11 Sacramento area bars where beer rules all
If there is one thing that’s for sure about Sacramento, it’s that we love our beer! The last few years have been an exciting time for regional hop-heads. New breweries and taprooms are opening left and right, it’s becoming the norm for restaurants and bars to up their beer list game, and our palate as a whole is growing with the rising popularity of sours, farmhouse ales and other interesting/experimental brews. Another thing that’s for sure is there is no lack of great bars to enjoy craft beer in the Sacramento region. Throw a rock in any direction and you’re bound to hit a spot with a killer beer list. With the return of Sacramento Beer Week, which runs from Feb. 26 to March 8, 2015, we figured it would be a perfect time to highlight a few of our favorite downtown-area beer bars. This is by no means a “best of” list, it’s simply an attempt to shine some light on bars in or near the heart of the city whose focus is on beer 365 days a year. Honorable mentions could of course include traditional pubs like Fox and Goose, Bonn Lair, and de Vere’s; or other downtown hot spots like Alley Katz, Burgers and Brew and The Rind; brewery taprooms like Track 7, Bike Dog and Berryessa; or even outlying spots like Sam Horne’s and Final Gravity, but then this list would never end… Read on to learn about 11 of Submerge’s favorite beer-focused downtown-area establishments and to get a hint of what to expect for their Beer Week events and offerings.
5201 Folsom Boulevard | Sacramento
Humphrey Bogart once said, “The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind.” The Shack is there to catch you up, East Sac. The Shack location originally opened in 1931 as one of the first drive-ins turned drive-thrus in our area. It was home to the nickel hot dog and dubbed “The root beer king.” Owners Gary and Jen Slaeppy claim that “The Governor of California ‘Sunny Jim’ Rolph was said to have had his first beer after prohibition in our beer garden, which is now the kitchen.” Today, The Shack remains a prime destination for US-made craft beers as well as Belgian ales/sours/lambics with over 100 options on draft and in bottle. The bright green hut used to serve up some of the best breakfast in town, but sadly, they recently discontinued it because it was exhausting the dining quarters. However, their award-winning burgers are still available to devour with a nice Knee Deep IPA, or a malty Belgian dubbel. If you are into the more exciting, foreign beers, they’ve got you covered with trappist specialties, diverse Belgians (from unfiltered whites to heavy quads) and even a couple of sour options. During Beer Week, the location will host the ticketed event, “Shack Fest,” an East Sac rager in celebration of all that is beer and food. In proper homage to their roots, “Shack Fest” (Sunday, March 1, 2015) is an event full of unlimited tastings and an abundance of food as a continuous middle finger to prohibition all these years later.
-Words by Alia Cruz | Photo by Evan E. Duran
Hot City Pizza
5642 J Street | Sacramento
Hot City Pizza is the tiny pizza joint inconspicuously cuddled between a few businesses in a strip mall in deep East Sac. While the Hot City location is visually unimpressive and void of decor, their food and drinks confidently make up for it. Owner Colby Pettenger opened the place more than seven years ago, with the dream of bringing this town the least boring pizza around. It quickly evolved into the natural marriage of good beer with good pizza. Their pizza and beer is literally so good, they can completely rely on it to keep customers loyal and plenty.
The pizza itself is damn good. Notable spicy options, like the spicy veggie and the angry pig pizza, will make a ‘za lover sweat. Also, their vegetarian options are plentiful, and they are generous with toppings. The variety of pizzas gives you the feeling that its creator was somewhat of an evil genius, being completely liberated by the access of toppings and the power to execute them into what he’s always dreamt of.
An experience at this place is always full of unexpected delights. This small, laid-back pizza joint has some of the best beer options in town. The little 7-Up branded fridge in the main dining area has a beer selection that even the town’s most ritzy bottle shops can’t get a hold of. Yes, there are plenty of local offerings like Knee Deep IPAs, but they also have an exciting and unique option from more specialty breweries too. For example, they are bound to have something great from Mikkeller, Prairie Artisan Ales, and you never know who else. This place is the epitome of a hidden gem.
Aside from the bottle choices, they have 14 beers on tap that consistently rotate and keep options fresh and exciting. Spicy meats and peppers on certain pizzas will find a friend in a dank IPA, and a fresh veggie pizza can shine with a pairing of a farmhouse ale or blossoming saison. I think that while pizza has rarely been seen as something culinarily complicated, the pairing of unique beers with pies is a no brainer. If you break down all of the ingredients of a pizza, and think about all of the spices and elements, certain beers can actually help accentuate those things. Hot City Pizza has such a variety of funky and unique brews, that with each bottle you pop or beer you have poured, there are so many flavors waiting to work together to give you a whole new experience.
While Pettenger says he has yet to plan anything for Beer Week, rest assured you can always find something here that consistently respects the craft of the draft.
-Words by Alia Cruz | Photo by Evan E. Duran
University of Beer
1510 16th Street, Suite 300 | Sacramento
The original University of Beer in Davis rose to popularity with a 60-tap system, the sort of beer list undertaking few dare brave. For its Midtown location, University of Beer expanded its curriculum, installing a 100-tap system. We do not advise a latenight cram session of studying the beer list. With campus roots, the ambience follows suit, mixed with the hyperstimulation of a sports bar—seemingly as many flat screens as there are taps. Accommodation is supreme at U of B. The hundred taps are not squandered on appeasing the domestic big brothers of beer. Even the bottle list is home to specialty brews and manufactured in limited runs. Eleven of the taps are locals only, with the remaining flavor profile spanning Belgians, sours, nitros, pales and ciders. For Beer Week, U of B will have its Rare Beer Night on Sunday March 1 (the list still under lock and key), and Tuesday is hosted by Saint Archer Cellar Manager Greg Peters, serving flights and fielding your beer nerd and homebrewer inquiries.
-Words by Blake Gillespie | Photo by Jenny Price
Capitol Beer and Tap Room
2222 Fair Oaks Boulevard | Sacramento
The dogwoods are in bloom in the courtyard adjacent to Capitol Beer and Tap Room’s secluded patio, a picturesque setting for a post-shift pint. Tucked away from the commuter traffic of Howe Avenue and Fair Oaks Boulevard, Capitol Beer exists as a quaint and folksy retreat. Strip malls tend to stifle character (think four corners of taupe), but this nestled neighborhood watering hole created a lived-in look by building a brick arch behind the bar and mounting 20 chalk boards against a hop-print, painted backdrop to display its rotating taps. The 20 boards are for the 20 taps that are ever-rotating with an emphasis on Pacific breweries, but a serious soft-spot for national breweries like Clown Shoes in Massachusetts. The beer rotation is highly curated, but also democratic. Got an elusive brew in mind? Place it on the beer wish list and they’ll do the leg work.
With Beer Week days dedicated to locals only and the surrounding regions like the Bay Area, Oregon and San Diego, Capitol Beer has an inclusive mentality in its schedule. Friday, March 6 is of note though as Hops To Table magazine, a local brewer’s rag, will celebrate its second anniversary. “It’s not only a celebration of the magazine, but it’s a rare beer night,” bar manager Eric Newell said. “The idea [for the magazine] started here, talking about it one day about a love for Sacramento and its beer scene.”
-Words by Blake Gillespie | Photo by Melissa Welliver
2968 Freeport Boulevard | Sacramento
Dad’s Kitchen is known for their commitment to showcasing mostly California beers. They designate their 27-draft lineup to these state-proud brews, especially those created here in Sacramento. What makes Dad’s so awesome is that it is a laid-back, totally unpretentious place with a knowledgeable and down to earth staff. This place is beaming with local pride and a reformed surfer dude feel. Year-round beer coordinator Tyson Herzog (who also runs Sac Brew Bus tours) completely submerges himself in the local beer culture, and that definitely reflects in the Dad’s draft list. Yes, they offer brews from local hard-hitters like Track 7 and Bike Dog, but this place also gives the spotlight to smaller breweries like Yolo Brewing Co., Auburn Alehouse and Mraz. One thing that is acceptable here, as should be in most professional beer places, is the right to taste. A place that lets you take a swig of something you are unsure about before you commit is highly appreciated. Not only does this allow you to ensure you like what you get, but it opens up the possibility for beer conversation and enhances the overall drinking experience. This year, Dad’s anticipates a packed Beer Week schedule. They will pay homage to Sacramento beers on Saturday, Feb 28. Other events for the week will include a Lagunitas brunch and Drake’s tap takeover. The one unmissable event is on Wednesday, March 4. This location will be hosting a local IPA tasting competition. Breweries will have guests drink up to determine who has the more superior hopped concoction.
Words by Alia Cruz | Photo by Mallory Moullay
1050 20th Street | Sacramento
Much like craft beer wasn’t synonymous with Sacramento until the past five years, the Northwest corner of 20th and K was not perceived as a destination stop in Midtown. That is until it transformed in 2012 with the opening of Lowbrau Bierhall, widely regarded as one of the most popular hangouts in town—no matter the day of the week. Pioneered by Clay Nutting and Michael Hargis, the traditional name is not an affront. The bier menu at Lowbrau will challenge your comfort with the German language, always pouring Trappists, Dunkels, Doppelbocks and Hefeweissbiers. Tradition is cool, but this is California. To wit, Lowbrau keeps a steady rotation of experimental breweries both regional and worldwide. While a debut of a barrel-aged, peanut butter infused variation on Ballast Point’s Victory At Sea cannot be missed on Friday February 27, Thursday is Heretic For Homebrewers night, a chance for homebatch hopefuls to pick the brain of Heretic head brewer Jamil Zainasheff.
-Words by Blake Gillespie | Photo by Nicholas Wray
2332 K Street | Sacramento
Der Biergarten has some prime offerings in deep pours and a ping pong table, so naturally, I am a fan. Biergarten owner Sean Derfield was one of the first people in our area to put a business in a cargo unit, “an idea that was initially meant to make it so we can literally pick the whole place up and move it to different locations every few weeks,” he said. This idea was immediately shot down by the city, but that’s cool, because Midtown has made Sean feel more than welcome in his little lot on the corner of 23rd and K. Derfield came from a proud German heritage and wanted to give Sacramento a feel for a more casual outdoor environment where one can drink heavy pours of quality German beers and other ales. He wanted to bring the bar (and its patrons) out into the fresh air. “When looking for what to serve, I’m constantly tasting, doing research and listening to beer lovers,” said Derfield. “I’m always talking to beer reps and religiously on Beer Advocate. Being educated in beers seems to be key.” Initially, he came from a traditional bar background (he also owns The River City Saloon in Old Sac), where he says beer was not quite in the spotlight. Then, he became intrigued by the laid-back nature of the traditional biergarten and the beer boom. “I was aiming for a place to feel completely casual and fun, with the quality product to back it up. I want people to drink and be merry.”
The Biergarten is void of TVs, music and antics. Instead, they have corn hole, foosball, ping pong and community tables to meet new friends. Beer also helps with that latter part. In fact, these community tables were even shipped here from the owner’s German relatives to support those hefty steins of beer. The cargo-unit kitchen also serves up some light German grub like sausages, pretzels and salads. The few times that Sacramento’s weather is unsavory is when the business hours for Der Biergarten become murky. If it is raining, they have no choice but to be closed. If it is too hot, business tends to be slow. Sean has been tirelessly working on ways to keep patrons more comfortable in changing conditions. “We are putting in awesome misters for the summer and looking at electric heaters for the winter. We are also looking forward to possibly extending our hours through midnight.” Der Biergarten is a completely unpretentious, fun place to get your money’s worth for quality German beers and beyond. They implement an idea that community is built through drinking beer, as the Germans have religiously believed for years and years. Every week truly is Beer Week at Der Biergarten…. Well, weather permitting.
Words by Alia Cruz | Photo by Melissa Welliver
Firestone Public House
1132 16th Street | Sacramento
Firestone is a great option for the more casual craft beer drinker. It is loud, it is busy, it is haunted with televisions for sports enthusiasts (exactly their targeted audience), but it also has almost 60 draft beers to stumble through with uniquely large-sized pour options on considerably high-alcohol ales. Before Firestone was a restaurant, it was the huge tire company sticking out on the bustling corner of 16th and L streets. When I was a kid, I remember driving with my dad to the Downtown Plaza and always turning my head to watch the Firestone guys rolling and bouncing tires on the grease-stained pavement. About five years ago, The Firestone Tire Co. was gutted and made into the Firestone Restaurant. The restaurant retained the moniker as homage to its shared roots with the Firestone empire. A consistent draft list of everything from IPAs to heavy stouts and refreshing ciders is an option, along with about six handles that are constantly being rehydrated with a fresh option. If you are a hop head, I suggest the IPA flight, which usually includes five four-ounce pours of California style IPA varieties. Though they have very little planned as official Beer Week festivities, they do have a keg of 805 Firestone to offer around that time. Words by Alia Cruz | Photo by Evan E. Duran
Pangaea Bier Cafe
2743 Franklin Boulevard | Sacramento
Rob Archie recognizes that a craft beer cafe is an imperfect business model. As the owner of Pangaea Cafe on the Northeast corner of Franklin Boulevard and 3rd Avenue, he is aware the American way of business is control and consistency; the customer expects experiential repetition and a business is at the mercy of their needs. The American way of service, that “customer is always right” adage, does not translate to craft beer. The customer is at liberty to participate, explore, and if all goes well, enjoy at Pangaea Cafe.
“What’s humbling about beer is you practice a lot of impermanence,” Archie says. His statement applies to the challenge of replicating a recipe with consistency, the ever-looming possibility of a beloved brewery shuttering, and shortages, be it ingredients or competitive batch availability. “One day you have it [on tap], the next day it’s gone,” he says.
We are on the shaded patio at the Curtis Park location on an uncharacteristically warm February afternoon. It’s 4 p.m. and the patronage is steady from retirees with little better to do and businessmen enjoying a late liquid lunch, or perhaps an early day out of the office. Once an unassuming cafe for coffee and beer experts alike, it is now a pillar in the connoisseurial community of beer lovers. Tastings, judgings, and club meetings are a regular occurrence. Now in its sixth, nearly seventh, year of business the Pangaea identity is defined, unified like the supercontinent origin, and like the prehistoric Pangaea it was here before Sacramento became a craft beer city.
Back then, Archie was simply an ex European-basketball player who’d gotten a whiff of the Belgian beers and started plotting ways to bring them back to California. It began with five taps, pouring Birra Moretti (first tasted while playing in Italy), Affligem Blonde, St. Bernardus Belgian Quad, Lagunitas IPA and Blanche De Bruxelles. Bare bones compared to the 20 options now that include a sour-specific section.
“I tell brewers and people that open, to be a part of the culture you have to ask yourself ‘what am I bringing to the culture?’” he says. “In any small business it should be sharing your story and having a soul behind whatever it is you’re doing.”
Archie’s identity is education. First came his own. From traveling as a professional athlete, and then going back to learn more, he got his entry into Belgian beers. As the West Coast movement began to blossom, his travel distance shortened to the outlying brewers of Northern California, brief visits and bottle trades, just to absorb as much as possible. In opening Pangaea, Archie employed his knowledge to accrue customers who became regulars. First comes the flavored hook: “the first time they taste a Belgian quad and they think there’s fruit in there.” He’s got your interest and he counters with “then you tell them it’s all yeast and you get to talking about the magic of yeast.” From there he’s got you deep into the nuances of the process; some brewers refer to yeast as a woman, other brewers discount yeast as merely a fermenting agent and focus on hops, and on and on.
Craft brewing is still an emerging market; the craze is real, and yet, this is its cowboys and pioneers phase. Archie notes Bud Light alone out-sells craft beer. He sees it as millions of people yet to be converted that don’t drink good beer out of being domesticated on flavorless beer. “The people that are in it right now are still pioneers in the grand scheme of enjoying better beer. I just think that riding this wave from 13 percent to 21 percent to 30 percent will be insane. By then it’s like Pliny [the Elder] on tap at your house.”
Archie recalls the early days when most distributors didn’t know their stock beyond the Budweisers, Millers, Coronas and Heinekens.
“We’d have to call them and say ‘there’s this beer, I know you guys have it. It’s in your catalog,” Archie says. “They’d have to send a supervisor out here and it’d become this huge ordeal.” Companies like DBI grew alongside Pangaea, “simply because they were on the forefront of being a craft beer distribution and we were buying up the supply. What’s cool is you see the same thing in customers right now. They’re going out and they are chasing the way we did years back.”
For those deep in the chase, Pangaea’s Beer Week events will include a stouts and oysters day with a specialty Imperial Porter brewed in collaboration with his wife and the wives of Track 7 Brewing; a collaboration with Knee Deep and Altamont called “Hella Deep” and a special visit by David Walker of Firestone Walker Brewing Co. to hand-deliver a special batch sour keg.
“I like the collaborative thing,” Archie says. “Right now, you have to be appreciative of what’s out there. We have really good beers that are readily available that are right here. Everyone is looking for the newest thing, but the newest thing isn’t always the best thing.”
-Words by Blake Gillespie | Photo by Evan E. Duran
Kupros Craft House
1217 21st Street | Sacramento
Kupros Craft House is located in the renovated Victorian house that used to be Cheap Thrills. The restaurant environment feels like the casual dining quarters of a luxury cruise ship, or maybe dinner at your fancy aunt’s house. I always feel like I am in such a different place. Its full bar is absolutely gorgeous because of the signature stained glass ceiling, and the cool second story patio is top-notch to perch and people watch. Kupros often has a diverse draft list, usually consisting of Sculpin, Allagash and Anderson Valley as a few staples, and every now and then they will catch a rare keg. One amazing thing that must absolutely be highlighted here is a little thing called Can Roulette. Can Roulette is when you pay $2.50 for a can of beer that the server randomly and blindly picks out of an ice chest. Craft beer out of a can almost always tastes better and you can fill up on beer for really, really cheap. For Beer Week, Kupros will be hosting many events, including a Drake’s Brewing kickoff party on Friday, Feb. 27 with rare releases and classics on draft. The restaurant will also host breweries from San Diego and Oregon (the home of the country’s more well-known craft beer breweries) in a weekend-long battle to see who blows their kegs quicker. Winner gets bragging rights!
Words by Alia Cruz | Photo by Melissa Welliver
Blackbird Kitchen + Beer Gallery
1015 9th Street | Sacramento
Based downtown, Blackbird Kitchen + Beer Gallery has an urbanite cool, slightly posh feel, acting as an art gallery, but not above the Portlandia-esque irony of “Put a bird on it.” Marginally upscale, yes, but Blackbird is not stuffy or bougie. Just like Budweiser would like you to believe craft beer drinkers are hipster caricatures, do not mistake Blackbird as too chic for the real and rugged of the craft community. The list is extensive and intelligently grouped by house-coined flavor profiles like “utmost drinkability,” “devilishly dark,” “pucker up,” “pales in comparison” and our favorite, “barley there.” For Beer Week, Blackbird is keeping it minimal with a locals night featuring Mraz, Bike Dog and Device on Tuesday, March 3. The following night is dedicated to barrel-aged brews and Thursday is a competition between Socal, Ninkasi, and Green Flash. The winner will be chosen by attendees, so be there, and be heard.
-Words by Blake Gillespie