Feast Q&A: BarWest owner Trevor Shults embraces craft beer

Trevor Shults stands before BarWest’s new 24-tap system.
Trevor Shults stands before BarWest’s new 24-tap system.

BarWest has never been known as a craft beer hotspot, but that is changing quickly.

Owner Trevor Shults, who got his start as a bartender years ago, saw that quality beer was where it’s at in Sacramento and decided to make a change. The new concept, featuring 24 tap handles and upgrades to the food menu, just launched in conjunction with Sacramento Beer Week.

Among other events, BarWest, 2724 J St., was one of the local places that served the legendary – and limited – Pliny the Younger, a triple India pale ale.

Q: You’ve been in the bar game for several years. Describe the evolution of the beer scene here.

A: Back in 2002 when I was bartending at Blue Cue, it was Bass, Amstel Light, Michelob Ultra, Coors Light. That was kind of it.

Q: And if you went out with your buddies, you’d get the same beer every time.

A: You were that kind of drinker. You were a Miller Lite guy. Or you were a Coors Light guy. Now everything’s about trying new things. You’re still going to have the Coors Light drinker. What I see a lot of now is people trying the new beers coming in, having a Track 7, maybe trying a porter, and if they happen to be an old-school Coors Light drinker, they’ll say, “I need to wind down a bit. I’ll have a couple of Coors Lights.” You see a lot of that. You also see a lot more drinkable daytime beers. Lagunitas has a 4.3 percent lager. So they’ll switch to that because these 12 percent and 9 percent beers catch up to you.

Q: I don’t think “sessionable” was a word when you were a young bartender.

A: It wasn’t. The word did not exist. Back then, waste was a huge thing, so it was all bottled beer. Bottles were a way to control waste. A lot of places never had a draft system. The thinking was, why would they want to waste anything on foam?

Q: When did you open BarWest?

A: It was 2011.

Q: What is the change you just made?

A: We inherited an old six-handle (draft) system. We converted our three-door fridge into a couple of direct draws, and we had 12 total beers.

Q: In 2011, Sacramento was just about to boom but hadn’t gotten there yet.

A: It hadn’t happened yet. I had a big selection of bombers (22-ounce bottles) in here and they sat around, even the really good stuff. It was a tough thing to keep in my inventory and we eventually phased it out that first year. The clientele wasn’t drinking that. It was too much for them. I remember I brought in a Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head collaboration, and it just sat there. It was a really cool beer but people weren’t drinking it yet.

Q: When did you start realizing you were ready to make a change?

A: A couple of years back, I knew we needed to expand our draft system. Our clientele started asking, “Why don’t you have more local beers on draft? When don’t you have better-quality beers on draft?” I knew it was coming, but the investment was $20,000 to put in this new draft system. It was a timing thing. When do I bite off that amount?

Q: How long did you have to shut down?

A: Permitting was a struggle. Nothing in life is easy. I’m not one to whine about it. I just wanted to get through it. We closed for four days.

Q: How much are permits?

A: $1,800 for a minor permit.

Q: Now that you have 24 tap handles and there’s a lot more competition than there used to be, how are you going to reposition BarWest?

A: We knew we had to prepare for launching all of our new beer categories, so we spent a lot of time on Beer Week. We knew it was our opportunity to say, “BarWest now has a really good beer selection.” There is a base crowd here that was already into craft beer, but there is a perception that needs to be changed. People would walk in here and say, “Man, you don’t have any good beer in here?” That perception needs to change.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob

Trevor Shults

Owner, BarWest, Crawdads On The River, Vanguard 1415

Shults recently decided to tweak the concept at the popular midtown bar/restaurant BarWest to emphasize craft beer.