Beer Run

Two big openings continue the Sacramento-area craft beer boom

The Crooked Lane team includes, l-r, Kirt Braun, sales; Paul Schilling, marketing; Adrian Psuty, head of brewing operations; and Teresa Psuty, brewmaster.
The Crooked Lane team includes, l-r, Kirt Braun, sales; Paul Schilling, marketing; Adrian Psuty, head of brewing operations; and Teresa Psuty, brewmaster. Blair Anthony Robertson

By the time you read this, Big Sexy Brewing in south Sacramento will have welcomed the public for a soft opening and Crooked Lane Brewing in Auburn will be busily prepping for its launch on Wednesday, Aug. 31.

These are big openings, from the size of the build-outs and money invested to the sophisticated planning and prospects for growth. Big Sexy and Crooked Lane are starting local, dialing in the tasting room experience, getting their beers out in kegs to restaurants and bars, and then launching a canning and/or bottling operation to get their beer in stores here and up and down the West Coast.

These days, with so many good breweries in the Sacramento region and a more educated and discerning customer base than we had just five years ago, new places have to make an immediate impression. The beer has to be good and the brewery experience has to be superb.

While it’s too soon to tell for sure, it appears that Big Sexy and Crooked Lane are going to be serious additions to the roster of 61 breweries in the region (at last count) that are either open or opening soon.

I recently visited each place and found all kinds of positives.

Let’s start with Crooked Lane (536 Grass Valley Highway, Auburn), which is on track to becoming the most impressive brewery startup to date. The three co-founders all left well-paying jobs to get into craft beer, and they do not take this challenge lightly. They visited scores of successful breweries, asked all the right questions and figured out what their brewery would be like. You can forget about a saturated beer market. While I was there, people stopped by every few minutes to ask when the tasting room was opening.

Already dubbed the “endurance capital of the world” for its wealth of running, cycling and horseback riding opportunities, Auburn is vying to become a craft beer destination. Knee Deep is great. Auburn Alehouse is superb. Newcomer Moonraker is off to an impressive start. Looking at Crooked Lane’s features just days before opening, it appears to have done everything right. Awesome outdoor beer garden? Check. Fabulous indoor seating in a cool environment with all kinds of custom finishes? Check. A 40-foot bar made of 60-year-old walnut? Yep, that too. There’s even an app that will let you order your growler refill on your way to the brewery so you don’t have to wait in line if you’re pressed for time.

But what about the beer? Based on the samples I tasted and conversations with the husband-wife brewing team, both of whom have chemistry backgrounds and extensive knowledge of the art and science of brewing, the beer just might be incredible. Precise, clean, crisp, flavorful and brewed in an array of styles that will appeal to all kinds of craft beer drinkers, including curious newcomers to the category.

The on-site brewing system has the capacity to max out at 10,000 to 12,000 barrels annually. After that, there are plans to build a larger production brewery and ramp up output there while maintaining the existing tasting room. The core team is composed of three co-founders: Paul Schilling, who will handle marketing; Kirt Braun, sales; and Adrian Psuty, head of brewery operations. Adrian’s wife, Teresa Psuty, is brewmaster. Yes, Auburn now has four terrific breweries and two of them have female brewmasters. As for the brewery name, Schilling and the Psutys are neighbors on Crooked Lane in nearby Newcastle.

The most recent local brewery opening that came out of the blocks looking this strong was Sactown Union in East Sacramento. If Crooked Lane finds itself in that company in the early going, it will be doing very well.

Big Sexy? Yes, there actually is a “Big Sexy.” His name is Mark Taylor and he’s a 6-foot-6, 255-pound homebrewer who is ready to take his craft to the next level. Longtime friend James Thompson gave him the nickname years ago and it stuck. Thompson also gave Taylor a homebrew kit as a gift 10 years ago and the beers were eventually so good they decided to get into the business.

They have no experience with craft beer, but Thompson read all kinds of books and brewery operation manuals to get up to speed. He also toured lots of breweries to learn what works and what doesn’t. Big Sexy is in a large warehouse space in a heavily industrial part of south Sacramento, but it’s only 15 minutes from midtown. The rustic bar with repurposed wood and metal finishes looks great. There will also be a patio in back.

There’s also room to grow and flourish. Like Crooked Lane, Big Sexy has big plans. With such a catchy name, if the beer is great, Big Sexy could well be the next big thing.

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