Beer Run

Craft beer growth in Sacramento breweries? It’s complicated, stressful and vital

A sampler tray from left, Heavy Cruiser Porter, Rapid Fire Red, Mighty Eighth IPA and American Country at the New Glory Brewery, 8251 Alpine Ave.
A sampler tray from left, Heavy Cruiser Porter, Rapid Fire Red, Mighty Eighth IPA and American Country at the New Glory Brewery, 8251 Alpine Ave.

The Sacramento region’s craft brewing scene continues to flourish, with Claimstake, Flatland, Tilted Mash, Three Mile, Moonraker and Fountainhead up and running in recent weeks and, according to my sources, brewing beer that ranges from solid to superb. If you’re looking to add some variety to your craft beer life, check them out.

While the newcomers are spreading their wings and taking flight, they’re bound to be looking on with interest as the more established breweries begin tackling the next challenge: growth. As we all know by now, craft beer is booming and big beer is reeling. In 2015, there were 4,269 breweries in the United States, up 15 percent from the year before. We now have more breweries than at any time in the nation’s history. The craft beer industry as a whole continues to grow at a clip of about 16 percent annually in revenue, and small, independent breweries had a 12 percent market share last year, according to the Brewers Association.

Brewing great beer that sparks demand is one thing. But brewing enough great beer to meet escalating demand can get complicated, expensive and stressful.

Let’s look at Device and New Glory. These two breweries, tucked away in nearby industrial buildings minutes from Tahoe Park, have really hit their stride. Though they have different personalities and approaches to brewing, they’re both putting out some of the best and most interesting beer around. If you haven’t tried these two spots, they’re well worth your attention.

New Glory owner Julien Lux has been canning some of his beer for more than a year, using the Can Van, a popular mobile canning service. A month ago, the brewery began its own canning operation with a $45,000 entry-level machine that cranks out a modest 12 cans a minute when it’s really humming. And guess what?

“We’re looking at getting a bigger machine,” Lux told me. “We’ve already outgrown the one we have.”

Lux ordered the machine last August, but there was a five-month lag time before it arrived and could be installed. In the meantime, New Glory’s cans were becoming hot sellers and the machine was essentially obsolete by the time they plugged it in.

Now Lux is in the market for a $120,000 canning line with twice the output.

“It’s hectic and stressful, but in a good kind of way,” Lux said when I asked about managing growth. “We’re sitting here scratching our heads thinking, ‘How can we get to the next level?’ 

Brewing output and staffing are also issues. New Glory, which has six employees, is looking to hire a full-time cellar technician responsible for, among other things, dry hopping, carbonating and filtering the beer.

Lux has signed with distributors in the Bay Area but has been unable to supply them with any beer. That’s because the demand in Sacramento is so high. The brewery is on track to brew 2,500 barrels in 2016 and hopes to expand to 10,000 barrels within the next two years. For comparison purposes, Knee Deep is at 20,000 barrels a year and Track 7 is at about 12,000.

Why is New Glory doing so well? It has scaled back its offerings of year-round beers from five to two – the Farmhouse French Saison and the Extra Pale American IPA – and placed extra emphasis on seasonal beers that stand out from the crowd. The wet hop IPA released last fall, for instance, was a hyper-seasonal, small-batch beer that was outstanding. Now the hot seller is the Key Lime Gose.

Lux not only knows how to brew high-quality beer, he understands the market and knows what his brewery wants to be. All he has to do is ramp up production to meet demand.

With Device, a good bit of the focus is on expanding into new territory, including Chico, South Lake Tahoe, Nevada City, Oakland and Berkeley. For that, the brewery upgraded from a Ford F-150 pickup to a spiffy Mercedes cargo van.

“Most of the out-of-town business we’re getting is places reaching out to us,” said owner Ken Anthony, who recently hired three new employees (a staff brewer and two production assistants), bringing the total to nine.

“We are on track to do triple the amount of beer we did last year,” Anthony said, noting that canning and bottling in-house are not yet feasible.

To meet demand, the brewing system is running 13 hours a day in two shifts.

“More beer is more stress. You’ve got more employees. The stakes are always higher. Larger batches mean higher risk because you’ve got more labor and more materials in every batch. We’ve got more accounts to service. That’s more phone calls, more emails, more invoices, more beer to to deliver.”

About the financing necessary to make growth happen, Anthony said, “We are reducing the size of our comfort zone to make these expansions possible. It definitely makes for some sleepless nights.”

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