Dining Out: Sacramento Beer Week

Is beer the new wine? Of course not. But it is wonderful to see beer taken seriously. As a long time beer drinker, brewer, and yes, at times, beer snob, I’ve been long disappointed in the reputation that beer is a simple beverage only suited for quaffing in large quantities.

Good beer can be as complex as the finest wine, and often costs much less. I’m the guy who e-mails fancy restaurants about their sorry beer lists (Are you reading this you snobby sommelier? You know who you are, with your pages and pages of wine and only a half dozen beers.). Sacramento’s new Beer Week might just be the sort of event (movement?) that might bring beer into the spotlight it so deserves.

At the opening night of Sacramento’s first beer week there was beer geek talk aplenty, but also just beer drinking and I swear an in depth discussion of diesel engines. There were several speakers at this 21 and older “education event.” I enjoyed the talks, what I could hear of them and I even bought the book on the history of brewing in Sacramento, but a the lack of a decent PA system was a problem.

I have to admit I approached Sacramento Beer Week with a bit of trepidation. We recently lost several of our local breweries (Beerman’s and Sacramento Brewing Co.), and the future of beer in the region seemed uncertain. By the time I left the opening night Sacramento’s first Beer Week (held in the Colonial Theatre on Stockton Blvd.), I was feeling downright cheerful about beer in and around Sacramento. I’m sure the beer I consumed didn’t hurt this impression, but in the interests of clear-headedness and getting home in one piece I didn’t finish all the beer I got. When I was younger I was fanatical about finding every brewpub and microbrewery that I could find. I quickly realized that most of what was out there was disturbingly similar. This is no longer the case. I may have to begin hunting down obscure brewpubs and microbreweries as well as revisiting old ones. The days of every brewery producing a Sierra Nevada clone are gone.

I won’t say that I loved every beer I had at opening night, but the range of beers was astounding. There were beers from nine breweries, and much of it did not fit into traditional categories. My heart belongs to unusual and big beers, so I was happy as they were well represented. Lagunitas produced an imperial brown ale especially for beer week that is extreme even by “imperial” beer standards. Piney, resiny hops dominated the flavor with malt cowering in terror below. Not a beer for everyone, but definitely an experience.  

Valley Brewing from Stockton had a pomegranate saison that tasted a little different each time I took a sip. This was a dry beer, not cloying, but with a strong pomegranate presence upfront, followed by fruitiness from the yeast and a pleasant tartness and finishing dry in an almost tannic way. Rubicon’s Winter Wheatwine, a long time favorite of mine was also on tap, with its extreme maltiness well-balanced with bittering hops and enough fruity esters to make it interesting. Barleywines often push too far into the realm of bitterness and loses any semblance of balance, but the Winter Wheatwine manages to be huge, complex and balanced.

Upstart Odonata Brewing (who are these guys anyway? Website please!) was pouring one of the most unusual beers I’ve had in awhile. Their Water Witch was sour, fruity, oaky—not at all what I was expecting. I’d never heard of the brewery or the beer, so I decided to take the plunge and give it a shot. This beer could perhaps do with a bit more aging to integrate the oak flavor from being aged in a wine barrel, but I spent a lot of time trying to dissect the flavors and quickly found that I had drunk much of my glass. It was then that I realized that it also hid its formidable strength (9.5% alc/vol) well.  

Sacramento beer week promises to offer more events than any one person could possibly go to. I’m kicking myself for not planning ahead and clearing my schedule. Well, maybe next year.   Beer in Sacramento is not dead!

By Ed Edsten

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