One of the roles of this column is to chronicle the growth of the local craft beer industry during a period of months and years that will go down as the Sacramento region’s second Golden Age of beer.
A century after California’s capital was known as one of the great beer cities west of the Mississippi, there has been such a brewing resurgence that it is a trying task simply to keep up with all of the new breweries and great beer. We travel and drink and travel some more, and still we can’t ever seem to get to the finish line.
For many months now, I’ve thought that Sacramento beer has taken a major step up in both quality and cultural significance. Now it’s time to put the pieces together to promote and sell this homegrown industry in a cohesive way. Locals have largely caught on, but are the breweries doing anything to attract out-of-town visitors?
Sacramento, whether it knows it or not, has enough craft breweries, enough star brewers and, no doubt, enough superb beer to announce itself as a beer destination. One man who recognizes that is Aaron O’Callaghan, a craft beer lover, who set out last year to create a simple map of local breweries.
The idea was that he and his friends, many of whom are a good decade out of college and are married with young kids, could tackle a fun little adventure: How many breweries could they visit in and around Sacramento?
Only it wasn’t so simple. O’Callaghan has a degree from UC Davis in environmental resources and management and has worked at the conservation group the Resources Legacy Fund for a dozen years.
“I was thinking, there were maybe 20 or 25 breweries,” said O’Callaghan. “In my day job, I do a lot of mapping. My friends jokingly said, ‘Are you going to make a map for us and we’ll see how many breweries we can get to?’ I didn’t think that was a very dumb idea at all so I ran with it.”
That was last summer. He has been to plenty of breweries since, enough to know that the Mosaic Pale Ale at Bike Dog really speaks to him, Sudwerk’s California Dry Hop Lager is eminently quaffable, the “Thurston” at New Helvetia deserves its Great American Beer Festival gold medal, and that everything hoppy at Knee Deep is first-rate. He could go on and on.
“To some extent it is about the beer, but this is also homegrown American manufacturing. We’re making something good in Sacramento. This is an efficient use of natural resources,” said O’Callaghan, a Sacramento native. “When I was young, there weren’t a lot of breweries like this. To me, hanging out at a brewery and having a beer is my definition of a good time. It’s that feel that you get when you sit down on a cool summer evening and you’ve got kids and dogs and there’s community there. It’s a place where you can just hang out. It’s the opposite of virtual.”
Burning plenty of midnight oil, O’Callaghan recently put the finishing touches on a comprehensive map, “Sacramento Valley Breweries: The Heartland of West Coast Beer.” It is available online with interactive features, including driving directions, and a limited poster-size map printed on heavy paper. Online for the time being, it is hidden away unceremoniously on the Sacramento Beer Week website.
While there are other Google maps out there, along with the map and directory within the Beers in Sac free phone app, O’Callaghan’s is the most up-to-date, user-friendly and visually appealing one going.
One glance says it all: Sacramento beer is ready for some next-level stuff.
With 51 active and pending breweries on O’Callaghan’s map, we are reaching a point where it will no longer be enough for breweries to make good beer or simply be likable. The honeymoon is ending. Breweries have to tell their story, remind people why they are worth visiting and lure new customers. They have to sell and sell.
O’Callaghan considers his map to be a “unifying, artful image that triggers visitors to explore further. The idea is to get in touch with a broader audience.”
“I think Sacramento can sustain this number of breweries, but if Sacramento can become a destination for beer, it will ensure that these breweries remain part of our landscape,” he said.