Inside the first California Craft Beer Summit
By most accounts, the inaugural California Craft Beer Summit in 2015 was a major success, bringing all the major, minor and upstart players in the state’s beer industry together under one roof while attracting scores of consumers eager to taste, learn and rub elbows with brewing giants.
With tickets selling briskly in Year 2 of the summit and beer festival, which starts Thursday, Sept. 8, and ends Saturday, Sept. 10, the event is sure to show off California beer diversity and prowess while drawing ever more attention to Sacramento’s climb into the brewing big leagues. In 2015, 4,000 people attended the event, and larger crowds are expected this year.
“Sacramento’s reputation is burgeoning. We have lots of great brewers now doing some wonderful stuff. These are exciting times,” said Charles Bamforth, the renowned professor of malting and brewing science at UC Davis and a speaker at this year’s summit. “Now we’ve got what we consider the world’s best beer education program and we’ve got some excellent brewers, some of whom came through our program.”
Barry Braden, owner of Berkeley-based Fieldwork Brewing, shared Bamforth’s high expectations.
“I honestly can’t think of another event that happens in California for the industry that’s of this scale. It really is a big production,” said Braden, which recently launched a much-anticipated taproom in midtown Sacramento. “It means that once a year, Sacramento is the epicenter of the industry.”
Dreamed up by Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, the Beer Summit is a new approach to such large-scale industry gatherings, combining hands-on tasting and learning opportunities for brewing professionals, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. Beyond that, there’s the star-watching, mingling and networking. The events are mostly held at the Sacramento Convention Center, with the outdoor beer festival planned Sunday at nearby Capitol Mall.
One highlight last year, for instance, saw Russian River Brewing’s Vinnie Cilurzo of Pliny the Elder fame interviewing Sierra Nevada founder and industry legend Ken Grossman in a casual conversation watched by a standing-room-only crowd populated by beer lovers and brewers alike.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for people to rub shoulders with legends, whether it’s the Sierra Nevada folks, the Lagunitas folks or the local brewers who are where Ken (Grossman) was 25 years ago,” said Bamforth. “In my 40 years in this business, Ken Grossman is the best I’ve ever encountered.”
The various lectures, panel discussions and classes are open to all but tend to be targeted at industry professionals or beer enthusiasts. Last year, for instance, Capitol Beer and Taproom owner Ken Hotchkiss sat in on two classes – one a technical primer on draft system maintenance, the other a discussion about food and beer pairings.
Hotchkiss, who is poised to open a second location in midtown/downtown Sacramento in the months ahead, says the Beer Summit has fortified the city’s standing in the industry. His current taproom and bottle shop (2222 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento) will host several special events during the summit, including a Kern River night on Saturday and a Fog City and El Segundo Brewing tap takeover Friday. Scores of other local beer-focused bars and craft breweries will have their own special events to coincide with the summit. After the event lets out in the afternoons, attendees fan out to restaurants and bars. Last year, several impromptu parties were attended by the industry’s top stars.
“It’s a chance to showcase what’s going on with our local breweries and retail establishments,” Hotchkiss said.
This year, seminars include a wide range of topics for industry types, including how to build a beer list, how yeast strains can create flavor in beer, how to taste and detect off-flavors in beer and train your staff in sensory perception, and a primer on age-old and sometimes confusing beer-related laws. The rise of sour beer, seafood and lagers, the story of 21st Amendment Brewery, and a talk with Firestone Walker’s David Walker are bound to attract diverse audiences. Consumer-focused classes are scheduled for Saturday. They include advanced home brewing, thoughts on starting a brewery, how to pair beer with food, and a primer in tasting and judging by master beer judge Mike “Big Mike” Moore.
Then there’s Dave Prillwitz and others like him. Prillwitz doesn’t brew beer or sell it. Yet he’s something of an industry legend for his prolific beer tasting and rating tallies. To date, Prillwitz has posted 8,500-plus ratings on the popular website and app RateBeer, where he’s known as “Marcus.” He’s primarily interested in tracking down beers he has yet to taste. With an all-California lineup of 160 breweries and 450 beers at the brewfest Sunday, Prillwitz is likely to add dozens more ratings.
“I went last year and I had a blast. This is a chance to see the people who invented craft beer and who are keeping it moving along,” he said. “You don’t get to see that too often. The Sacramento beer scene has grown a lot in the last year, and it’s partly because of events like this.”
Tickets for the Beer Summit and brewfest are available with several options, ranging from $59 for educational sessions to $119 for a full-day pass. Full summit prices are $239 and $289 for VIP access.
For more information on events, times and locations, visit californiacraftbeer.com.