Tapping in

New pub shares spoils of craft-beer revolution

The Handle Bar co-owners Brian Kanabrocki and his finacée Carolyn Cleland.

The Handle Bar co-owners Brian Kanabrocki and his finacée Carolyn Cleland.

Photo By jason cassidy

The Handle Bar
2070 E. 20th St., Ste. 160
Open daily at 11:30 a.m.

Fueling last year’s 15 percent sales growth for the craft-brewing industry has been an increase in the number of breweries (some 2,400 total, including nano-, micro-, regional and mega-) and a spurt of beer bars catering to those seeking out these unique and tasty suds. The Handle Bar—located on the north side of E. 20th Street across from Best Buy—is the new kid on the block and joins the growing list of local emporia serving domestic and foreign craft beers on draft that includes The Banshee, Burgers and Brew, The Pour House and The Graduate (and, perhaps soon, the promising-looking Winchester Goose).

During a recent visit to the 20-tap pub, owners Brian Kanabrocki and Carolyn Cleland explained their motivation for opening. Kanabrocki was working for a beer distributor and had developed connections with a lot of craft breweries, and Cleland, his fiancée, works in the office at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico. “We were both constantly surrounded by craft beer,” Cleland said, “and so we visited other beer bars and realized that there was nothing in Chico that catered to the demographic that we wanted to.”

Once they settled on the location (in a space that had been a Quiznos sandwich shop), Carolyn said “a lot of people that cared about us thought we were crazy, that we wouldn’t be able to survive if we weren’t downtown. They thought the idea was great, but nothing has succeeded there. But we felt it was the right spot and persevered regardless.”

They opened last December, and I popped into the comfortable-but-austere pub a fortnight or so later when the joint was jumping, thanks to having acquired one of Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp beers—some of those beer campers/brewers and their many friends were on hand. There was also a Ninkasi Brewing Company beer rep in the house, pouring samples of that Eugene, Ore., brewery’s offerings—among them a very flavorful Tricerahops, a hop- and malt-heavy double India Pale Ale that’s a veritable T. Rex of beerdom.

In fact, one of the engines that’s driving the craft-beer pub movement is the presence of a brewery rep who shows up for a tap-handle “takeover” with a variety of rare and unusual beers plus a bit of swag (coasters, glasses, etc., with the brewery’s logo) as well. The Handle Bar has hosted several takeovers that have featured such highly regarded California breweries as Drakes; Lagunitas; Rubicon (with a delicious, hoppy Irish Red Ale); North Coast (with their hearty Old No. 38 Stout); and Green Flash, whose IPA lives up to its “extravagantly hopped” billing.

The real feather in The Handle Bar’s cap, though, is regularly featuring one of the most highly rated beers in the country on tap—Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder, a super-hoppy double-IPA.

IPAs—and their hopped-up relatives, double-, and triple- (or imperial) IPAs—are the fastest growing beer style in the United States, and this West Coast phenomenon is a direct outgrowth of beers like Sierra Nevada’s popular Celebration and Torpedo ales and, more recently, its exceedingly hoppy Hoptimum. And some of those Sierra Nevada selections, along with many other “special offerings,” will no doubt be available when the local brewery visits for a total tap-takeover (all 20 handles!) on Aug. 17.

The Handle Bar also has an interesting selection of bottled beers—including several from Europe—as well as an assortment of wines by the glass.

And complementing the excellent beer selection is the pub’s menu of excellent “German-inspired” grub. Kanabrocki pointed out that “we wanted to feature food that you couldn’t find at every bar.”

I first got hooked on the Brewben, their “twist on the classic Reuben—thick slices of hot pastrami, smothered in beer cheese and sauerkraut on grilled pumpernickel bread,” only later moving on to the roasted-turkey sandwich, and finally, last week, I switched over to the magnificent toasted Black Forest ham and swiss on rye. All their “Large Plates” (7.50-$8.50), except the Artisanal Plate, include German potato salad or red cabbage with the sandwich. An extra bonus is their Frequent Lunch Card which, after nine large-plate meals, entitles the bearer of same to a free lunch.

Oh, and happy hour is from 2 to 6 p.m.