By now, the story of Sacramento’s beer legacy has become a familiar one. Before Prohibition, the region was a brewing force and Sacramento was known as the epicenter of hop growing.
These days, with more than 25 breweries, the city is having a renaissance in the form of quality craft beer made by passionate folks, mostly on a small scale. The boom reflects the trend throughout the nation. Beer is big and getting bigger, and brewers are tackling all kinds of styles, including barrel-aging.
But the most popular craft beer continues to be the India Pale Ale. It is crisp, refreshing with a pleasing expression of hops. It can be piney and citrusy. It can be smooth. It can be bitter. It can be balanced with malt, or not. The American-style IPA was designated as a category at the Great American Beer Festival in 1990.
There are many ways to make an IPA and just as many opinions about who makes the good ones.
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What follows is a rundown of some local IPAs of note. It is by no means an attempt to be a definitive account of this category. And to quell any potential furor, we’re not putting these entries in any particular order. But all eight beers, in their own, individual way, speak to the Sacramento region’s rich and evolving beer history.
Try some or all and get back to us. If we’ve missed your favorites, let us know and we’ll give them a try.
Rubicon Brewing IPA (6.5 percent ABV)
If you’re looking for an IPA benchmark against which you will rate other IPAs, why not start with the one that made history. Brewmaster Scott Cramlet’s IPA won first place in the inaugural American-style IPA category at the Great American Beer Festival.
Cramlet is still at Rubicon and still working his magic with this IPA. It’s a balanced beer that expresses that telltale hop bitterness to pleasing effect. 2004 Capitol Ave., Sacramento. (916) 448-7032. www.rubiconbrewing.com
Knee Deep Brewing, Hoptologist Double IPA (9 percent ABV)
Many consider brewmaster Jeremy Warren to be the high-wire act of contemporary craft beer, pushing the envelope when it comes to flavor, boldness, creativity and, yes, International Bittering Units.
The Hoptologist also has its place in history, beating legendary Pliny the Elder (Russian River Brewing) and highly regarded Ruination (Stone Brewing) in 2012 at the prestigious and closely watched 12th Annual Double IPA Festival at The Bistro in Hayward. The victory put this fledgling brewery on the map.
Hoptologist’s IBU’s are 102. If you’re wondering how that translates in real terms, think of it as a slap upside the head, but in a good way. 13395 New Airport Road, Suite H, Auburn. (530) 797-4677. www.kneedeepbrewing.com
Berryessa Brewing, House IPA (6.5 percent ABV)
This is a great little road trip from Sacramento out to a rural setting in Winters, where the taproom has become a destination for craft beer lovers. Brewmaster Chris Miller is considered a wizard by many, and his IPA is an example of the West Coast style at its finest.
Pine and citrus aromas, a full-bodied hoppiness on the palate and a crisp, bitter finish. The bigger Double Tap IPA (8.5 percent ABV) is also a winner. 27260 Highway 128, Winters. (530) 795-3526. www.berryessabrewingco.com
Track 7 Brewing, Panic IPA (7 percent ABV)
Oddly enough, this new and exciting brewery with a loyal following didn’t have an IPA until eight months after it opened. Now its Panic IPA has become a signature beer.
With a blend of four big hop varietals, the aroma, flavor and body are dialed in and make for a very appealing IPA drinking experience with plenty of complexity. 3747 West Pacific Ave., No. F, Sacramento. (916) 520-4677. www.track7brewing.com
New Helvetia Brewing, Thunderbeast IPA (7.1 percent ABV)
The first time I tried this beer with two serious craft beer friends, we were captivated by the rich flavors of mango and peach. It was an unusual, if not eccentric, example of an IPA, and there was very little bitter hoppy punch.
Because this beer used local hops in those early batches, the flavors seem to change with the months, and that’s perfectly fine for a local brewery willing to experiment and challenge beer lovers. 1730 Broadway, Sacramento. (916) 469-9889. www.newhelvetiabrew.com
Loomis Basin Brewing, Vindicator IPA (6.5 percent ABV)
While this beer is not aggressively bitter, it boasts big flavors that showcase the now-classic West Coast style of IPAs – plenty of bright citrus aromas, a balance of malt that provides a touch of sweetness and the familiar piney notes that make for a deep and enjoyable drinking experience. 3277 Swetzer Road, Loomis. (916) 259-2739. www.loomisbasinbrewing.com
Device Brewing, 3xIPA (10.5 percent ABV)
This may be a new nano brewery, but big is the operative word when it comes to this triple IPA – big alcohol, big flavor bursts and a very big wallop of bitterness that smacks your palate around. Friends and I were very impressed and are looking forward to returning soon. 8166 14th Ave., Sacramento. www.devicebrewing.com
Bike Dog Brewing, IPA (6.7 percent ABV)
Open just two days a week, the taproom in this West Sacramento small-batch brewery is a fun spot to kick back and try some serious beer. The IPA is done in a classic style and, because availability is often changing, there may be more than one IPA to taste when you visit. 2535 Industrial Blvd., No. 110, West Sacramento. (916) 432-3376. www.bikedogbrewing.com
The Sacramento area has plenty more IPAs – and much more beer – than the above. Your best bet is to hop around, try a bunch and figure out your favorites.