Beer Run

Hold on! Wait! Have Sacramento-area breweries maxed out?

Tasting Flight: Mike Mraz introduces four of his barrel-aged beers

Mike Mraz introduces four of his outstanding barrel-aged beers and gives us insights into the brewing process.
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Mike Mraz introduces four of his outstanding barrel-aged beers and gives us insights into the brewing process.

Surely, we’re coming to the end of the craft beer boom, right? I mean, there are now 60-plus breweries in the Sacramento area. This has happened so fast – everyone of legal age is old enough to remember when there were three.

There simply aren’t enough customers to keep all of these joints afloat. The beer is going to sit. Hours for tasting room staffs will get cut back. Other folks will get laid off. There will be a glut in the market for used brew tanks.

At least that’s what the cynics are saying. In fact, they’ve been whispering that to me for the past four years, at the early stages of the local craft brewery boom, when beer lovers were rejoicing that we were up to a dozen local breweries.

The canary in the coal mine was going to be the most recent start-ups, Crooked Lane Brewing in Auburn and Big Sexy Brewing in south Sacramento. They’re both big, ambitious and, perhaps, getting into the beer game a bit late.

So what happened?

“The opening went really well. It was standing room only. People were just blown away by the space,” said Crooked Lane co-owner Paul Schilling. “Every night since has been a really good night. We thought we were doing something good, and the experience of the past week just validates that.”

“It has been tremendous. We have probably done three times (more business) than we expected to do,” said Big Sexy co-owner James Thompson. “It says to us that we have some fans out there, but it also says that Sacramento is welcoming more breweries.”

So, here’s the reality check. The standards are getting higher. The craft beer consumer is getting smarter and more discerning. In this way, we have indeed maxed out – there’s no more room for so-so beer.

If you want to thrive in 2017 and beyond, the beer has to be superb and the beer-drinking experience at the tasting room has to be top-notch.

Big Sexy and Crooked Lane spent plenty of time getting ready and did lots of homework. And they’re helping raise the bar.

Fieldwork opens big in Sacramento

OK, so these two new breweries are an instant hit. But what about taprooms, especially in midtown, where beer lovers can geek out on seemingly every block? Wouldn’t it be challenging for Fieldwork, the brewery based in Berkeley, to make a dent in the Sacramento market with a new taproom? (OK, I tried to keep a straight face as I asked that.)

As many of you know by now, Fieldwork opened on Capitol Avenue and it was madness. Big crowds the first day. Big crowds every day since.

“Everybody’s so nice. The energy, the excitement and the enthusiasm were more than we expected,” said Fieldwork owner Barry Braden. “Sophistication is really apparent in Sacramento. Even beyond the sophistication is the enthusiasm. Everybody is into it.”

If you’ve been, you probably couldn’t help but notice that Fieldwork owner/brewmaster Alex Tweet had three Northeast style IPAs available. It’s a style that could be about to take off in Sacramento. One only has to look at the excitement Moonraker generated with Yojo, its take on the Northeast IPA.

The Auburn brewery just made it available in cans and it’s selling out in minutes at any store that stocks it.

Great barrel-aged beers at Mraz

Finally, I had the privilege of visiting Mike Mraz at Mraz Brewing’s barrel-aging warehouse to shoot the third in a series of videos featuring the area’s brewers.

I was already a big fan of Mraz’s barrel-aged offerings, but this little road trip to El Dorado Hills took my enthusiasm to new heights. The beers are simply some of best I have ever tasted. All kinds of complexity and elegance in a glass.

Talk about high standards and raising the bar!

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

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