Beer Run

Beer Run: Lifting a pint to Sacramento's growing beer scene

Welcome to The Beer Run, a place that brings you news, opinion and all kinds of information about the developments in the local and regional beer scene.

In the coming weeks, we'll take a look at new beer releases, new brewery openings and all the latest information and opinion related to something that has come to be known as craft beer – small, independent breweries that prize quality and creativity over quantity.

More often than not, we'll celebrate the many high- caliber beers brewed locally that are bringing newfound attention and admiration to our region. Along the way, we'll dig into Sacramento's rich legacy as a beer brewing capital that goes back to the late 1800s.

That storied past is becoming part of the present with two popular new breweries, Ruhstaller and New Helvetia, having resurrected Sacramento brands from a century ago. Both are poised to thrive alongside established operations such as Rubicon, Hoppy Brewing, River City Brewing, Auburn Alehouse – around two dozen area breweries, with five more slated to open in 2013.

These breweries are making our city a destination for beer lovers, both foreign and domestic. Did you know that the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau had a booth at last year's national trade show in Los Angeles with the theme "Bikes and Brews"? Yes, quality beer can ring the cash register, attract tourism and help reshape the city's identity.

In this space, we'll also explore the region beyond. Northern California is a hot spot for the modern American craft beer movement, which slots in nicely with the region's enthusiasm for the farm-to-table approach to cooking that's become mainstream.

In Santa Rosa, for instance, we were there when Russian River Brewing released its legendary Pliny the Younger – an event that lasts only two weeks a year and has beer aficionados lining up for this magical concoction, which has just the right bitterness and plenty of balanced flavor that somehow softens the blow of the high alcohol content. During our visit, we found plenty of Sacramento beer geeks imbibing – and many others contacting me via Twitter to ask about the length of the line.

Pliny the Elder, an India pale ale that has been brewed year-round since 2005, has also achieved an almost mystical cult status. At Taylor's Market in Sacramento, where it is stocked in limited quantities, you have to be in the know to ask for it, as they don't display it in the cooler. And if they have it, they'll bring you two bottles – and no more – out of the back fridge.

When you see that kind of demand and dedication, it's no surprise that the craft beer industry has grown during the recession. While the economy has limped along, craft brewing sales increased 15 percent in 2010 and rose an additional 15 percent in 2011.

So, where to start this journey of hops and barley? To answer that, I pulled up a bar stool next to Dan Scott, who four years ago founded Sacramento Beer Week, which recently wrapped up another successful edition. Scott invited me along for a mini pub crawl around east Sacramento.

First stop: Clark's Corner, a neighborhood restaurant and bar that reflects the enthusiasm for craft beer. We ordered a Brekle's Brown from the bartender, who just happens to have a second-level certification as a cicerone, the beer equivalent of a sommelier in the wine world.

We crossed H Street and stepped into Hot City Pizza, admired for its whole-wheat crust pizzas and selection of hard-to-come-by craft beers. We each enjoyed a pint from Knee Deep, a brewery in Lincoln whose IPA "Hoptologist" recently bested Pliny the Elder at a major West Coast beer event.

We ended our crawl at The Shack with a category of beer called lambic, a Belgian sour beer often aged for years in wine barrels. It's effervescent, with bubbles that dance on your tongue.

Scott started Sacramento Beer Week because he wanted to tell the city's beer story. This year, there were 400 events, culminating with Capital BeerFest at Cal Expo, where so many beer ethusiasts showed up that the event ran out of food.

This kind of demand you just didn't see it five years ago. So where is all this headed? That's what we'll answer here in this occasional column.

Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @blarob.