Now open – New Helvetia Brewery on Broadway
Sacramento has a new brewery inspired by the region’s once-famous Buffalo Beer. If you want a taste, you better mark your calendar.
New Helvetia Brewing Company, at Broadway and 18th Street, opened its doors to the public last week. Founder David Gull is considering December the brewery’s "soft opening" month. He’ll announce a grand opening in 2013, hopefully to sync up with Sacramento Beer Week.
"We’re a big place with not a lot of brewing happening," Gull said on a recent sunny morning, as contractors worked in the brewery. "I definitely recognized the opportunity and market."
So when can you grab a brew? Right now, and until Gull announces otherwise, tasting hours are Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Yep, just three days, in three-hours increments. And really, that’s all Gull can currently handle, as parts of the interior are still under construction and he’s awaiting a big shipment of ingredients.
But the customer response so far has been warm and welcoming, he said. "Obviously people want more beers to choose from," Gull said.
Historical inspiration leads to innovation
Gull, a fourth-generation Sacramentan, drew on the city’s brewing history for inspiration. Sacramento-based Buffalo Brewing Company was once the largest brewery west of the Mississippi, Gull says, and was a local favorite until it shut down in 1942. The historic brewery building was ultimately torn down to make room for the Sacramento Bee headquarters.
The Buffalo brand experienced somewhat of a resurgence in the early 1970s, when two law school grads started a new label and recipe, according to Gull’s website. The brewery’s tagline, "Buffalo beer is back" helped spread the word as the brand regained recognition and success locally. But the brewery shut down at the end of the decade, and Buffalo Beer was once again taken off the shelves and placed back into the history books.
So how does Gull plan to recreate the famous hoppy treat? Well, that’s the thing – he doesn’t. Besides, "If you could recreate it, you probably wouldn’t want to drink it," he said. Plus, there’s no record of how the original brew tasted. Everything from the water, to the ingredients and equipment used, have changed since the early 1900s.
So the plan is to create a "highly drinkable, pre-Prohibition lager formula," that will be a "sharp, crisp lager with bolder flavors and stronger aroma than the traditional American lager," in the spirit of Buffalo Beer, Gull states.
"We’re trying to grab some of that history and bring back that historic beer," he said.
There will be other beers, of course – "every other style you can think of," Gull said – as the business starts filling out the old brick building on the corner of Broadway and 18th Street. The building, which has large windows facing out toward Broadway, was built in 1925 and served as a tortilla factory until 2005.
In a way, it spoke to Gull. "The more I walked through, the more it told me it wanted to be a brewery, so I listened," he said.
His dream is nearly two years in the making – he started the process in January 2011 – and was made lengthier in part due to the building’s historical significance. "It would have been easier to do this in a West Sacramento warehouse," he said." But the usual suspects, permitting processes and construction taking longer than expected, also played a role, Gull said.
What customers need to know
For those planning an evening trip down to the brick building, Gull gave a few suggestions to keep in mind beforehand:
– While the brewery doesn’t serve food (yet), customers are welcome to bring their own, or have it delivered to the business. Eventually he hopes to partner with some local food trucks, and maybe even somewhere down the road, add a restaurant as a complement to the brewery and tasting room.
– Parking is not ideal right by the brewery, so customers can park in a lot on the northeast corner of 16th Street and Broadway, between Chase and Willie’s.
– There are only two beers to choose from at the moment: an IPA and a lager. More will be coming.
Already the tasting room has a connection to its historical inspiration. Vintage relics from the Buffalo Beer days are displayed as wall art, and Gull even has some of the actual beer (a bottle and six pack) from the 70s in the building. "There’s remnants of it in places all over town," Gull said, noting that Dad’s Kitchen and Fanny Ann’s Saloon have some old signage on their walls as well.
The bar itself is made of wood – from a Walnut tree – and even has that new bar smell. Gull hopes it attracts people who appreciate knowing the source of their sudsy beverage.
"Beer drinkers want to know where home is, where the beer came from," he said. "We gave the beer a home."
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