Friday evening, Feb. 1, the Art of Beer marked the start of what might be called beer season in the Sacramento area, and where better to get warmed up for the season than the bottle shops and tap rooms in the area. Taylor Ramos of The Davis Beer Shoppe and Capitol Beer and Tap Room’s Ken Hotchkiss weighed in on the beer scene and Sacramento Beer Week, coming up Feb. 22 through March 3.
Before it all gets started, it might be advantageous to take a look at the last few years, and notice and appreciate how far the beer scene has come and just how richly it has developed. To name a few, New Helvetia Brewing Co., Ruhstaller, Track 7, Berryessa Brewing Co., Black Dragon Brewing Company, Loomis Basin Brewing Company and Roseville Brewing Company have all been established in the last two years, as well as the two aforementioned beer shops. Pangaea Two Brews Café is just slightly older, and even still, their bottle shop is just 18 months old.
In the last few years, we’ve seen cans take craft brewing by storm, and we’ve seen the word, “imperial,” come back into style big time. IPAs – India Pale Ales – went from specialty to loved by all, thanks to breweries such as Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada, and now there’s no limit to what an IPA can be – black, Belgian, wheat, white, double, triple or imperial. Thank goodness we have mentors like Hotchkiss and Ramos to lead us on.
Bottle shops that double as tasting rooms – or better yet, cozy bars – are a tremendous way to get to know an almost unlimited number of beers. This is great for both seasoned craft beer aficionados and those new to the scene.
The problem for some, though, is getting started. Both men had some advice to offer.
“If people don’t like beer, there are a lot of odd-style beers,” began Ramos. He said that many people who are new to craft beer find a path in through one of the more unique styles – especially if they are wine or cider drinkers. Sour beers are becoming more and more popular, and in addition, wheat beers, American wheats and Belgian wits are all good places to start, he explained.
For those who aren’t new to the scene, Ramos spoke of a few favorites, one of which was Berryessa Brewing Co.’s Imperial IPA – a local brew that is 10.5 percent ABV, super fruity and balanced. Most unfortunately, the keg of this particular gem that was tapped Monday at the Beer Shoppe is already out, so it could be a challenge to find more.
Hotchkiss himself admitted to being a hophead, although he also stated that he liked about everything. He was very hesitant to give names, perhaps saddened at the thought of letting anything fall by the wayside.
Both shops do their best to work with local and regional brewers. Berryessa Brewing Co., Sutter Buttes Brewing, Hoppy Brewing and Auburn Alehouse, among others, have all seen time on the taps.
“We do try to support all those local guys,” Hotchkiss said. The Capitol Beer and Tap Room has only been open for six months, but it seems that Hotchkiss has put in his time getting to know others in the field. Track 7, Knee Deep Brewing Co. and a new regional beer publication on the scene, Hops to Table, were mentioned frequently during the interview.
Another new development in the craft beer industry is that beers are now being purchased like quality wines – packaged similarly in larger bottles for sharing and priced into the double digits.
Amongst discussion of current trends, Ramos made a case for yet another development in the industry. He explained that people are now beginning to appreciate small beers, in other words, table beer that is low in alcohol.
“They don’t necessarily associate alcohol content with value,” Ramos said, explaining the change.
“There’s definitely a market emerging for consumers that don’t want to be drunk.”
Whether you prefer small beers or perhaps one large, strong, hoppy one, beer week will surely fulfill your needs. Both shops will be taking part in grand ways.
The Capitol Beer and Tap Room will have events every night of the week, teaming up with Tokyo Fro’s for many of them. The events start Friday night with a Speakeasy night, followed by a night chock full of brews from Humboldt County. Sunday is when it really gets going. 21st Amendment will be the brewery of choice, but that’s not even the best part – they are hosting a homebrew competition complete with local brewers and beer experts as judges. The winner of the competition will brew their beer at the 21st Amendment Brewery facilities and eventually have it tapped at the Capitol Beer and Tap Room. Unfortunately, most of the participants have already been invited, though you may be able to squeak in if you have a strong enough case.
Beer week will continue at the Capitol Beer and Tap Room on Tuesday with Colorado Brewers’ Day, featuring Flying Dog and Oskar Blues, a brewery which is always worth noting. Still to come on Wednesday and Thursday are Sierra Nevada and Firestone Walker, respectively. Firestone Walker night, in particular, might be worth putting on your calendar, since they have plans to tap a keg of their 16th Anniversary Ale. Knee Deep and Track 7 Takeover Night is March 1, and the pair will surely end beer week with a bang.
Hotchkiss is hopeful that this year’s beer week, their first, will bring them more visibility than they’ve had in the past. The bar and shop is located at Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue next to Tokyo Fro’s. The tap room has twenty taps, one of them nitro, and an opportunity for great beer education – any four 5 oz. beers for $14.
The Davis Beer Shoppe plays a similar role just across the causeway. The establishment will have been open for two years in March, and with an unbelievable number of beers in the store in back and ever-changing taps in the front, their ideal location in downtown Davis keeps them packed to the brim day in, day out. They recently added six additional taps to their original eight and one nitro, with a cask option frequently featured. They, too, have a few things up their sleeve for Sacramento Beer Week, but they aren’t revealing details just yet. With that many beers in the shop, they are likely struggling to narrow down their options.
Starting tomorrow, Sacramento area beer lovers should be gearing up for an enjoyable few months of beer, social gatherings in honor of beer and grand dinners paired with the perfect beer. The SBW calendar is expanding daily, so take a look. In addition, check back for a thorough piece on how to best handle SBW here on The Sacramento Press site. Drink water, get in shape and start planning.
Editor’s note: Join The Sacramento Press on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at Chops Steakhouse to honor Journalism Open winners. Get tickets!