Beer Run

Beer Run: Sacramento’s Twelve Rounds Brewing goes the distance

Elle and Dan Murphy are planning to open their East Sacramento brewery in July.
Elle and Dan Murphy are planning to open their East Sacramento brewery in July.

There were moments over the past three years when Dan and Elle Murphy, frustrated by delays and staggered by cost overruns for overhauling an old building that was not up to code, felt like scrapping the whole idea.

But Twelve Rounds Brewing wasn’t merely a business plan or a job. It was a dream. Dan had been brewing beer at home for years. He had won raves from friends. He’d racked up numerous awards in home-brew competitions. This brewery, if he and his wife could ever pull it off, was going to be his life.

At least that was the vision. They secured the 3,000-square-foot building on 57th Street in East Sacramento in 2012. They gutted the place, formerly an antique consignment cooperative, with plans for a brewhouse, taproom, patio and restaurant. They expected to be up and running within 18 months. That would have put them right in the thick of things in terms of the Sacramento-area beer boom – Track 7, New Helvetia, Out of Bounds, Bike Dog, Yolo, Jack Rabbit, Boneshaker, Device, New Glory and more had all opened and, by most accounts, were thriving.

Dan and Elle? They were on the sidelines, their dream looking more and more like a maze. They dealt with the red tape of a U.S. Small Business Administration loan. They found out that the old structure they had leased was woefully underpowered. They watched as the estimate to fix it ballooned from $7,200 to nearly $40,000. The couple had to go back to the bank and ask for more money.

“It was then classified as a different kind of loan,” Elle explained.

That led to more delays.

Meanwhile, Congress failed to pass a spending bill, which lead to the 2013 government shutdown, which meant the Small Business Administration’s ability to process new loan requests ground to a halt. “Simple things that would take a couple of weeks wound up taking several months,” Elle said. “This is our child that I thought was going to be born in … months and it’s turning into three years.”

“When we found out about the power thing and then the bid was changed, it was a nightmare,” Dan said. “I got to the point where I just wanted to walk away and say no.”

“But we had gone through so much,” Elle said.

They were paying rent on the building each month, but no money was coming in. They even had hired highly regarded Washington brewer Mike Davis, who moved to Sacramento but never got to brew any beer. Instead, he spent much of his time helping paint and get the brewery’s interior ready.

Through all the ups and downs, the late nights and weekends, the Murphys held down full-time jobs. Married for seven years, they are a charming duo and a formidable partnership. They met via eHarmony, the online dating service. Elle, who grew up in Southern California and attended UC Davis, is a management analyst with the city of Woodland. Dan, a Bay Area native, works in the private sector as a network engineer.

They have complementary skill sets. Outgoing Elle crunches the numbers and is a people person who envisions Twelve Rounds as that “third place” after home and work. Soft-spoken Dan focuses on what it takes to create the ideal small-batch brewery he has always wanted. That includes investing $250,000 in new equipment for the brewhouse from Portland Kettle Works.

Dan knows the aesthetics of the building matter, as does customer service. But if Twelve Rounds is going to find an audience in the Sacramento beer scene of today, it has to come out of the gate serving really good beer. There is too much competition to do otherwise.

Twelve Rounds is serious about high standards. After his first brewer left earlier this year for another job because he was idle for too long, Dan managed to hire Scott Cramlet, the veteran brewmaster at venerable Rubicon. The hire did two things: It gave the nearly forgotten Twelve Rounds a fresh wave of publicity, and it infused the soon-to-open brewery with instant street cred.

Dan likes robust beers with big flavors and exquisite balance. He gravitates towards stouts and barley wines. The focus of the beer production will be a mix of barrel-aged beers and more conventional styles done well.

He also realizes that part of his job will be educating consumers, at least those who shy away from dark beers because they consider them too strong or cloying. He says many beer enthusiasts may be surprised to learn that plenty of Twelve Rounds’ darker beers will be as quaffable as amber and pale ales. He intends to illustrate that by conducting blind tastings of dark beers.

When it hits full stride, Twelve Rounds will have 12 beers on tap. Don’t expect the barrel-aged varieties just yet. They take more time and planning, so Dan has put that part off until the brewery gets going with its more conventional styles. There are also plans to bottle in the months ahead.

“With Scott here, he pretty much pioneered IPAs in Sacramento,” Dan said. “We’re going to put our heads together. I have a stack of recipes for beers and we’re going to pick out ones we like.”

All those obstacles may have discouraged the Murphys, but they say they are excited to finally be on the verge of opening. The plan is to launch sometime in July with the brewery and taproom and do the food service in a second phase. The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar will run the food program.

Dan says he plans to stay in his full-time job as long as possible, but the idea is for him to make the transition to brewery full time. That dream is beginning to look more legitimate.

“From the beginning, I knew two things,” Elle said when asked if the delays and construction headaches put a strain on their marriage. “Our marriage has got to stay intact no matter what. Then our plan is for Dan to work here full time. I’m keeping my job because I love my job. I love going to work every day. That’s the goal. This is going to be his deal, and I’m going to be working here when I can. That’s what I want for him.”

Dan knows Twelve Rounds is going to have to make up for lost time. If the original plan went off without a hitch, he might be talking about medals, bottling runs and expansion by now.

“There was only a handful of breweries back when we were getting started,” he said. “We would have come in right around the time just after Track 7 opened. It bothers me a little bit that we’re not open. Some people will ask if we think we missed the boat, that there’s a brewery bubble that’s going to burst. I don’t think so.

“I like to tell people if you look at beer sales all over the country, craft beer just hit 11 percent. If you look at that, we still have 89 percent more to go.”

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