Beer Run

How craft beer has helped transform West Sacramento’s image

Patrons enjoy live music at Yolo Brewing earlier this month in West Sacramento. The city’s breweries have become hangout spots.
Patrons enjoy live music at Yolo Brewing earlier this month in West Sacramento. The city’s breweries have become hangout spots.

Back in 2009, when I was house-hunting, I spent some time exploring the neighborhoods of West Sacramento, where I liked the prices and proximity to work, but I hesitated for one key reason — I didn’t think there was much to do.

I worried I would always be making my way back across the river to the midtown and downtown grid for restaurants, bars, coffee shops and just plain hanging out.

Fast-forward to spring 2017 and I find myself heading across the river, all right – from Sacramento to West Sacramento to chase down all that quality beer and the laid-back good times that go with it. There’s so much going that you don’t have to leave West Sacramento to have an excellent, multifaceted craft beer experience. Listings of homes for sale will often mention how easy it is to walk or bicycle to breweries.

Yes, West Sacramento has become seriously cool, and you can thank craft beer for the image upgrade. Tiny Bike Dog Brewing made terrific beer right out of the gate and the owners gave off such a welcoming vibe that many customers began to see the brewery’s humble tasting room as that special “third place” where you can hang out with your dog and your kids and see all your friends. Jackrabbit started producing great beer, too, and its tasting room also has a devoted following.

Rubicon Brewing has its 14,600 square foot production facility and a new tasting room there, in addition to its popular midtown brewpub. Yolo Brewing, which seemed to sputter out of the gate with inconsistent beer quality, has renewed its focus, hired the well-respected Dave Weiss to oversee brewing operations and is now producing some very good beer. The coconut porter I had there last week was a beautiful thing. With the larger brewhouse it just acquired, watch for Yolo to continue to up its game.

Several casual restaurants are showcasing quality craft beer, including a new Burgers and Brew in a renovated old firehouse, Broderick Roadhouse and the Flaming Grill Cafe, which has 32 tap handles. The Brewmeister, a store for home brewers and winemakers, has one of its three locations in West Sacramento.

As the new beer scene took shape over the past three years, Rohit Nayyar of RoCo Wine & Spirits saw the opportunity to revamp his business model. He became a craft beer enthusiast himself and his store is now known for having one of the best beer selections in the region. The transformation went so well that Nayyar is now in expansion mode. He’ll soon open an on-site beer garden at RoCo with 24 tap handles.

Nayyar says the new West Sacramento beer scene is nothing short of a cultural shift.

“You can get on your bike and have so many spots you can go for craft beer,” Nayyar said. “The same customers that were coming in buying Bud Light a couple of years ago are now buying different craft beers. As the store has matured, the customer has matured with us.”

“A lot more people are pronouncing ‘saison’ correctly,” quipped A.J. Tendick, one of Bike Dog’s four owners.

While the success of the local breweries could not have been predicted, it’s no accident they decided to locate in West Sacramento. The city made it clear they were welcome by amending zoning regulations in the industrial areas, thereby dramatically streamlining the process to open. It was simply much faster and less expensive to launch there.

“It has been a great symbiotic marketing thing to have the breweries open here,” said Aaron Laurel, the city’s economic development director, noting that new brewery visitors tend to generate more interest in business development and housing. “I think we underestimated the effect the breweries would have on the community.”

Last year, West Sacramento was dealt a high-profile setback when an ambitious new brewery called Revision suddenly pulled the plug on plans to open in the city. Headed by Jeremy Warren, the founder of Auburn’s Knee Deep Brewing, Revision opened a few weeks ago in Sparks, Nev., and promptly won the prestigious gold medal at the 20th annual Bistro India pale ale competition in Hayward. The loss of Revision, however, was no momentum killer. Highly regarded Drake’s Brewing of San Leandro decided to open a beer garden and eatery at the Barn in the Bridge District along the waterfront.

When that opens in the months to come, West Sacramento’s stature as a cool beer town will only get better.

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