Brewing optional

Brew It Up! Brewery & Grill

801 14th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 441-3000

“Oh God, this is a total beer-nerd situation,” observed my dining companion, eyes darting around the shiny new digs of downtown Sacramento’s latest brewpub addition, aptly called Brew It Up! It’s more than just a name; it’s an exhortation. A successful Davis transplant, Brew It Up! entices beer lovers to brew their own beers without the mess or pain of home-brew.

On a Sunday afternoon, the beer nerds were frolicking happily in their new habitat. A gaggle of men gathered around a weighing station. One was manning the scale. Someone else was snapping pictures. Meanwhile, a proud-looking dude rolled up with a dolly to reap the bottles of his labor.

Some people like to cook. Others revel in wine tasting. And then there are those who would make their own beer. Whereas home-brew can be a messy experience with questionable results, Brew It Up!—with its fancy equipment and helpful professionals—looks like a sure thing. Think of all those paint-your-own-pottery shops that sprang up in yuppified parts of San Francisco. You go, you hang out with friends, you dabble in an arts-and-crafts activity, and then you bring home something you can be proud of.

It sounds fun, if you go for that sort of thing. Me? I like beer that someone else has made. There are so many varieties for sale these days. I’ve long come to the realization that, of all the hobbies out there, I like eating and drinking the best. Lucky for me, Brew It Up! doesn’t discriminate against the lazy or the unscientific. Non-beer-nerds can enjoy themselves, too.

Brew It Up!’s shiny, polished environs are welcoming to all. The main dining area is split into two, with one side providing easy access to the stainless-steel brewing kettles. The bar area in the back provides additional seating. The color scheme is warm and chocolaty, offsetting the metallic silvers and coppers of the kettles. The expansive atrium set an artsy tone with murals of beer laborers reminiscent of the New Deal era.

We sampled two of the two dozen beers on tap. Both the Blonde Ale and the Cascade Pale Ale proved excellent in flavor and attractive in color. However, the food was more hit-and-miss.

At the Sunday brunch, the breakfast burrito fell short in a few ways. It had far too many eggs. While the bacon was plentiful, the cheese was sparse, and the pico de gallo was dry. Most breakfast burritos need some kind of wetness, whether it’s sour cream, guacamole or a wet salsa. It turned out that the kitchen had left off the lime sour cream as well as the green onions.

Conversely, the fresh-crab omelet was a delight. Chunks of crab blended with pepper-jack cheese yielded a delicate, subtle seafood flavor. The accompanying ham steak was nicely grilled, with a slight twinge of sweetness. Both brunch entrees came with a helping of diced red potatoes tossed with plentiful fresh herbs. Simple but vivid in flavor, they almost made up for the fact that Brew It Up! had run out of its signature creamy hash browns.

On a subsequent weeknight, the food again wavered. The opening pretzels—hot, soft and salty—were a great freebie. But the half-pound Western burger was a sore disappointment. The burger was dry on the inside and charred on the outside, with little flavor to recommend it. The cheese quotient was downright stingy, as was the barbecue sauce, which did not compensate for the dryness of the burger. The onion rings were crisp and tasty, but they failed to play the strong supporting role one would like in a Western.

The shrimp po’ boy fared better. Its delicately breaded shrimp were delicious but few in number. The accompanying tartar sauce lacked excitement. The tomato’s mealy texture further detracted from a good execution.

The kettle chips, which come with everything, were a curiosity. A balsamic reduction drizzled over the chips took them in a sweet direction, but the crumbled blue cheese fell off before the sweet could be balanced with savory. As unique and adorable as these chips were, they were no substitute for the superior french fry.

Despite these weaknesses, Brew It Up! has a lot of appeal beyond the brew-your-own-beer concept. Maybe it’s the kind of food it serves, or maybe it’s the quality of the food that shines through the imperfections. The simplicity of the potatoes, the execution of a seafood omelet on a Sunday (risky as that was!) and the softness of the pretzels all are examples. Friendly and honest service also helps to endear one to the place.

Brew It Up! already has a steady following. A little more care in the kitchen should have beer nerds and non-beer-nerds alike coming back for more.