April 13, 2016
In the United States, we have a unique relationship with alcohol of all forms. Since the disastrous attempt to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol in the 1920s that was lifted in 1933, Americans have held fast to their freedom to consume and produce beer and liquor. The post-prohibition period in the US saw the growth of German-inspired beer in the United States, in particular by the beer company Anheuser-Busch: the self-titled ‘King of Beers’. Macro-breweries such as Anheuser-Busch quickly dominated the beer market in the United States, a trend that continued much into the 1990s and still operates today. However, an important new beer market has grown significantly in the last twenty years: that of craft breweries (classified as a brewery that ships 6 million or fewer barrels of beer a year). In 1990, craft breweries made up only 1 percent of the total beer market in the US. Today, craft breweries make up over 11 percent of the beer market in the US and this share has been increasing at nearly 15 percent a year over the past decade. Being an individual who appreciates a nice cold pint on a warm fall afternoon, I spent a few weekends traveling to local craft breweries in and around Sacramento to see first hand this craft brewery revolution currently underway.
One of the good things about living in a moderate-sized city in the United States is the emphasis on small-scale, locally produced goods and services. With enough people in one area to make these businesses profitable, and not too many people to overshadow any new business that opens, the craft and boutique business can thrive. In Sacramento, CA alone, craft breweries include Ruhstaller, Bike Dog Brewery, New Helvetia, Oak Park Brewery, Track 7, YOLO Brewery, and others. These small breweries often have 4-6 beers on tap at any given time, and are found in old abandoned brick façade warehouses that have been refurbished in order to fit the large aluminum filtering and mixing equipment required for fermentation and production. Instead of in-house diners, these breweries will often work with local food truck vendors to provide parking space in exchange for sharing the local beer experience with a local food experience.
In addition to the smaller inner-city craft breweries, within a few hours of Sacramento there are additional well-known craft breweries – the largest of which is the Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma. The fourth-largest craft brewer in the United States, the Lagunitas brew house has both a large Biergarten-style dining area as well as football-field sized warehouses where the company brews its beers. Unlike smaller craft beer venues, Lagunitas has over 20 beer varieties at any given time. Petaluma is also well known for its proximity to beautiful hiking trails, and when I visited I was able to enjoy a delicious Lagunitas after a few hours of conquering tough miles in a majestic hilly landscape. Similar to Lagunitas, the Knee Deep brewery in Auburn has a much larger warehouse and is also approximately an hour outside of Sacramento – though in the opposite direction. Here, too, many outdoors enthusiasts will mix a day of hiking, bouldering, and kayaking with enjoying delicious craft beers.
For both the city dweller and the trailblazer, the craft brewery revolution has certainly made its impact felt in and around Sacramento, California. One of the best aspects of these craft breweries is their variety: something that small batches and smaller production levels allows them to experiment with, unlike the large breweries. So next time you have a chance, skip over the traditional macro brew and try for a micro; I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Cheers!