SN&R’s inaugural Brewery of the Year is Track 7 Brewing Co.
SN&R’s co-runner-up Breweries of the Year: Berryessa Brewing Co. and Mraz Brewing Co.
When Track 7 Brewing Co. first opened four years ago, there was no IPA on its tap list. After many pleas, however, Brewmaster Ryan Graham introduced Panic as the remedy. And today, Panic feels like Sacramento’s unofficial, quintessential beer. It’s ubiquitous in local bars, restaurants and bottle shops, and it’s carried Track 7 to new heights.
With Amarillo, centennial, crystal, magnum and simcoe hops, Panic isn’t some overblown, bitter hop bomb. It’s big, yet immensely drinkable. Smooth, with bright citrus notes.
During a stellar time for lots of area breweries, Track 7 excelled like no other in 2015. On February 21 of last year, it expanded into a massive, 35,000-square-foot facility in Natomas, capable of brewing 175,000 barrels per year. Even though Track 7 Natomas only brewed 5,600 barrels last year, it was still far more than its usual 1,200 at the original Curtis Park brewery.
Now, Track 7 can continue to grow locally. Graham says he’s planning for 15,000 barrels in 2016, which would make Track 7 no longer a neighborhood brewery, but a regional one. It’s long been Graham’s goal to achieve that status by Track 7’s fifth year.
In other words, Natomas has been huge. “It allowed the whole year to happen,” he said. “I can’t even imagine the nightmare it would have been trying to meet demand otherwise.”
Even though Track 7 brewed way more beer in 2015 than ever before, its distribution reach only grew slightly, extending south to Visalia, north to Shasta, east to Reno and west to Marin. That means most of those barrels stayed local—and 60 percent were Panic.
But it’s not all about that IPA. Track 7 took home a dozen awards in 2015 in basically every competition it entered. Graham is most proud, however, of the brewery’s first medal from the prestigious Great American Beer Festival in Denver, a silver for its Hoppy Palm Pale Ale. Track 7 also took home a bronze medal at European Beer Star for Left Eye Right Eye Double IPA, as well as gold and bronze medals at the Brussels Beer Challenge for its Daylight Amber and Alkali Wit, respectively.
And while Track 7 Natomas was busy churning out IPAs, Track 7’s first home in Curtis Park was able to focus on more experimental brews. It wasn’t as much as Graham would have liked, but it was still more than ever before. His favorite small-batch sour of the year was Discord, a barrel-aged IPA fermented with Brettanomyces. Expect more sours for Sacramento Beer Week. And throughout the year. And, of course, more Panic.
SN&R’s co-runner-up Brewery of the Year: Berryessa Brewing Co.
The front gates to Berryessa’s taproom and brew house in Winters opened on a recent Saturday morning at exactly noon. Within a half hour, the line for a beer extended out the front door, and the picnic seats were nearly filled up. So goes life at Berryessa’s home in Winters, a 45-minute jaunt from downtown Sacramento: Brew fans from this City of Trees and even the Bay Area regularly make the daytrip to one of the hottest breweries in Northern California.
What’s the draw? New-school hopped beers that are dry, sometimes tropical, often juicy, occasionally piney and always unlike any other brew in the region. One might call them rustic, or even farmhouse hoppy brews: The House IPA is hazy but finishes dry and clean, and the much-loved Douple Tap Douple IPA hides its high octane with a sappiness that belies malty sweetness.
Berryessa increased its production this year, and also began offering 32-ounce cans to go at the taproom each weekend. Sadly, San Francisco and Oakland have discovered this Yolo County gem, and a large amount of its brew ends up in the Bay over the valley. But, on a recent visit, head brewer and owner Chris Miller promised that Berryessa would be growing bigger this year. And who wouldn’t drink to that? 27260 California 128 in Winters, (530) 795-3526, http://berryessabrewingco.com. Nick Miller
SN&R’s co-runner-up Brewery of the Year: Mraz Brewing Co.
The first-ever California Craft Brewers Showcase event was this past September on Capitol Mall. Russian River, Societe, Sante Adairius, Firestone Walker—some of the best breweries in the state made the pilgrimage. But, as the sun set over the Tower Bridge and brew-lovers queued up, the longest line of the day wasn't for any of these legendary breweries. It was for Mraz Brewing Co.
The draw was Mrs. Kiwi and Mr. Nelson: a wild ale, aged in barrels and fruit with fresh kiwi, and then dry-hopped with the inimitable nelson hops. Not for the uninitiated brew drinker, MKMN shot your eyeballs into your cranium, what with its sour tang and lychee sweetness. Definitely one of the most memorable local brews of 2015.
Mraz made its name in the region with its interesting barrel-aged, farmhouse and wild ales. But its IPAs, more on the rustic side, and Belgian styles also draw visitors up the hill to the El Dorado Hills taproom.
And Mraz keeps experimenting: Look for a bourbon-barrel-aged coffee brew, a collaboration with Chocolate Fish roasters, on March 2 of Beer Week. Why not? 2222 Francisco Drive, Suite 510, in El Dorado Hills; (916) 934-0744, http://mrazbrewingcompany.com. N.M.