A few Hop Heads of Sacramento chat desert-island beers, strip trivia, scavenger hunts and Belgian vs. American brawls
If you love beer enough to actually attend a Sacramento beer event, then you will have noticed the Hop Heads of Sacramento. They’re everywhere, and indefatigable in their attendance—they literally will show up just for the opening of a new beer bottle. Also, they usually wear ridiculous hats shaped like hops. You can’t miss them.
I convened a round table with three prominent Hop Head members to get the lowdown on the local beer scene. The players: “The Chadd” Chadd McNicholas, Hop Heads’ organizer; Dan Scott, organizer of Sacramento Beer Week (also known as “Stickie”on the popular blog www.sacrag.com); and the glamorous Kassandra Sutherland, organizer of the Hopheads Scavenger Hunt, which will take place every day during Beer Week. Our discussing was increasingly lively, over quite a few beers, Belgian and otherwise, at Pangaea Cafe (2743 Franklin Boulevard), which has just installed 14 taps dedicated to craft beer.
How did the Sacramento Hopheads begin?
McNicholas: I was the second person to join the group. I moved out here at the end of ’05, and the following summer found Meetup.com and signed up to be notified when new beer meet-ups came up. The very next day, a new beer meet-up was started by this guy named Quinn Gardner. … Later I became assistant organizer, and then a few months later, I took over the whole group and, 532 members later, here we are.
Scott: I joined shortly after Chadd became an assistant organizer, so probably three, four years ago?
Sutherland: I just discovered it cruising online looking for beer events in Sac about a year and a half ago. And it’s a great way to have posts on what’s going on sent straight to your e-mail, instead of scouring the newspapers for events. These guys take care of it and let me know.
Would you classify yourself specifically as “hopheads” or beer lovers?
McNicholas: Beer lover. I didn’t start the group. I would change it, because Hopheads are associated with people who “krump,” I think (others laugh), people who do drugs and then also people who love hoppy beers. We love all beer.
Sutherland: I don’t love all beer! In general, I love really hoppy beers, but then I also love Belgian beers.
Scott: I wouldn’t classify myself as a hophead, as far as my beer tastes, although I love great really hoppy beers. I drink the whole spectrum.
McNicholas: Sierra Nevada Glissade just beat out [Dogfish Head] Palos Santo.
Scott: Absolutely no way that you’re going to get me to answer that question! (Laughs.) I would say that some of my favorite breweries are in California. I’m a huge fan of Russian River [Brewing Company], but they do both crazy Belgian beers and straight-up American giant hoppy beers. And Moonlight Brewing Company, I think, is phenomenal. They’re just these tiny farm estate beers. I really like beer that’s done incredibly well. The more care into making their beer, that’s what I think about.
Sutherland: [Stone Brewing Company’s] Arrogant Bastard is known as my boyfriend.
What do you think of the Sacramento beer scene?
McNicholas: On the brewing scene, we’ve been hit pretty hard these last two years. We’ve lost four or five breweries. … However, we’re also seeing, I guess throughout at least the West Coast, this renaissance of taprooms, restaurants, where they just have a variety of taps from everywhere. All your Belgian beers and your American craft beers all in one place along with some excellent food, and that’s been a new trend. We’ve also gained [former Sacramento Brewing Company brewer’s new venture] Odonata [Beer Company] recently. And [Folsom’s] Lockdown Brewing is now opening a distribution site in Rancho Cordova, and they’re working on a license for a taproom, so we might gain two this year to help account for some that we’ve lost.
Scott: We have a lot of really great smaller taprooms, but we don’t really have a flagship place like a lot of other beer towns do, like the Toronado in San Francisco. The Shack has a great selection largely of American beers, and here at Pangaea they specialize in Belgian beers, and we have smaller places popping up that have different focuses. There should be a giant place with, like, 40 taps in this town, and we just don’t and other towns have them.
Sutherland: I agree with that. … [I]n San Francisco, you can go on a two-mile walk and hit four breweries. … It’d be nice to see more localized here instead of all over.
How did Sacramento Beer Week come about?
Scott: The local brewers at Rubicon [Brewing Company] and some of the distributors, had been thinking about doing this for a few years, because San Francisco Beer Week is a huge success. … I went to this meeting with about 40 local brewers and pub owners and distributors and discussed the fact that they didn’t think that the beer community, who is actually in the business, is allowed to run events like this—which is true: They’re not. So I kind of got drafted (laughs) for probably unspeakable sins I committed in a past life.
Is it just dominating all your time?
Scott: Yes, it’s really fun. I’m loving it, but it’s a task. It’s really interesting to get a multicounty event off the ground.
What Beer Week event are you most stoked on?
Scott: I have to be selfish and say the event that I’m actually planning, because it’s the kickoff night [Monday, February 22] for all of beer week. We thought it would be cool to have an education—
McNicholas: … Have you strip!
Scott: That would be an education. We thought it would be cool to have an event that honors the history of Sac’s past in brewing, so we have two speakers: Ed Carroll, a local historian, [and] our other speaker is Rick Sellers, who is a local brewer, local beer journalist, and international beer journalist. We’re going to be serving some rare craft beers from around the state. Lagunitas, a Petaluma brewing company, actually made us a beer for this event. It’s an Imperial brown ale [called Ryan’s Folly]. We’ll also be serving [Davis brewery] Sudwerk’s 20th anniversary beer and other rare craft beers.
McNicholas: Definitely the scavenger hunt, and the home-brew day.
Sutherland: Scavenger hunt! It’s going to be a lot of fun. … A lot of it’s going to be collecting items and bringing them back in, and there’s going to be a lot of photo ops to take a picture of x, y and z. … It’s meant to drive people to the different events. So while you’re there, you look for the whatever it is at that location, take a picture or go talk to somebody and pick up something from them.
Scott: I’m hosting the Hyper Ultra Super Danger beer trivia contest.
Sutherland: This is where you strip.
Scott: Yes, that’s Wednesday [February 24] at The Shack. A bunch of awesome breweries are coming to town. Hophead Scavenger Hunt check-in party on Sunday [February 28] is going to be fun. And there are a bunch of brunches, which I think is cool to point out. Beer is not just for dinner anymore.
Sutherland: I’m looking forward to The Shack Belgian vs. American Belgian styles. Throwdown! That’s gonna be awesome. I can only afford so many Belgian beers at once, so to have them all lined up …
Scott: I hope some Belgians and some Americans get into a fight that night.
Sutherland: Let’s work on that.
Scott: First we must find some Belgians.
Sutherland: Why would you leave? (Everyone laughs.)