Sacramento’s German beer roots run deep. All of the original breweries that flourished a century or more ago and helped establish Sacramento as one of the great brewing centers west of the Mississippi were owned and operated by brewers from Germany or Austria.
But today’s local beer scene is different. With a few exceptions, German beer is largely absent and overlooked. That’s a shame.
Since Oktoberfest is in full swing – in Munich and much of the world – now is a good time to reconsider German suds. Made with precision, they’re an ideal way to calibrate your palate.
In fact, you can’t really call yourself a craft beer geek – or even better, bierernst (literally “beer serious”) – unless you embrace the many wonderful beer styles that originated in Bavaria.
While there is plenty to explore, it might be good to familiarize yourself with three German locales: Cologne, where the Kolsch style is brewed; Dusseldorf, the home of altbier; and Munich, where the beer must be brewed to be designated an Oktoberfest, or fest, beer.
Closer to home, German beer has its fans. Did you know Sudwerk’s Marzen, an amber-hued lager, has been the best-selling beer in Davis for many years? That Sactown Union brewmaster Michael Barker has won two World Beer Cup golds and one Great American Beer Festival gold for his very German Kolsch? It will be one of two Sactown Union beers served on tap at the new Golden 1 Center. If you’re looking for a Kolsch benchmark, why not start at the top? And as I’ve already reported, Ol’ Republic in Nevada City took home gold in the California State Fair commercial beer competition for its Dead Canary, a Dortmunder export that goes back centuries in Germany.
“In my eyes, as a brewer, these are the styles that people should know about,” Barker told me when I broached the topic of German beer.
What makes them so special? And so daunting to master? “The simplicity of them and the technical attributes you need to make something that simple,” Barker said.
In fact, simplicity, technique and quality ingredients are the hallmarks of German brewing. The 500-year-old Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law, mandates that only water, hops, malt and yeast be used to make beer. It’s not unlike the French bread law that says baguettes must be made on site where they are sold and can only contain flour, water, salt and yeast.
A good Kolsch, he said, is crisp, fruity and traditionally hopped with Noble hops. At about 5 percent alcohol by volume, it’s also sessionable, meaning you can enjoy a few while hanging with friends.
Many of Sactown Union’s beers embrace German traditions.
“That was part of the goal for us from the beginning,” said the brewery’s Quinn Gardner. “On one hand, our whole brand is a juxtaposition of old and new. We felt that with a couple of exceptions, there was a vacuum for it. We felt it was important to bring back some of that heritage.”
One of the best places to dive in is at Der Biergarten (2332 K St., Sacramento) in midtown. New Helvetia just introduced a dark, malty German beer called Schwarzbier. New Helvetia has already showed its German bona fides with Thurston, an Adambier that won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014.
Also, Turn Verein (3349 J St., Sacramento), the German cultural center, will host its 49th annual Oktoberfest on Friday and Saturday, Oct 7-8. For an authentic Munich vibe in the 916, that may be your best bet. Tickets are $20 each day. For details or to buy tickets, visit sacramentoturnverein.com.