50 people who make the Sacramento craft-beer scene awesome
(Yes, there's easily another 50. Or 100. Or more. Go easy on us. We're trying to celebrate Beer Week here!)
It starts with the brewer. Or does it? Maybe it starts with the person delivering the malt and hops? Whatever. There’s also the servers, distributors, lobbyists, bar owners, writers, buyers and judges. Coming up with a list of 50 people who matter in the Sacramento beer scene is probably a bad idea: There are just too many faces out there. Easily 150, or more. And, of course, if someone’s left off this list, it’s a bummer. But that doesn’t mean anything (and they’ll probably be on the list next year, so there you go).
This year’s beer issue is about celebrating the people who make local brew exciting, inspiring. Thanks for getting us all a little buzzed—and more!
Mike Hutson,Sudwerk Brewery head brewer: Oh, the exciting things going down at the new-look Sudwerk Brewery in Davis. Since Hutson and Co. took over, they’ve launched a special “dock” hangout in the back for its most devoted brew customers. They are making all kinds of fun sour and barrel-aged experimental brews, plus the usual tasty pilsner and such. 2001 Second Street in Davis, (530) 758-8700, www.sudwerk.com.
Annie Johnson, brewer and educator: Johnson earned a fermenter full of local ink for winning the nation’s largest home-brewing competition a couple years back. But she deserves to be on this list for teaching and educating at Brew Ferment Distill and elsewhere, and just being an A-level ambassador for local beer. @BuffaloBrewing on Twitter.
Vince Sterne, Two Rivers Cider Co. owner: As local beer enthusiast Dan Scott wrote in an email, “Cider counts, too!” And there’s no bigger name in local cider than Sterne, whose passion for Sacto and the local food-drink scene goes back decades. Go for that blackberry cider at Golden Bear, and stay for a second—or third—because who ever got hungover from too much cider? www.tworiverscider.com.
Gary Sleppy, The Shack owner: When it comes to craft beer in the city, Sleppy was the pioneer. He started pouring craft at his Shack in East Sacramento a few years before Pangaea or anyone else. 5201 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 457-5997, www.eastsacshack.com.
Peter Hoey, brewer: Hoey now works for BSG, who provides brew ingredients to beer-makers worldwide. But he’s often called a “godfather” of local brewing. Not sure how he feels about that—but we can feel good that Hoey is out there spreading the gospel of brew. www.bsgcraftbrewing.com.
Chris Miller, Berryessa Brewing Company brewmaster: It’s not yet four years old, but Berryessa already seems like an institution. Not only is the brewery taproom on the outskirts of Winters becoming ever more of a legendary magnet for cyclists and Bay Area daytrippers, Berryessa brews are also now a mainstay of taps around Sacramento and the Bay Area. Berryessa still self-distributes in Northern California and has about 200 accounts total, with about a quarter of those in Sacramento. The top sellers are the House IPA, Whippersnapper (mild ale), Common Sense (California common) and Double Tap (double IPA). Other standouts include Freshie, a fruity wet-hopped beer available only during harvest season, and Propaganda Pils, a crisply hoppy, grassy pilsner.
Berryessa hasn’t made many inroads anywhere else in California or out-of-state, mostly due to a shortage of beer. Miller, reached while fishing, said that hopefully all that will change soon. “We’re going through an expansion. We just had the electrical done on the new tanks this week. We did 1,800 barrels last year and with the new tanks that will double our capacity,” he said. Plans to do a first canning run of Common Sense are also imminent, pending label approval. 27260 Highway 128 in Winters, (530) 795-3526, www.berryessabrewingco.com.
Jeremy Warren, Knee Deep Brewing Co. brewmaster: Warren is the dice-rolling Knee Deep brewer who expanded boldly and early in this latest craft-beer boom—and it’s paying off. You can find his beers in Auburn and on the East Coast. Citra and Hoptologists are big winners at Bay Area brew competitions. The guy is knee-deep in smart moves. 13395 New Airport Road in Auburn, (530) 797-4677, www.kneedeepbrewing.com.
Ryan Graham and Geoff Scott, Track 7 Brewing Co. owners: This past weekend, Graham and Scott spoke at the grand opening of Track’s new and expansive Natomas facility. Local politicians were in tow, and lines extended out the front door. This is what big-time beer growth looks like in Sacto. Congrats! www.track7brewing.com.
Bill Wood, Auburn Alehouse brewer: Wood was the lead and only brewer at Elk Grove Brewing for a baker’s dozen years before moving on to Auburn, where he teams up with Brian Ford in what is possibly the most badass brewing duo in the region. 289 Washington Street in Auburn, (530) 885-2537, www.auburnalehouse.com.
Colby Pettenger, Hot City Pizza owner: Pettenger’s not-so-secret-any-more East Sacramento pizza spot still has a few under-the-radar goodies on the horizon. Spoiler: This year’s Sour Fest, which will be happening very soon. 5642 J Street, (916) 731-8888, www.hotcity-pizza.com.
Erik Schmid, The Brewmeister owner: Want to make the leap to brewing your own beer? That’s when The Brewmeister and its three regional locations enter your life. (And you thought you spent a lot of coin at the local beer bar.) Go for it! www.shopbrewmeister.com.
Gold Country Brewers Association: For more than 30 years, GCBA has been uniting homebrewers in the region. Keep an eye out for their annual competition, Celebrewtion—or maybe enter it? www.goldcountrybrewers.org.
Rick Sellers Owl Club owner: Longstanding brew-scene staple Sellers, formerly of Draft Magazine and Samuel Horne’s Tavern, just opened his own bar in old town Roseville. He kept the Owl Club name—but the brew is a helluva lot better. Make the journey. 109 Church Street in Roseville, (916) 782-5222, www.owlclubroseville.om.
Dan Scott, beer enthusiast and Sacramento Beer Week founder: Are you attending any tastings during Sacramento Beer Week? Then take a hot tip from former Beer Week director Dan Scott and don’t come in looking for the highest-alcohol beer being served. “It’s very common for people, usually neophytes, to come in and ask for the strongest beer we have,” says Scott, who helped launch the first Beer Week in 2010 and ran the show each year until 2014. “It’s definitely an eye-roller for the staff.” He points out that high-gravity beers are “not a priority for brewers” in most cases. “And it’s not the goal of a beer festival to get people sloshed,” he says.
So, instead of seeking strength, seek novelty—like Scott’s favorite emerging style: beer aged in wine barrels. Scott has sampled many a booze-barrel beer, and the wine-barrel beer is an extension of the same evolutionary trajectory but with subtler, more elusive flavors. Scott says he can identify the type of wine that was aged in an oak barrel by the taste of the beer that was later aged in the same oak barrel. Impressive. Chardonnay, he says, is an easy one to nail, while distinguishing between reds is a more nuanced challenge.
Mike Mraz, Mraz Brewing Company owner: Be excited about Mraz’s barrel-aging and sour-beer program. He just expanded into a 3,000 foot space, which he’s probably filling with barrels as you read this. Added bonus: His hopped beers are pretty tops, too, as evidenced by his first-place double-IPA win in the latest Hops to Table issue. 2222 Francisco Drive, No. 510, in El Dorado Hills; (916) 934-0744; www.mrazbrewingcompany.com.
Scott Cramlet, Rubicon Brewing Co. brewer: Cramlet is a familiar face for Midtown beer fans. He’s been at the helm at Rubicon for more than two decades and is respected in the local beer community as a so-called founding father. 2004 Capitol Avenue, (916) 448-7032, www.rubiconbrewing.com.
Dylan Mauro, Samuel Horne’s Tavern owner: A former distributor, Mauro opened up Sam Horne’s a few years back and now runs one of the best brew spots in the region. Sam Horne’s niche is American craft beer, exclusively, which is poured at the proper temperature and served in a relaxing, chill spot. Oh, and the grub is pretty solid, too. 719 Sutter Street in Folsom, (916) 293-8207, www.samhornes.com.
Keenan Gorgis, Curtis Park Market owner: Gorgis took a not-much-to-look-at convenience store just off the grid and transformed it into a major beer destination for craft-craving Land Park and Curtis Park dads. Secret’s out. 2703 24th Street, (916) 456-6488.
David Morrow, DBI Beverage: Morrow is master of all things brew at DBI, one of the region’s top beer distributors. The former Sudwerks guy is known around town as an encyclopedia of sud smarts. Feel luck if you get to brew down with Morrow and he drops some knowledge on you. www.dbibeverage.com.
Todd Fancher, Corti Brothers beer buyer: He tastes 10 new beers a week, browses brewery websites by night, makes phone calls to brewers by day, visits their pubs for draft tastings, and never—not for a moment—removes his finger from the throbbing pulse of the craft beer industry. Fancher is the beer buyer for Corti Brothers in East Sacramento, a job that keeps him at all hours in the fast lane of the beer industry.
His duty is not just to buy beers, but also to buy the best beers—and to buy them before other retailers do, if possible. Fancher must sniff out emerging trends before they go mainstream and locate interesting people helping to shape the industry. “It’s a full-time job, 24-seven,” he says. The shop’s collection consists of about 600 bottles now, he says, and with the brewing industry growing in size and complexity, his job gets more difficult—but better—with each new day and each new beer.
So, what is Fancher excited about in the beer world? Barrel aging, he says. And where does he see the industry going? “That’s hard to know,” he says. “The opportunities are endless. There’s no end. Brewers are like artists painting, and they can do anything they want.” 5810 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 736-3800, www.cortibrothers.com.
Gary Saccani, Saccani Distributing Company owner: Stone, Oskar Blues, Lagunitas—if you enjoy beer from these breweries, then you have Saccani to thank, as his company brings it into town. www.saccanidist.com.
Glynn Phillips, Rubicon Brewing Co. owner: Phillips is a major Sacramento Beer Week player and was one of the reasons the event came to be in the first place. 2004 Capitol Avenue, (916) 448-7032, www.rubiconbrewing.com.
Taylor Ramos, the Davis Beer Shoppe owner: A shop that only sells beer, and nothing else. That was the original vision for the Davis Beer Shoppe, Taylor Ramos’ cozy bar and bottle haven in downtown Davis. Back in 2011, the concept seemed unusual, challenging. But that perception didn’t last. Lines soon formed down the block; tables impossible to snag on a weekend night.
Many Davis beer enthusiasts argue that Ramos ushered in the latest wave of craft beer energy in town. Nowhere else could you find rotating taps of rare and specialty brews, more than 600 bottles for sale and daily curated tasting flights—all ridiculously reasonably priced. Trying was encouraged, and education inevitable.
When the Shoppe’s success became clear—and that Davis had a serious thirst for great brew—other businesses upped their beer game, too. Hooray for better beer everywhere. And that’s what it’s all about for Ramos—a beer lover who just wants to spread the beer gospel. 211 G Street, (530) 756-5212, www.facebook.com/TheDavisBeerShoppe.
Tom Dalldorf, Celebrator editor and publisher: They call this Nevada City-based beer mag a “Brewspaper.” We call it 27 years of legit brew news and knowledge. www.celebrator.com.
Kyle and Amy Ruthnick, Final Gravity owners: Roseville likes beer, too. But for many years, craft was not part of the suburb’s equation. At least until Kyle and Amy Ruthnick opened Final Gravity, just off Sierra College Boulevard, a few years back. Now, they get top-notch drafts and bottles on the regular. Plus fun, thoughtful events, such as a cupcake and beer pairing on Tuesday, March 3, with treats like Oskar Blues Death By Coconut porter and coconut cream cupcakes. 9205 Sierra College Boulevard, No. 100, in Roseville; (916) 782-1166; www.finalgravitybeer.com.
Jason Mussetter, Mussetter Distributing owner: Someone’s got to get the beer from the brewer to the bar. Enter Mussetter: They distribute everything from Auburn Alehouse to Maui Brewing and are locally owned. www.mussetterdistributing.com.
David Teckam, homebrewer and beer judge: Want to be a certified beer judge? Teckam is one of the local gatekeepers. He can educate you on everything from attenuation to basic styles and show you to the Beer Judge Certification Program light. Good luck on the test! www.beerjudgeschool.com.
Bike Dog Brewing Company team: Bike Dog Brewing Company is firmly at the forefront of the burgeoning West Sacramento renaissance, and it’s a partnership between four people (Sage Smith, A.J. Tendick, Raef Porter and head brewer Pete Atwood) instrumental in shaping the taste of Bike Dog’s easily quaffable beers.
Atwood started home-brewing 20 years ago, right out of college, shelved the passion for years and then got back into it seriously eight years ago. He and his partners, who all work at the same day job, hatched “this crazy scheme and here we are.”
And where they are is at a quintupled brewing capacity in their one-and-a-half years in business. Now, they’re about to do their first bottling run. They are starting with their Sand Dog IPA and their popular milk stout, a move for which Atwood says he is “super excited.” They plan to do a bottle release during Beer Week, as well as a stout tap takeover with wild flavors such as habanero and raspberry tamarind.
They are taking their Beer Week show on the road for a tap takeover (and rounds of sprint bowling) at West Capitol Bowl, and to Public House Theater in Tahoe Park. Atwood, a neighborhood denizen, is a big supporter of this new repertory movie house, which regularly taps Bike Dog beers. He deems the Public House Theater “up and coming”—a term that also characterizes Bike Dog to a T. 2534 Industrial Boulevard, No. 110, in West Sacramento; (916) 572-0788; www.bikedogbrewing.com.
Tom Karvonen, Oak Park Brewing co-founder: Neighbors patiently waited for Oak Park Brewing to open. Now, they’ve got a brew-down spot in their own backyard—and with a nice patio, to boot. Finger Karvonen for bringing brew to the south side; he’s the co-founder, and he also makes the stuff, too. 3514 Broadway, (916) 660-2723, www.opbrewco.com.
Mike Costello, Yolo Brewing Company owner: The beer news in West Sacramento this past year was that Costello, former Brew It Up! founder, opened Yolo. You can visit the taproom, or already find bottles at spots like nearby Roco’s bottle shop. 1520 Terminal Street in West Sacramento, (916) 379-7585, www.yolobrew.com.
Anders Kindall, University of Beer Sacramento beer buyer: Let’s give a shout-out to the young generation in local beer, including Kindall. He may be in his 20s, but he’s got pull, as he’s in charge of the 100 draft handles and bottle program at Uni of Beer. With extraordinary buying power comes big-time responsibility; in Kindall we trust. 1510 16th Street, (916) 996-4844, www.theuob.com.
Jan-Erik Paino, Ruhstaller Beer owner: Located next to his car keys, Jan-Erik Paino’s bottle opener key chain reads “Ruhstaller’s Brewery.” And underneath, “Best Beer Brewed.”
“That’s pretty ballsy,” Paino says.
Confused? The key chain wasn’t designed for Paino’s four-year-old brewery Ruhstaller Beer. Rather, it belonged to Captain Frank Ruhstaller’s 1881 brewery, from which Paino got his brewery’s name. And the name of his red ale, 1881.
Paino’s basement taproom attempts to explain Frank Ruhstaller’s story, the source of inspiration for Paino’s Sacramento-grown ethos. Down the taproom’s stairs and to the left sits Legacy Lane, with old photos and cool artifacts—an original Gilt Edge beer can, an ornate beer tray—most of which were donated by the still-living Ruhstaller family.
Remarkably, Paino never studied history or brewing. At Princeton, it was architecture. At UC Davis, it was business. But after graduating in 2009, he became roped into a real-estate project that involved researching historic Sacramento buildings, including the 1989 Ruhstaller Building at J and Ninth streets. After devouring Ed Carroll’s thesis on old Sacramento breweries, Paino proposed a brewery that paid homage to Frank Ruhstaller, arguably Sacramento’s king of beer.
“I think in that era Ruhstaller lived in, we weren’t trying to be anyone else,” Paino said. “We were just trying to be the best Sacramento we could be.”
Unlike, perhaps, recently. But to Paino, Sacramento is finally embracing itself as an agricultural town, a beer town.
“We’re no longer saying, ’Let’s be Denver, Portland or Austin,’” he said. “Instead, let’s let those guys talk about us.” 630 K Street, (916) 447-1881, www.ruhstallerbeer.com.
Ken Anthony, Device Brewing Co. owner and head brewer: This young community brewery keeps on growing and improving thanks to Anthony, who works with other brewers (Track 7) and bottle shops (Capitol Beer and Tap Room) on collaboration beers, too. Oh, and bottles of his Integral IPA will be hitting shelves this week for the first time! 8166 14th Avenue, www.devicebrewing.com.
Charles W. Bamforth, professor of malting and brewing sciences at UC Davis: They call professor Bamforth the “Pope of Foam.” Enough said. http://foodscience.ucdavis.edu/people/faculty/bamforth.html.
Ken Hotchkiss and Patti Aguirre, Capitol Beer and Tap Room owners: Capital Beer and Tap Room is proof that the recession wasn’t all bad.
Owner Ken Hotchkiss was a successful contractor, and says he would probably still be doing that now if those naughty bankers hadn’t intervened. He and co-owner Patti Aguirre, who had recently sold her hardware store, hatched plan B on the patio at the Rubicon, and in 2012 they opened their doors.
“Since neither of us had prior experience in the beer industry, we learned everything on the job. I have a huge passion for beer and Patti is very organized, so it’s a good combination,” Hotchkiss says.
Cap Tap’s beer list is “definitely American Craft beer-centric,” he explained, with 20 rotating taps mostly dedicated to West Coast beers. The bottle shop is decidedly more global and stocks hard-to-find and classic beers at fair prices. The growth of the bottle shop has surpassed that of the bar, and it’s quickly become a brew destination for the Arden-Arcade area. The taproom website tracks the current tap list and new arrivals in the shop—a must in the current beer climate where a few hours can mean missing out on Instagram gold.
As for personal tastes: Hotchkiss favors IPA and sour styles; Aguirre stouts, porters and Belgians. Different beer tastes, different business styles—one solid business. 2222 Fair Oaks Boulevard, (916) 922-1745, www.capitolbeer.com.
Tom McCormick, California Craft Brewer’s Association executive director: What’s CCBA, you ask? In brief: McCormick advocates on behalf of California breweries like Russian River and Firestone Walker. Bonus: CCBA is putting on the inaugural Craft Beer Summit and Brewer’s Showcase this September. www.californiacraftbeer.com.
Dave Gull, New Helvetia Brewing Co. owner: Gull is also a big player in Sacramento Beer Week this year, when he’s not geeking out on Sacto beer history or organizing top-level beer collaborations with the likes of Ginger Elizabeth and the big-four independent coffee roasters in the 916. Keep it up! 1730 Broadway, (916) 469-9889, www.newhelvetiabrew.com.
Rob Archie, Pangaea Bier Cafe owner: For Rob Archie, owner of Pangaea Bier Cafe, brew has evolved like music. Decades ago, beer was simple and one-dimensional. Mainstream lagers from giant breweries flowed forward predictably, like the squarely structured works of classical German composers. Today, beer has evolved into a far more complex, dynamic and innovative culture—and to Archie, it’s like the diverse world of hip-hop.
“Between Mos Def, Ice Cube, Eminem—there’s going to be at least one thing everyone likes,” he says. Archie, a Woodland native, has enjoyed beer since college (well, actually, a few years before, he concedes). But it wasn’t until he went to San Diego State that he visited the Karl Strauss brewpub and discovered that beer could be more than nondescript lager. His mind thus opened, he found further enlightenment during travels in Europe. He opened his bar in 2008, with five beers on tap. Today, he offers 30 on draft, plus 350 bottles. Every style is represented. Hopheads will find their fix here, and stout fans—but Archie’s soft spot is for sours. He fell in love with the style in Belgium, where he learned of the power of native airborne yeasts and spontaneous fermentation. Craft brewers of America have grabbed onto the sour culture in the past ten years. But Archie is quick to point out that craft beer isn’t a trend. “We’re just discovering things that were always around,” he says. 2743 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 454-4942, www.pangaeabiercafe.com.
Brian Ford, Auburn Alehouse brewmaster: Ford, who’s been brewing for more than three decades—including stints at Beermann’s, Old Nevada Brewing and Rubicon—is the guy responsible for the top-notch brew up in Auburn at one of the region’s best brew pubs. Look for the ZZ Hop triple-IPA this time of year; we hear it will be on cask at Owl Club sometime soon. 289 Washington Street in Auburn, (530) 885-2537, www.auburnalehouse.com.
John Zervas, Hops to Table publisher: Zervas’ penchant for nerding out on beer lead to the launch of Hops to Table a couple years back. He’s all about geeking out on brew and celebrating the scene. www.hopstotable.com.
Blair Anthony Robertson, Sacramento Bee beer columnist: “BAR,” as they call him, makes this list because when he writes about a brewery in his The Beer Run column, it has an impact. www.sacbee.com.
Darrell Amerine, Northern California Brewers Guild executive director: If you’re reading this and enjoying Sacramento Beer Week, then Amerine is one of the guys to blame. He took the reigns of the 11-day “week” this past fall and was instrumental in organizing the good times you are likely experiencing at this precise moment. That is, if you’re brewing down while reading some SN&R, which we highly advise. Cheers! www.northerncalbrewers.com.
Alexis Johnson, LowBrau server: Let’s not forget the hundreds of Sacramentans who serve beer every day, which includes Johnson: Rated one of the top waitresses in the city by The Sacramento Bee, she’s equal parts passion for beer, studiousness and energy to share. You definitely want to chat brews with her on the LowBrau patio sometime. 1050 20th Street, (916) 706-2636, www.lowbrausacramento.com.
Matteo Seargenti, LowBrau beer buyer: The former Pangaea beer buyer now runs the taps at one of Midtown’s busiest bars. Go for the Beer Nerd menu, stay for the exciting rotating drafts. Oh, and his beer-week lineup is not to be messed with (hint: mole and coconut Victory at Sea). 1050 20th Street, (916) 706-2636, www.lowbrausacramento.com.