The inaugural California Craft Beer Summit kicked off Friday at the Sacramento Convention Center, as 2,000-plus turned up to learn, taste and rub elbows with a mix of commercial brewers, retailers, suppliers, home brewing enthusiasts and consumers.
It was an extraordinary setting, with craft brewing pioneers such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. founder Ken Grossman and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing holding court alongside Russian River Brewing Co.’s Vinnie Cilurzo of Pliny the Elder fame, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Co. and David Walker of Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
The summit, which runs through today and culminates with the hotly anticipated “brewers showcase,” has the potential to become a national event that could add to the growing reputation of Sacramento’s booming craft beer scene.
“It’s beyond exciting. I’m ecstatic,” said Tom McCormick, who created the event as executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association. “We’re all very pleased, not only from the attendance, but from the response we are getting from those who are here. It was the beer lovers and enthusiasts and home brewers who really showed up. We are already talking about next year and wanting to make it better.”
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There were plenty of local brewery folks making the rounds in the large, bustling convention hall, including Raef Porter, co-founder of Bike Dog Brewing Co. in West Sacramento.
“This is a great opportunity for small breweries like Bike Dog to come here and showcase what we have, but also learn what other breweries are doing, see what’s happening in the industry (and) learn things. I just went to a panel on how to pair food and beer,” Porter said. “You’re going to see a lot of people here really enjoying the beer, but (also) sharing what they do and sharing secrets.”
As Porter spoke, there were all kinds of activities taking place behind him, with several stages set up for lectures or cooking demonstrations, including a presentation by one of Sacramento’s top chefs, Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney’s B&L, who gave his thoughts about pairing food with beer. As he spoke, servers handed out samples of beer and food to audience members.
In another corner of the hall, Cilurzo, considered one of the world’s great brewers, interviewed Grossman, by all accounts one of the forces who jump-started the craft beer industry known today. Cilurzo is also set to give a talk today on sour beers. His wife and Russian River co-owner, Natalie Cilurzo, led a discussion later Friday on women in the craft beer industry. There was also a panel discussion on the Sacramento brewing scene featuring Glynn Phillips of Rubicon Co., Ryan Graham of Track 7 Brewing Co. and Dave Gull of New Helvetia Brewing Co..
Natalie Cilurzo, who was among the many involved in planning and organizing the event with the California Craft Brewers Association, said she was excited by what she saw Friday.
"We actually have a pretty big turnout. Ticket sales are 2,500, which is wonderful, and we’re super-happy with the turnout,” she said. “This is a most unique event because we’re bringing together brewers, retailers, wholesalers, suppliers, as well as consumers. From my perspective, this is the first and only opportunity consumers have had to come and listen to everyone in our industry talk about our industry. It’s not every day that a fan of Russian River or Sierra Nevada gets to go and hear my husband interview Ken Grossman.”
Indeed, a standing-room only crowd watched that interview at 2:30 p.m.
Rubicon’s Phillips said the city is well-positioned to host such a high-profile craft beer event.
“It’s exciting for all of these people from around California to come and see how vibrant our great city is and everything that’s going on down here,” said Phillips, who was also part of the Friday press conference that kicked off the event.
Referring to the potential for the summit in the years ahead, Phillips added, “I think you will see it double or triple in size. We’re already talking about a beer competition (for next year).”
Sierra Grossman, daughter of Ken Grossman and the director for customer experience at Sierra Nevada, said the craft beer boom in recent years has transformed the industry from the days when Sierra Nevada launched 35 years ago.
“Now we have a very educated consumer. They know what a palate is, they know to look for different hop varieties, different barley, malt, color. Before the craft brewing industry was what it is today, there were only 41 small craft breweries when we opened in 1980. Today there are over 3,000,” she said. “To have next to no beer in the market that was truly defined as craft, it was a hard thing to educate that consumer and to get someone to try your beer ... and now everyone enjoys tasting new beers, they enjoy finding the next discovery and sharing with their friends. It’s a very fun time and exciting time.”
If you go
What: Last day of the Brewers Showcase, a California-only event featuring 150 of the state’s top breweries, including several from the Sacramento region, pouring their best brews
Where: Sacramento Convention Center
When: 4-8 p.m. today
Tickets: A limited number of $60 may be available at sacb.ee/brewshow
More details: sacb.ee/brewevent