by Dan Clarke
Sacramento is in the middle of Beer Week. Actually, the week seems to run from February 27th through March 9th, but why limit a good thing to that narrow seven days definition?
California's capital may not have created America's craft beer renaissance, but since hopping on the bandwagon it certainly has helped it grow. The Sacramento News & Review estimates there are now 37 breweries within a 50-mile radius of downtown. More are rumored to be opening in 2014. Hops to Table, a bi-monthly tabloid billing itself as “a magazine dedicated to covering the Greater Sacramento and Chico beer and food scene,” is celebrating it's first anniversary. The current issue contains lots of good editorial and seems to have strong advertising support. May they live long and continue to prosper.
Dan Scott created Sacramento's first Beer Week five years ago. San Francisco had already done such a promotion, so Dan may have been capitalizing on their good idea, but there's no doubt his work has been a major contribution to the phenomenal growth of craft beer in the Central Valley. The local breweries have happily participate in Beer Week, of course, but so have many bars and restaurants. Most have created events of a style that will appeal to their own clientele and even some upscale places known to serve their plates on white tablecloths have put some effort into beer-pairing dinners.
The Shack on Folsom Blvd has the most diverse beer program in town. It doesn't brew its own beer but has frequently-rotated tap handles, exposing its customers to a broad spectrum of quality products. While you can find such esoterica as a Belgian sour or farmhouse ale, most of those handles tend to dispense variations on the West Coast IPA theme. These are big beers, often high in alcohol and high on the IBU (International Bittering Units) scale.
When a customer is unsure whether he's going to like the taste of something new, a server is usually happy to offer a taste. Between the bar taps and bottles in the refrigerated walk-in box, there's ongoing availability of about 100 brews.
Sunday afternoon was the occasion of their annual Shack Fest. For a fixed price ($30 in advance, $35 at the door), beer fans can have access to food, music and unlimited tastings. Though space inside this building that's been serving beer since repeal of Prohibition is limited, there's ample seating and standing room on the patio. In addition, the small parking lot in back is fenced off for the event, giving more room for pouring, tasting and mingling. Thirteen breweries were represented, most of them showcasing multiple offerings. From the Sacramento area were Auburn Alehouse, Berryessa, Bikedog, Device, Loomis Basin, New Glory, Out of Bounds, Track 7 and 2-Rivers Cider. The Brewing Lair from a couple hours north in Plumas County came down and Dustbowl, a similar distance south of here also arrived to pour. Oregon's Beer Valley was here, as were two Colorado entrants, Boulder Beer and Crazy Mountain.
Who knows what weather in early March will be like? Prior editions of this event had been blessed by sunny and spring-like conditions. Not so this time. It was merely overcast when things began at noon, but there was serious, steady rain falling a couple of hours later. While it may have kept away some would-be tasters, the rain didn't dampen spirits of the 200 or more who did show up. In fact, it added a What the hell. We're all in this together—let's have fun! quality to the day. Hunter Merritt and the Schwamigos, abetted by some members of One Eyed Reilly and the occasional talented guest from the audience, played under a small tent, but there was plenty of water near the microphones, cords, amps and speakers, adding potential electrocutions to the scheduled entertainment. Trouper that he is, Hunter played on through the rain and was seen alive and nattily attired at The Shack's Mardi Gras party two days hence.
Editor's note: The Resource Directory of Taste California Travel now includes links to the websites of most of the brewpubs and craft beer purveyors in the entire state.