What began in 2010 as an ambitious but relatively tiny soiree for beer lovers has gotten big. Really big. So vast and multidimensional that if you’re not careful, Sacramento Beer Week (Feb. 26 to March 8) can completely overwhelm you.
There will be sour beer events. There will be beer dinners and beer brunches. There will be rare beers and new beers, beers that have aged in barrels, and beers so fresh and hoppy you’ll want to enjoy them ASAP. There’s even a 5K running race on tap (March 7) at New Helvetia Brewing.
With more than triple the number of local breweries than in 2010, way more beer bars and plenty of restaurants that have embraced the notion of pairing quality beers with quality food, there is simply no way anyone can attend every event. What’s more, beer “week” is actually 11 days.
This year’s beer week is not without some early confusion. Part of that stems from the changing of the guard from founder Dan Scott to the Northern California Brewers Guild, a trade organization that represents breweries in this part of the state. That announcement came in December, and the expectation was that the coming beer week would be run by a well-organized team.
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But while dates for the major events have been established (the brewers’ showcase, the beer fest on Capitol Mall), a complete online events calendar was nowhere to be found at Sacbeerweek.com as of press time. I’ve been told the calendar will be functional soon. In addition, a previous incarnation of the website – Sacramentobeerweek.com – is still up and running (and is the first hit that comes up in a Google search), though it refers to last year’s events. Visit that site only if you want to show up 24 hours late for the opening night beer gathering.
We will be updating Sacramento Beer Week plans as the specific events and dates are known. As you plot your schedule, think of your favorite breweries, bars and eateries. Find out what excites you and put it on your calendar. Some events require reservations and will sell out fast. If you’re not organized, you could miss out.
If you want to sail through beer week like a pro, we have some suggestions. At this level of beer enthusiast, it’s about quality over quantity. Don’t overdo it. You’re looking for variety. You’re comparing and contrasting styles of beer. And, like experienced wine tasters, you’re not averse to pouring out beer into dump buckets after a sip or two. Along those lines, plan your transportation to and from the event. Having the Uber and Lyft apps in your phone is the smart way to go.
To get a sense of the excitement of beer week, attending the opening event is a must. The Sacramento Brewers Showcase is scheduled for 5:30-9 p.m. Feb. 26 ($40) at the California Auto Museum (2200 Front St., Sacramento).
There will be 35-plus breweries from the region. This is an all-you-can-drink event, but don’t take that literally. Roam the large showroom and take in the sights, mingle with folks and scope out what beers interest you. There will be the standard offerings, as well as special beer week brews and collaborations. Maybe compare pilsners or IPAs from several breweries. See who’s trying new styles. Are there any new sours out there? And if you haven’t had a chance to try some of the esoteric stuff Sudwerk and Mraz are doing, now might be a good time.
You’ll also want hit the Capitol Beer Fest on March 8, which closes beer week (A Beer Geek pass for $60 gets you into the Showcase and Beer Fest). Beer festivals can be unwieldy and, truthfully, the seasoned sudser takes it easy here, stepping aside as the newbies jump from one line to the next with their souvenir cups. Look at it as a chance to hang out and chat up other enthusiasts rather than drink everything in sight.
What you do between these two big events is flexible. I’d watch for anything Capitol Beer and Taproom does (Barrel-aged Day is Feb. 28), along with Final Gravity, Boneshaker, Samuel Horne’s, Pangaea, LowBrau and Old Town Pizza Tap House. I’m also a fan of Hot City Pizza and its devotion to sour beer. The March 2 event at Mother Restaurant is expected to sell out quickly, so if you want to get in on a Mother/Bike Dog beer collaboration and some cool beer pairings with food, jump on it now. Duke’s Plates and Pints in the Arden-Arcade area is a new eatery showcasing craft beer and is worth a look.
Speaking of beer weeks, I heard plenty of good things about the recent one in San Francisco. One of the most important events was the annual Bistro Double IPA competition in Hayward. This is the contest that put Knee Deep and brewmaster Jeremey Warren on the map. In 2012, tiny, unheralded Knee Deep and its Hoptologist DIPA bested world-renowned Pliny the Elder (by Russian River Brewing) and won the gold medal.
If you’re into craft beer, you know how big that was. Knee Deep was brewing in 900-square-foot digs in Lincoln. Now it has 15,000 square feet in Auburn and is distributing as far as New York and Michigan.
This year’s winner at the Bistro is Hammerland DIPA by El Segundo Brewing, followed by well-known Double Jack (Firestone Walker) and Saint Archer’s DIPA. While I have enjoyed the second- and third-place winners, I’m unfamiliar with El Segundo Brewing. Its website shows it’s widely distributed in SoCal but has yet to find its way north. The triple IPA winner at Bistro this year? Pliny the Younger.