Beer Run

King Cong brewing brings balance, nuance and a touch of diversity

Cong Nguyen owns King Cong Brewing, which is set to open a tasting room and modest-menu (pizzas) eatery next spring on Del Paso Boulevard.
Cong Nguyen owns King Cong Brewing, which is set to open a tasting room and modest-menu (pizzas) eatery next spring on Del Paso Boulevard.

I first encountered King Cong Brewing about eight months ago when I was out on the lively stretch of Stockton Boulevard known as Little Saigon, looking for a bite to eat.

At Long’s Sandwiches, I had a King Cong pale ale and, despite what the name suggests – an enraged gorilla wreaking havoc in a concrete jungle – I was neither overpowered nor blown away.

I got pleasing flavors. There was a relatively low-key expression of hops, and I picked up a touch of sweetness on the finish. And, as I began to recalibrate what I was experiencing, I had an overall sense of soothing satisfaction.

I could only conclude that whoever was brewing this beer was less interested in wow factor and more intent on showcasing balance. Just this week, I finally got to meet the owner, Cong Nguyen, and learn about his plans to open his brewery on Del Paso Boulevard in the spring of 2017.

King Cong is worth noting for several reasons. Del Paso Boulevard is a craft brewing desert that will surely welcome a thriving brewery with a tasting room and small food menu, including pizza.

Nguyen has the potential to not only bring more diversity to the industry but help grow its customer base by reaching out to underserved communities. While many of us focus on race, culture and gender when it comes to diversity, there’s more to it than that. It’s about life experiences, who you are as a person, and, in this case, how you approach brewing.

Upbeat and amiable, Nguyen initially set out to be a doctor, largely to please his parents, who were gardeners in Vietnam and moved to America seeking a better life. Then he was going to be a dentist like his older brother, who has two dental offices in Sacramento. But he struggled to get into dental school and eventually settled on helping his brother manage the dental practice.

In 2011, he decided to pursue a dream of a different kind, enrolling in UC Davis’ renowned Master Brewers Program. The experience energized him.

“The money that I was saving for a house I used to go back to school. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” he said. “I have fallen in love with everything about making beer. The last three years have been about trying to get the brewery off the ground and developing the recipes.”

Nguyen’s family has found great success in the Sacramento region. Several years ago, the family bought Long’s Sandwiches, built a new shopping center on Stockton Boulevard and owns the building on Del Paso Boulevard where Nguyen will launch his brewing career.

Sure, craft beer is predominantly white and male, but Nguyen thinks of it as a work in progress with plenty of upside.

“The thing I can say about the craft beer community is they are very, very welcoming,” he told me. “But there were instances, such as the recent Craft Beer Summit. I remember walking on the display floor and looking around and thinking, ‘Wow, I do feel like a minority among everybody here.’ 

Rob Archie, the African American owner of craft beer hot spot Pangaea Bier Cafe, sees plenty of opportunities for Nguyen and others to enter the business.

“I definitely think there’s room to reach out to different social classes and nationalities. Most (craft breweries) you go to, you don’t see a lot of people of color. But you have a lot of open-minded people who drink beer.”

I asked Nguyen if there’s something about his background – the American-born son of Vietnamese immigrants – that he brings to the craft beer equation.

“With my beers, I consider them balanced but a little bit sweet. Vietnamese people have a very big sweet tooth. When I develop my beers, some of it comes from having that flavor profile.”

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