Yolo Brewing Company
1520 Terminal Street • West Sacramento
A West Sacramento Saturday at Yolo Brewing Company looks slightly different, and smells slightly different, than you’d imagine for a taproom. A rolled-up warehouse door reveals long tables and stools; a lineup of human-sized kettles at one end, an L-shaped bar in a far corner; and side tables covered in packs of grains, malts and spices. The smell is of a homebrewer’s kitchen—of sweet, simmering roasty grains. This part brewpub, part personal brewery is Michael Costello’s Brew It Up reincarnate in full swing.
Costello first built Brew It Up in 1996 in Davis and was the majority owner. For seven years it thrived purely as a brewing kitchen. The location did some small-scale distribution but didn’t have any food. He then moved it to Sacramento, where it became a personal brewery and grill, complete with a 200-seat restaurant, 24 taps of Brew It Up’s own beer, 30 wine selections and a massive 60-item dinner menu.
The place wasn’t too big to fail—on the contrary, it stayed busy for eight years and pushed out thousands of batches of beers. But like much of downtown in 2011, the economic crash forced the brewery to shut down.
Since then, Costello says, a similar business model for personal brewing didn’t pop up but hundreds of people reached out and asked him what was next.
“It kept the wind under my wings to push forward,” he says. “Yolo is the outcome of that; and not just the outcome of my efforts, but a group of another dozen people who rolled up their sleeves and put their own money in to start.”
The new vision of Costello and his partners includes being a regional brewery that distributes in Northern California and being a destination where people can walk in and try small batches. And, of course, if customers want to get more involved they can create their own beers.
“It has the core elements of Brew It Up, but the vision and direction is not the same,” says Costello one early morning while setting up shop. “It’s 15 to 20 years of learning and making mistakes and doing things right and wrong.”
Beer lovers and their friends may schedule to brew their own batches with a Yolo brewmaster in three-hour sessions on the weekends, taking home their creation after the brewery takes care of all the dirty work (like kegging, bottling and OCD-level sanitation).
The large, open warehouse is starkly different than Brew It Up’s old Downtown Sacramento location, but the beers on tap, atmosphere and experience are just as good, if not better.
“The customers work right alongside our brewmasters, create a recipe and go through the whole brewing process, and we take care of everything else.”
Costello first came up with the personal brewery idea 15 years ago as a homebrewer and UC Davis graduate with a degree in fermentation. He was frustrated with the cumbersome process and time consumption of brewing at home with such small results.
“It was hard to perfect brewing unless I did a lot of it, so I liked the idea of having somewhere you could go with someone with experience,” he says. “Then I or a customer could go in and successfully brew a batch of beer, with relative ease and minimal discomfort, without having to do it six to 10 times a year in order for it to be good. There are homebrewers who are really good at it because they’ve practiced it so much and I don’t have anything to really offer them. But for those who only do it a few times a year, this is ideal.”
Costello notes that even though IPAs, double IPAs and sours take up most of the press in the beer geek world, customers have come in to make all styles.
“That’s a fun checkpoint for us,” he says. “When people are brewing their own beer, that’s a commitment, so it’s a demo for us of what people like and what they might want to drink in the brewery.”
When the brewmasters aren’t helping new and current homebrewers perfect a batch, they’re brewing at least 12 of Yolo’s own beers, including a Scotch ale, double IPA, orange blossom blonde and oatmeal stout.
It seems like a lot of beers for a brewery less than a year old, but Costello says the Yolo team was ready and experienced enough to do it.
“We’re actually restrained at 12 but our tap system is set up to handle 28,” he says. “A lot of breweries that get started, especially the small breweries, for many of them it’s their first time brewing professionally, or running a business and having employees. It may also be their first time going from brewing 5- or 10-gallon batches to production size. Because I’ve been doing this for 15 years we already had the recipes down.”
That’s where the second part of Yolo’s vision comes in. Costello knows that after so long, to keep the business from going stale, it’s important to offer the customer new and different ideas. Using the small batch kettles in the brewery, he and other brewmasters are able to try more seasonal, local varieties.
“There are so many good beer recipes and so many different things you can do that are creative, especially the one-off specialty beers like SMaSH beers that use just one hop and one malt. You could do that 12 times a year and have 12 different beers,” he says.
While the Yolo team gets to experiment in-house, Costello also plans to grow one county at a time in California, brewing larger production as the brewery gains more customers and more success.
His eventual plan is to start canning in the first or second quarter of next year. Prior to that, Yolo will have 22-ounce bottles available at Nugget Markets and Total Wine in the next few weeks. Costello adds a few local pubs and restaurants are ready to take Yolo beer on tap when the brews are ready. Customers can also fill growlers on site, including the new EcoGrowler, a recycled, collapsible container that can hold 64 ounces and looks like a giant Capri Sun.
“But as we scale up, and are able to brew on large production, we can still turn to those small batch kettles,” he says. “The engine for Yolo is the small kettles.”
Here’s to at least another 15 years, and most likely more.
Check out Yolo Brewing Company Thursdays and Fridays from 3 to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Food trucks are in the lot for lunch and dinner. Yolo is located at 1520 Terminal Street in West Sacramento.