By Nick Miller 02.27.14.
Local beer’s popularity might be the highest it’s been since hops first emerged in Sacramento from soil near Broadway around 1857. But with more than three dozen regional breweries operating today, and many of them new, navigating Sacto’s brew offerings can be a pioneer’s task.
That’s one of the reasons why SN&R assembled a panel of notable local palates to taste and judge brews for this year’s Beer Issue. Just like how food writers review restaurants, it’s come time to celebrate our best suds—and forewarn the duds.
It was with the utmost consideration that we selected 16 Sacto-area breweries to participate in this paper’s inaugural Beer Issue competition. IPA was chosen as the main style, mostly because it’s a common denominator: Nearly all local breweries pour one. Also, it’s a good starting point to appraise a brewer’s skill.
We took good care to acquire the freshest IPAs and hopped beers. If this meant hunting a growler down from, say, Mraz Brewing Company in El Dorado Hills, so be it. That said, many beer drinkers encounter brew at retail stores, so bottles—such as those by American River Brewing Company and Knee Deep Brewing Co. on the shelves at Corti Bros.—were fair game as well.
The judges— His & Her Beer Notes blog’s husband-wife duo (SN&R film critic) Daniel Barnes and Darcey Self, Sacramento Bee food writer Chris Macias, Midtown Cocktail Week organizer Whitney Johnson, Sacramento Foodways editor Becky Grunewald, homebrewer and former beer judge Steve Allcock—sampled all beers blindly. They didn’t know what the hell we were giving them, except whether the brew varied from traditional IPA style, or minor details, such as its alcohol by volume. Conversation was encouraged, but each judge was responsible for their own tasting notes and a final grade.
The consensus: As one judge wrote, “lots of beer is being brewed in Sac but only a fraction of it is worth the hype.”
There were, of course, standouts—Berryessa Brewing Co. in Winters took the big prize—but it’s also worth noting that the B- and C-grade beers largely proffered drinkability. The Sacto beer scene in a handful of years is an exciting prospect.
Sadly, there were some really bad brews. River City Brewing Company’s IPA, what with its incongruous smokiness and medicinal aftertaste, should not be seeing the light of pints. Ditto the Hop Sac by Ruhstaller Beer, a company that otherwise brews potable suds. This wet-hop ale, which is supposed to celebrate this region’s hop terroir, needs to be pulled from shelves.
The good outweighed the ugly. New kids on the West Sac block Bike Dog Brewing Company impress with their hop-brewing proficiency. Ditto brewer Ryan Graham at Track 7 Brewing Co. Plus, there are all the newer nanobreweries like Device Brewing Company in south Sacramento and Out of Bounds Brewing Company in Rocklin.
In the end, the tasting was celebratory. It’s beer, it’s fun! And it can get better. Drinking this many brews head to head is informative. It makes us better consumers. We hope brewers appreciate the feedback. We certainly welcome the brew.