate 10 times a lethal dose of her prescription medicine. She spent the night in a 24-hour veterinary hospital and arrived in Sacramento groggy and wobbly.
The first beer I had was Pliny the Elder. It’s not made in Sacramento but it used to be the No. 2 beer in the world. Then I delved into the local offerings. This is the fun part of moving; trying new places and seeing what’s out there. It took some work, but I found a clear favorite: Moonraker. The Auburn brewer was the only spot to take up multiple places on my top 10 favorites list, placing with a kettle sour, an imperial stout and an IPA.
“I think that’s a perfect example showing we’re known for our hazy-style beers but I think we’re a pretty well-rounded brewery,” co-owner Karen Powell said. “You can get anything from an imperial stout all the way to a kettle sour and find something you like. Quality is what we should be known for.”
Of course, other breweries are making good beer. This list is offered with an obvious caveat: Sacramento has at least 85 breweries; I have not tried every brewery yet, much less every beer from every brewery. Let’s talk in a year.
Until then, these are my favorites in order, from best to 10th-best. I’ve included alcohol by volume content as well as Untappd scores, as those numbers matter to a lot of drinkers. For me it’s simple: This is what I like.
1. Pie of the Beholder – Moonraker
Style: Kettle sour
Untappd score: 4.01
If you told me a year ago a sour beer would top this list, I would have asked how many beers have you had. Sours are a tricky style. Too sour and you have to pucker every time you take a sip; too sweet and it’s cloying and gross.
What Moonraker does with this beer is remarkable. It’s supposed to taste like key lime pie; I don’t even like key lime pie but this beer makes me rethink that position. It’s sweet but not too sweet; tart but not too tart. And on the back end, after you swallow, you’ll taste, of all things, the faint taste of marshmallow. It’s a complex beer but accessible enough to give to somebody who doesn’t like beer and they’ll dig it. Truly an unusual and clever combination.
2. Hollow Bones – Moonraker
Style: Imperial stout
Untappd score: 4.39
There is one rule for great stouts: They should look like motor oil. On the flip side, there has yet to be an opaque stout that didn’t taste watery. The solution is simple enough (add more dark grain in the brewing process), but it’s a common demerit.
Hollow Bones is a viscous monster of a sweet stout. It starts sweet, with a delicious coffee taste, and then gets sweeter as the maple syrup takes over. It’s a meal in a glass. My only quibble is that it comes in a bomber. At 11 percent alcohol, and with all those unfermented sugars in the beer, that’s a commitment beer. After 10 ounces or so you’ll be ready for something else. It would be best shared with friends or in a taster at the brewery.
3. Just Here for the Comments – New Glory
Untappd score: 3.95
Before coming to Sacramento I was a social media editor at the other end of the country. That meant looking at a lot of horrible comments on Twitter, Facebook and on our website. Some nights, you physically need a beer after work after seeing humanity through that lens.
Totally superficial call here, but this beer won me over with the name and the can, which features balls of popcorn with smiley faces on them. As a sucker for double IPAs, especially ones with Simcoe hops, I was always going to like the contents of the beer marketed specifically at me. It’s smooth and very little bitterness. It’s an easy-to-drink beverage that’s 8.1 percent alcohol.
4. Cafe de Olla – Moksa
Style: Imperial stout
Untappd score: 4.16
Rocklin’s Moksa was named one of the top new breweries in the country last year on the strength of their stouts. Though many of their stouts are pastry stouts – which are sweet, often too sweet for my taste – this one is complex, interesting and very well done. And it’s not a pastry stout; it’s modeled after a sweet Mexican farmhouse drink. Coffee and brown sugar give the stout sweetness, but a nice touch of cinnamon helps keep the taste from sticking in your mouth.
5. The Castillo – Alaro
Untappd score: 3.71
It’s not exactly an upset to choose an IPA that won a California State Fair gold medal this year as well as a Great American Beer Festival medal. But in a world of haze bombs (which are generally great), fruited IPAs (sure) and brut IPAs (let’s just not, guys), the Castillo stands out as a classic English IPA. Everything it does is against the grain. It’s relatively clear. It has a piney taste that mixes with some citrus notes and a little bitterness. And it strikes a balance between hops and malt. It’s everything that got me into craft beer in the first place.
6. California Clarity – Moonraker
Style: Imperial IPA
Untappd score: 3.99
It’s always fun when a brewery claps back at their reputation. The book on Moonraker says they make nothing but hazy, hype-train IPAs. Well, here’s a traditional-tasting IPA that you can read a newspaper through. It has traditional piney hop notes and a surprisingly strong malt backbone for a clear beer. And at 8.5 percent alcohol, it’s dangerously easy to drink.
7. Mango Loves Company – Flatland
Style: Fruited sour
Untappd score: 4.34
Flatland is a standout for its work with fruited beers, but they’re not making much in the saccharine sweet department. Mango Loves Company is beyond tart; my lips pucker just thinking about it. It’s sour on the front end but it sweetens up as you swallow. Bring something to snack on between sips.
8. Rainbow Parfait – Fieldwork
Style: Kettle sour
Untappd score: 4.09
Break out the pitchforks, I’m putting a Berkeley brewery on the list. Their midtown tasting room is where I had my first tasting room beer in Sacramento and discovered the sweet parfait series, which includes blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and more. This was the first beer I mailed across the country to a friend in Maine. Though it’s technically a sour, there’s very little to pucker at in this beer. The combination of raspberries, oranges and limes give it the fruit flavor; the lactose and vanilla smooth it out.
9. Chocolate Devil’s Leap – Solid Ground
Style: Imperial stout
Untappd score: 4.21
This Diamond Springs brewery is a little off the beaten path, if the beaten path is Highway 50. This beer is complex and rich. It smells like a milk chocolate bar and the taste starts out that way. Then the barrel aging kicks in and you taste petite sirah. Meanwhile, there’s a nice rich stout lurking in the background. One of these will make you want to forget your travel plans. And since it’s over 10 percent alcohol, you just might.
10. All Haze is Not Created Equal – Porchlight
Untappd score: 4.07
In New England, you rarely see brewers marketing their beer as New England-style. You also never see West Coast-style, though they definitely make those, too. As a fan of Tree House, Bissell Brothers, Foundation and The Alchemist, I’ve approached beers marketed as New England-style with an arched eyebrow. It’s not all marketing with this one.
Porchlight hits the right notes, with very little back-end bitterness, All Haze tastes almost like a citrus concoction of orange and mango juices. Plus, the brewery features the best ambiance in the area. It’s the perfect place to celebrate a year in Sacramento.