Tasting Flight: Berryessa Brewing's Chris Miller tastes his brewery's creations
This Sunday, Oct. 16, Berryessa Brewing is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a major party and a boatload of special beers, including barrel-aged sours and several cask beers. Here’s why the event should be on your radar.
If you’re a devoted beer lover, there’s a good chance it’s already one of your favorite breweries. If you haven’t been out there yet or are unfamiliar with their beer, I highly recommend you put it on your to-do list.
Tucked away on a rural road 2 miles from Main Street in Winters and 40 minutes from Sacramento, Berryessa Brewing has emerged as one of the great breweries in the region and arguably the best tasting room experience. Think of it as a mini road trip that whisks you away to a very special place.
The husband-and-wife co-owners, Chris Miller and Lori Nicolini Miller, are major talents in the business. More than a few would-be brewery owners have made the pilgrimage to Berryessa Brewing to try to understand what makes the beer so great and the experience so special.
As the head of brewing operations, Chris routinely produces some of the best beers in California, including the Separation Anxiety India pale ale, which is available exclusively at the tasting room. If you think of IPAs as big, bitter hop bombs, you have yet to try a Chris Miller concoction. Some of his beers are hazy and have plenty of nuanced flavors. One could argue he was brewing those hazy, juicy Northeast-style beers before there was a Northeast style.
Lori oversees the tasting room, aka “front of the house,” which has its own magical quality – live music, chill vibe, cool people – that few other craft breweries can rival. When the brewery is closed, it all looks so simple – a bunch of picnic tables lined up under shade cloths. But just wait until the place is alive with people, music and beer.
When the brewery opened five years ago, Chris was the lone employee, brewing close to 2,000 barrels in 2012. The tasting room launched the following year, and Lori got in on the action, turning this rural outpost into an instant classic. It now has 12 employees, and the brewery is on pace to produce 5,000 barrels in 2016. There’s even talk about a midtown tasting room, although husband and wife have different opinions on that at the moment. While I like and admire Lori, who worries that a second location will diminish the Winters experience, here’s one Sacramento resident hoping Chris prevails in this instance.
For the anniversary party, which starts at noon and goes until dark, things are a little different. There’s a $10 cover charge, which includes an 18-ounce souvenir stainless steel cup. Four music acts will perform throughout the event along with food trucks and that special Berryessa Brewing vibe. The only difference will be the larger crowds, the overflow parking lot and even more great beer than normal. Berryessa Brewing is at 27260 Highway 128, Winters.
The Great American Beer Festival, arguably the most important event in the industry, recently announced its 2016 award winners. We’re talking the very best beer in the country in a variety of styles, including 7,227 entries from 1,752 breweries. The Sacramento region did well once again, with Sudwerk taking a gold medal in the “Mixed Culture Brett Beer” category for its amazing Funke Hop Farm, a dry hopped sour saison aged in wine barrels for half a year; the Davis brewery also won bronze for Farmers Market Citrus Gose in “German-style Sour Ale.” Rubicon won bronze for Winter Wheat Wine in “Aged Beer.”
But the most startling revelations came from Auburn, where three breweries claimed medals: bronze for Knee Deep’s Breaking Bud in “American Style India Pale Ale”; a silver in “Golden or Blonde Ale” for Moonraker’s Miss Conduct; and bronze for Auburn Alehouse’s Old Town Brown in “English-Style Mild Ale.”
Even better for Auburn? Another brewery with plenty of potential, Crooked Lane Brewing, just opened in late August.