Beer Run

Beer Run: A banner year for Sacramento region beers

This lager by Mad Fritz Brewing of St. Helena was Bee writer Blair Anthony Robertson’s favorite beer of 2015.
This lager by Mad Fritz Brewing of St. Helena was Bee writer Blair Anthony Robertson’s favorite beer of 2015.

One of the au courant slang words you need to know, according to Buzzfeed, is “déjàbrew,” a word that inspired this installment of Beer Run. It means slowly remembering what you did while drinking, and to help me recall what I have seen and tasted, I take lots of notes and pictures, some of which I post on Twitter and Instagram.

What was the biggest news locally in craft beer?

Was it the inaugural, and highly successful, California Craft Beer Summit? Was it the bigger-and-better Sacramento Beer Week? The Russian River beer-pairing dinner at Pangaea Bier Cafe? The consistently excellent and ever-changing beer selections at Capitol Beer and Taproom, Final Gravity and other beer-focused bars? The tremendous growth of Track 7?

Maybe it was how beloved Bike Dog is experiencing such growth that its four owners, all with full-time jobs, have to contend with growing the business? Or is it the emergence of Device, New Glory and Mraz into the upper echelon of the area’s craft brewers? Was it the slew of awards local breweries snagged, including New Helvetia’s gold medal at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival in Denver?

Or was the most important news of the year simply the powerful and unrelenting growth of the local beer scene – the crowded taprooms, the array of great beer, the ever-more-educated and demanding consumer? That really is the big story. 2015 was the year when Sacramento brewers and beer lovers alike took things to the next level. Gone was any sense of inferiority. This region was on the rise, the quality of beer was very high and wide-ranging, and there was no shortage of talented and dedicated brewers.

That became evident during the Craft Beer Summit. Here was a first-time event in which all of the state’s top craft beer people would be in attendance and I didn’t hear anyone fret about Sacramento not being up to the task. The event was a major success and the local breweries, pubs and restaurants showed their stuff. No one was surprised when the California Craft Brewers Association’s Tom McCormick announced the Summit would return for Year 2.

Another major development concerned Knee Deep, the top-tier brewery based in Auburn. Best known for its range of robust India pale ales, Knee Deep expanded its brewing output, hired more employees, distributed to more states and, in doing so, endured a major schism. Halfway through 2015, founder and brewmaster Jeremy Warren announced he was leaving, turning over sole ownership to business partner Jerry Moore.

While this seemed traumatic for a moment, it soon became clear Moore had steadied the ship at Knee Deep and the brewery would continue to prosper. It also seemed probable that Warren would move on and thrive. He is now in the the final stages of getting his new venture, Revision Brewing, off the ground. Rather than controversy, it looks like this split could leave us with two first-rate breweries.

Now, let’s get to the actual beer. I did a lot of tasting in 2015. If I could point to a theme or trend, it was the rise of the pale ale. There are simply so many good ones out there right now. If you don’t have a first-rate pale ale in your lineup, you’re better off not serving a mediocre one. Consumers will be on to you. They have so many great options now.

These lists are impossible, of course. I’m leaving off beers by Russian River, The Bruery, Goose Island, Stone, Sierra Nevada and many others. Here are five of the best beers I tasted in 2015.

5. Grapefruit Hopsauce IPA, Rubicon.

4. Alkali Wit (Belgian-style witbier), Track 7.

3. Integral IPA, Device.

2. Blackberry Saison Je’, Mraz.

1. The Donkey and Thistle (barrel-aged pale lager), Mad Fritz (St. Helena).

Yes, my favorite beer of 2015 was a category-defying unfiltered lager aged in chardonnay barrels, featuring a micro-malt from Colorado and Glacier hops grown organically in nearby Clear Lake. This light-bodied beer, with hints of Pilsner and hoppy pale ale, has tremendous complexity, smoothness and balance. Déjàbrew? I can only hope owner/brewer Nile Zacherle crafts another batch in 2016.

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