Beer Run

Beer in review: 2016 was bigger, better, more delicious than ever

Head brewer Zack Frasher tastes a glass of Yojo IPA at the Moonraker Brewing Company in Auburn earlier this month.
Head brewer Zack Frasher tastes a glass of Yojo IPA at the Moonraker Brewing Company in Auburn earlier this month.

As we take stock of the year in beer, now might be a good time for a bit of context: We’re living in the Golden Age.

There has never been a bigger, better or more creative, productive, socially engaging and delicious year than 2016. Here in Sacramento, there are more beer bars and restaurants emphasizing beer, more breweries and tasting rooms, more brewery dogs wagging and sniffing and snoring, and more kids at breweries playing corn hole and Jenga and learning by osmosis about the wonders of things such as Galaxy hops, brettanomyces and barrel-aged sours as their parents taste and talk among friends.

The good breweries got better and bigger. Knee Deep in Auburn will produce 20,000 barrels this year, making it the largest craft brewery in the Sacramento region. Venerable Rubicon Brewing opened a tasting room at its production facility in West Sacramento so fans would have the option to go there or the midtown brewpub. Just days before the close of 2016, I ran into Rubicon’s pub brewer, Chris Keeton, at a booth at the midtown farmers market and got to taste the latest barrel-aged Russian imperial stout. It was a beautiful thing – and a reminder that Rubicon doesn’t plan on being overshadowed by all these newcomers.

But the new breweries continue to change the landscape.

In early February, I presided over a blind tasting of India pale ale with three craft beer enthusiasts and, amid all kinds of local, regional and national competition, the winner was Knee Deep’s Breaking Bud. At the time, I had heard of a place called Moonraker that had just opened not far from Knee Deep and made a note to myself to visit once the brewery got its act together.

Apparently, that happened on Day 1. Moonraker’s brewmaster, Zack Frasher, was soon making a major splash with a hazy Northeast-style IPA called Yojo. Old-time beer lovers and the hard-line style police scoffed and bristled. But Moonraker underscored the division between old and new. The new craft beer scene wants innovation. It wants new and exciting.

Moonraker and Yojo made such a splash that I don’t hesitate to name it Beer of the Year in the Sacramento region. No other beer had this kind of impact. When it’s canned and distributed to bottle shops, it sells out almost immediately. It continues to create a buzz on Facebook group pages such as Sacramento Beer Enthusiasts and Sacramento Beer Group. One day, when someone on the SBE page asked folks to name their top-five breweries, Moonraker seemed to be on almost everyone’s list – and the brewery has yet to celebrate its first anniversary.

Plenty of breweries opened in 2016 and are now thriving, including Flatland and Tilted Mash in Elk Grove, and Auburn’s Crooked Lane. Big Stump in midtown is also finding its audience, though it might have been overshadowed by the sensational launch of Fieldwork’s taproom a block away. Beloved Bike Dog in West Sacramento announced it will open a taproom on Broadway in early ’17.

Area breweries are getting attention by winning awards. Ol’ Republic in Nevada City won best of show at the California State Fair Commercial Beer Competition for a Dortmunder export, a light lager called Dead Canary. Moonraker, Tilted Mash, Out of Bounds, Sudwerk, American River Brewing, Mraz, Device, Lodi Beer Co. and Yolo Brewing also captured medals.

As far as trends go, Track 7 and New Glory showcased one of the best in 2016 by releasing cans of small-batch beers that push the envelope in terms of style and creativity. The beers go on sale, quickly sell out, and something else new and exciting follows. This is what many beer lovers covet and I expect to see much more of that in 2017.

And my expectations for the new year? It will be even bigger, better, more creative and more delicious than 2016.

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