Moonraker Brewing just proved you don’t have to have a big lineup of beers to start killing it. What you need is one really good beer – interesting, edgy, different and delicious. And let’s not forget hazy and juicy.
The beer in question is called Yojo IPA and it’s one of the hottest beers in town. The beer geeks on Facebook were posting about it. There was a mad rush to taste it. Capitol Beer and Taproom poured a hundred pints of it Monday night.
What’s all the fuss? It’s a New England-style IPA brewed right here in the Sacramento area. Moonraker, 12970 Earhart Ave., Auburn, opened just a few weeks back in the same industrial park as Knee Deep. The reports I’ve been getting suggest the beer has been first-rate right out of the blocks. That first impression is vital because we have so many craft beer options now. I had mediocre beer at a brewery launch a couple of years back, and it was nearly six months before I dared to try it again. Whew! The beer got better.
From the outset, there were already lofty expectations for Moonraker because head brewer Zack Frasher enjoyed an excellent reputation as a homebrewer. I asked him about Yojo and his embrace of the New England style, best exemplified by Heady Topper from the Alchemist in Vermont and, more recently, Tree House and Trillium in Massachusetts.
“I’ve been a homebrewer for a long time and I got into these New England-style IPAs. That’s kind of what we’re modeling the beers after,” Frasher said.
Hazy in appearance, the beer can be a bit of shock to the uninitiated. There’s hop aroma and hop flavor. But that bitterness is replaced by a mouthfeel best described as juicy, as in orange juice. It sloshes around in your mouth, unlike the West Coast IPA, which has a crisp, dry component and that alluring hop bitterness.
Frasher tells me that part of the New England style comes from the yeast strain. The yeast he’s using for Yojo is from London and, based on the tone of his voice when he mentioned it, a royal pain to work with.
“It’s a finicky strain, but it has an awesome flavor,” he said.
Yojo is brewed with plenty of hops, including Galaxy, Mosaic, Simcoe, Citra and a splash of CTZ Columbus. Plenty of late kettle hop additions and whirlpooling, and aggressive dry-hopping help create a distinctly different drinking experience than what we’re used to.
“You’re just tasting the hops. You’re not tasting the bitterness,” Frasher said.
Capitol Beer and Tap Room was one of the first beer bars to introduce the Moonraker style to the public.
“We really like it. It’s an incredibly popular beer at our place,” said CapTap’s Ken Hotchkiss. “Zack has a little buzz attached to him.
“We all know he’s an up-and-coming brewer. And for real beer geeks, we like the Vermont IPA style. I think he’s the first one locally who has really embraced it.”
Keep an eye out for more New England-style brewing from Moonraker. By the time you read this, CapTap’s small allotment of Yojo will be gone. Old Town Pizza in Roseville, 120 Church St., 916-668-7655, was supposed to tap a half keg by press time.
Frasher says Moonraker is planning to start canning its beer in the next six months, using the Can Van portable canning company to start.
Speaking of canning, American River Brewing is getting in on it. Cans are green, packable, preserve the beer better than glass because light can’t penetrate and, well, cans are cool.
The first beer to be canned will be the Lawn Jockey session IPA (4.3 percent ABV), which owner David Mathis calls “a fantastic summer beer.” Take it camping. Crack one open while you’re working in the yard. The second beer heading for canning will be Capitol Copper (6 percent ABV), an amber ale with a balance of hops and gentle caramel sweetness from the malt.
Like Moonraker, American River will be contracting with the Can Van, the company that swoops in, sets up shop, cans your beer and then packs up and leaves. It’s a business concept tailor-made for craft brewery startups.
Mathis and American River Brewing received a terrific honor recently – the brewery was recognized as a California Small Business of the Year in the 8th Assembly District. It’s a rare feat for a craft brewery. Many factors are considered, including the quality of the business and its charitable donations. American River Brewing has been devoted to the Firefighters Burn Institute.
Asked how he responded when he learned the news, Mathis took a deep breath and said, “Quite honestly, jaw-dropping. I did not see this coming. What can you say except, ‘Thank you’? It’s a great honor for American River Brewing and great recognition for the craft brewing industry.”