One of the best breweries in the Sacramento region just took the next big step — canning beer.
For Berryessa Brewing, which started brewing in 2011 and opened to the public in 2012, that means more beer, more revenue, greater distribution and heightened expectations. It’s something I’ve been awaiting for many months. And I’m not alone. Many consider owner/brewmaster Chris Miller to be a major talent. He and his team stand poised to take this acclaimed rural operation to new heights.
The beers are always on point — flavorful, balanced, distinctive — whether it’s a session India pale ale, a Pilsner, California Common, the excellent Markley Cove pale ale made with Galaxy hops, the coveted Separation Anxiety IPA available only at the tasting room, or the Whippersnapper English mild that’s loaded with flavor and gentle bitterness even though it’s only 3.9 percent alcohol by volume. Brewing output will increase significantly, likely doubling the 4,500 barrels a year they’re brewing now.
With its reputation solidly established in Sacramento, Berryessa could eventually grow up to be considered one of the best breweries ... on the West Coast.
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The potential is there. It already has one of the great tasting room/beer garden vibes anywhere, overseen by Miller’s wife and co-owner, Lori. Being there is a charming and inspiring little slice of magic. Large, laid-back crowds routinely fill every outdoor picnic bench, listening to live bluegrass, drinking terrific beer and carrying on as if everything in the world will be just fine. Many top breweries get this experience right. But none is more dialed in than the former fruit-packing shed down a country road on the outskirts of Winters.
Berryessa has been a significant player on draft in bars and restaurants in Sacramento and, even more so, in the Bay Area. Now, it will find its way onto shelves at retail outlets. All they had to do was start packaging. But Berryessa waited and waited. I was starting to think it was never going to happen.
In addition to being an excellent brewer, Miller is something of a worrywart when it comes to the quality and integrity of his beer. That explains why it took so long to flip the switch and put his elixirs into cans. Would it stay fresh? How long before the beer began to change? Miller wanted all those unknowns figured out before he proceeded.
And when he finally did, I made sure I made the 35-mile trip to witness it all go down.
With $100,000-plus worth of equipment and an abundance of excellent product, Berryessa Brewing revved up its Wild Goose canning line and things started humming — 37 cans a minute. Filled. Sealed. And grouped in four-packs, which will sell for $15. Twenty-eight barrels of beer from the tank converted into 9,000 cans pencils out to $33,750 of revenue.
The first beer up is Double Tap, a very smooth, flavorful double IPA that Miller likes to call “Double Nap.” Yes, a couple of these, maybe a pizza from the food truck, a little bit of low-key music, and you just might be ready a snooze. Here’s an IPA that’s loaded with character without being intensely bitter. In fact, as the beer warms up, any kind of bitterness seems to dissipate.
But let’s get to the cans. Cans are hot and getting hotter, so much so that bottled beer seems like yesterday’s news. Sure, it’s still the most popular way to sell craft beer at retail, but 16-ounce cans are catching up. They’re better environmentally and easier to recycle. They pack up better into your fridge and are more portable for camping, picnics, pool parties. Bottled beer is barred from the American River. Canned beer is not (in most cases).
Many local breweries have made can releases an exciting part of their marketing strategy — come out with something new and exciting, slam it into cans, sell out in hours, then move on to the next one. New Glory, Track 7 and Moonraker are leading the can revolution. Device, Bike Dog and Knee Deep are getting a feel for it. To serious beer folks, cans are much more appealing. They don’t let in any light, which is the No. 1 beer killer. There’s no ingress (of oxygen) or egress (of carbon dioxide). Thus, the shelf life is noticeably longer than bottles.
The very hoppy, super fresh and pretty amazing Berryessa Double Tap will be good for six to eight weeks in a can. But if you wait that long, my friend, you’re doing it wrong.