I’m often asked for opinions and suggestions related to craft beer and I usually reply to readers privately, but this time I thought I’d give answers to some of the many inquiries I get. In no particular order:
Most underrated beer: Sudwerk’s Dry Hop Lager. I’ve been a big fan of this beer since it came out. It’s an ideal beer for what it aspires to be – a classic lager updated with just the right expression of hop aroma and flavor. The balance is beautiful, the finish lively and smooth. There may be edgier beers and trendier styles out there, but when you’re seeking a refreshing, quaffable, exquisitely crafted lager, this is perfection.
Most underrated India pale ale: Gold Digger, Auburn Alehouse. This brewery and pub is very respected by serious beer people, but it’s not the kind of place that toots its own horn. Gold Digger is bursting with hops and notes of citrus, finishing with just the right amount of bitterness/astringency. It’s one of the best IPAs around and deserves more attention.
Breakout brewery: Claimstake Brewing. This Rancho Cordova brewery just celebrated one year in business. Co-owner/brewmaster Brian Palmer does things the right way, including naming his beers after customers. A special triple IPA, The Marcus, was recently brewed for Dave Prillwitz, the RateBeer legend who chose this beer to mark his 10,000th rating on the popular site. Keep an eye on Claimstake.
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Best tasting room: Berryessa Brewing. This rural outpost in Winters is a must-visit for anyone looking for great beer and an inspiring, laid-back outdoor atmosphere. Moonraker, Crooked Lane and GoatHouse are pretty impressive, too. If you haven’t been to these four, time to rearrange your weekend itinerary.
Favorite beer drinking memory (tie): Chatting with soon-to-be-retired Sierra Nevada brewmaster Steve Dresler a few years ago and then enjoying an incredible trappist-style ale (from the Ovila series) that Dresler poured into a glass straight from the tank. That was an honor. Also a few years ago, I covered the Pliny the Younger phenomenon – you know, how people wait in line for five-plus hours outside Russian River in Santa Rosa for a taste of this triple IPA. I got to have one with co-owner Natalie Cilurzo at 10 a.m. before the pub opened. She and her husband, brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, are two of the greats in the industry.
Favorite brewery: There are so many good ones now. We all have different palates and preferences. But if I had to pick one: Mraz in El Dorado Hills. The barrel aged sours are simply incredible. I’m also a big fan of Device and New Glory. Sudwerk, Moonraker, Bike Dog, Rubicon, Track 7, Berryessa, too. Out of Bounds is rising. So is Jackrabbit. I could go on.
Most successful brewery growth: Track 7 and Knee Deep. These two breweries have different growth strategies, but there’s no getting around it – their success is no fluke. Quality product and quality people add up to steady expansion.
Most astounding start-up: Moonraker Brewing. Brewmaster Zack Frasher just might be the next Vinnie Cilurzo. Best known for his hazy IPA, Yojo, Frasher wins competitions with filtered beer, too. Northeast, West Coast. His talent seems boundless and he keeps blowing people’s minds. Excited to see where Moonraker is headed.
Biggest craft beer trend: If you’re not putting your beer in cans, you’re doing it wrong. Once a hallmark of cheap beer, cans are not only cool, they’re the preferred package of many/most beer geeks.
Best beer pubs (tie): Pangaea, Capitol Beer and Tap Room, Final Gravity. These are the places that set the agenda. They go to great lengths to provide the best selection of beer money can buy.
Craft beer hero: Rob Archie, owner of Pangaea Bier Cafe. He grew up in Woodland, played pro basketball in Europe, fell in love with the beer and cafe culture of Belgium and brought it home to Sacramento when he opened Pangaea. His standard? Nothing short of a world-class beer experience. Now he’s poised to open Urban Roots Brewing & Smokehouse on the grid later this year. You won’t find a more sincere, determined and charismatic person to represent craft beer than this dude.
Craft beer hero II: Big Mike Moore. The 6-foot-8 international beer judge has traveled the world judging great beer and we’re lucky to have his knowledge, passion and kindness right here in the Sacramento area.