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Sacramento Beer Week culminated with The Capital Beerfest, held at Cal Expo on Saturday. Upon entering the exposition hall, there were professional brewers, organizations of home brewers and several distributing companies present, with volunteers buzzing around with a camaraderie that can only develop while working a beer festival.
Beer drinkers and enthusiasts of all ages were there enjoying the event to the fullest. The only downfall was the weather. It was so nice outside that everyone was wishing they could be sipping outside rather than inside a hall.
The VIP session began at noon and was terrific in the fact that the brewers pulled out all the stops and brought out their best from behind the table. During the premiere hour from noon to 1 p.m., the two buildings seemed vast with the limited number of people who were present. Beer enthusiasts were more or less running from table to table tasting, always keeping in mind those who were presenting a special something for the first hour or until they ran out, whatever came first. Visitors got a chance to chat with brewers, distributors, pub and brewery representatives, owners, and other beer enthusiasts.
At 1 p.m., the floodgates opened, and the hall began to fill with cheerful beer drinkers. More than 60 breweries were present, some pouring up to six or seven different beers from bottles, taps and growlers. Brewers included large-volume breweries that distribute throughout the country to small micro- or nano-breweries that are just beginning to make their way, some only borrowing the brewing facilities of more established breweries. This in itself is an attribute to the local and regional brewing scene: breweries, micro-breweries, nano-breweries, brew pubs and beer cafes all working together to create a no-holds-barred craft brew industry.
All in all, “bourbon barrel aged” was the catchphrase of the day. Nearly all brewers with direct representation had a glint in their eyes as if they knew a secret, and that secret was always something delicious they had hidden behind the table. All day Saturday, drinkers were able to experience ales aged in bourbon barrels, beers aged with oak chips soaked in bourbon, and beers so rich and full that you almost wonder if they weren't just poured right in with the bourbon.
The best of show had to go to the North Coast Brewing Company's Old Stock Ale Cellar Reserve 2009. During the first hour, North Coast poured several bottles of its bourbon barrel aged Old Stock Ale.
North Coast Brewing Company made a similar beer in 2005 that was aged in brandy barrels. It was a delight to talk with North Coast’s Ken Kelley during the sipping. Kelley described the 2009 Cellar Reserve as a beer great for sipping, although you will probably want a pint. North Coast Brewing also had its dessert-like favorite, Old Rasputin, on tap as well as Belgian Style Abbey Ale Brother Thelonious.
In my humble and dark beer-loving opinion, The Bruery's Three French Hens ran a close second for the best beer at the Capital Beerfest. Three French Hens, created by Famille Rue's The Bruery, was a rich and delicious blend, 75 percent Belgian dark ale and 25 percent oak aged ale. The ale weighed in at 10 percent ABV and drank like a French country ale on a fresh spring day. The beer is part of a string of the 12 beers of Christmas. I can only hope to get my hands on the other 11 as soon as possible.
The Bruery's Cuádruple was terrific as well, and a good impersonation of a Belgian quadruple. It had more life to it than some of the Belgian-style abbey ales made in the region, though it is admittedly quite difficult to replicate an art that Belgian monks have spent centuries perfecting.
Throughout the day, random polling demonstrated a love for local brews as well. El Dorado's Trailblazer Stout got a number of votes, as did the Stony Bar Scotch Ale, made by Folsom's Lockdown Brewing Company. The Sac Piper should also be on the list. The smooth, malty Scottish Ale could be found at the Sudwerk table and held its own in terms of taste and balance. The ale was collaboratively brewed specially for Sacramento Beer Week.
Besides its stout, El Dorado Brewing Company has another interesting beer available, the rarely found or heard-of style, Braggot. Allan Camillo, owner and brewer for El Dorado, explained the Real Mountain Ale Braggot as an Old-World brew that they would love to bring back. The style could be described as a kind of half-mead, half-malty ale, a style that is found in only a couple of other breweries in the country. The El Dorado Real Mountain Ale Braggot is on tap at The Boxing Donkey in Roseville and at Samuel Horne's Tavern in Folsom.
Another local brewer, Peter Hoey, could be found around the event throughout the day, usually hovering near the Sutter Buttes Brewing Oatmeal Stout, a nice stout with so much oatmeal taste, it just might work in a bowl of oatmeal on a rainy winter evening. Black Diamond Brewing Company had a nice stout on tap as well, more specifically, the chocolate and vanilla bean Peak XV had five kinds of vanilla beans as well as cacao nibs.
The most interesting and innovative beers at Capital Beerfest were produced by Schmaltz Brewing Company's He'Brew. The 14-year-old company was genuine in its desire for new and interesting beers. The He'Brew slogan: “The Chosen Beer: Great for Bar Mitzvahs, Weddings, and Circumcisions,” was a slogan that I heard many people chuckle at throughout the day.
I might go as far as awarding Mr. Congeniality to Zak Davis, the representative for He'Brew. He went out of his way to pour their unique brews of various vintages. One such example was their 2009 13th anniversary ale. The He’Brew Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah Thirteenth Anniversary Ale had 13 kinds of hops and 13 types of malts; it drank as thick and rich as a celebration liqueur, just as it was intended.
He'Brew's sour beer, Geektoberfest, was strong and interesting, taking the cake for the most bizarre beer. Most notably, the Geektoberfest comes packed in a cardboard container filled with duck feathers in homage to the etymology of the word geek.
While He'Brew's sour beer had the geuze edge that many beer drinkers aren't able to appreciate, Deschutes Brewery threw in a bone with The Dissident, its wild-yeast sour brown ale, probably the best modern-day take on a geuze I have tasted. Deschutes also poured its decennial beer, Jubel 2010. The Jubel 2010 has its own interesting story. The original recipe was created back in 2000 when someone tried to steal a keg of Jubelale, but got only about 20 feet before they decided it was just too heavy and too cold to carry out their plan. The beer stayed out overnight and got so cold that ice formed in the keg, which, when removed, left the remaining beer in a condensed form, thereby creating a richer and thicker flavor. The brewers at Deschutes decided to give it a try anyway, and Jubel 2000 was born. This eisbock-like beer is now brewed every 10 years.
Of all the breweries that poured at Capital Beerfest, the brewery most worth a visit might just be Mammoth Brewing Company of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and not just because its upcoming Blues & Brews festival, Bluesapalooza, is right up my alley, what with Blues Traveler and Matt Schofield on the docket. Their location near Yosemite National Park is certainly appealing, as is getting another taste of that double nut brown. Just the smell was alluringly nutty and sweet.
By 3 p.m., the noise level in the main hall was almost unbearable, with spontaneous bursts of collective yelling, glasses raised, that could only be equated to a hearty 'cheers' to Sacramento Beer Week and the Capital Beerfest. As at every beer festival, the line for the women's bathroom was stunningly short, and the men's traumatizingly long. One man in particular felt this especially as I watched him walk, head down, into the women's restroom with a look in his eyes that made me glad he didn't wait until his turn in line.
Sierra Nevada had the nicest booth around, complete with that SN green tent. Their 2 x 4 was a dream. A mix of Belgian quadruple and brandy barrel-aged Belgian dubbel, you could really taste the rich flavor of liquor. Sierra Nevada kept going strong all day with four different beers on draught.
On a cheesier note, Nugget Markets was set up in building C, giving out samples of great artisan cheeses and sausages that you could smell grilling out back behind the building. Who knew you could get that great Old Amsterdammer cheese at the Nugget?
I was disappointed that Lagunitas didn't pull out any stops, but then again, they were such a presence throughout beer week that I can hardly blame them. Sacramentans will never forget Tony Magee's musical talents and ambitions, or Sacramento Fusion, the Black IPA brewed specially for Sacramento Beer Week. The Lagunitas owner and brewer must have been camped out in McKinley Park all week, considering the number of bars and cafes that he visited during Sacramento Beer Week.
Hoppy Brewing represented Sacramento brewing at Capital Beerfest as well, with a number of beers on tap including its Hoppy Face Amber Ale and Stony Face Red Ale, both, you guessed it – hoppy.
The Gold Country Brewers Association tapped homebrew after homebrew, serving so many different beers that they truly proved that homebrewing deserved its own stall right next to Sierra Nevada. The group has approximately 75 members in the area and has monthly meetings and brewing events of all kinds. Greenbelt Brewers Association was also represented and poured a number of taps throughout the day.
At one particular booth, I found myself speaking with one of the baby blue-shirted volunteers. The volunteers were part of an organization called Runnin' for Rhett, a nonprofit that was created in memory of Rhett Seevers, a boy who was born with cerebral palsy and lived just seven years.
Through a strange twist of fate, I found that the volunteer with whom I was speaking was in fact Rhett's grandmother. The words that I heard from his grandmother were inspiring and courageous, and I only hoped that more people took the time to chat with a volunteer about their cause. Lyle Gramling was sweet, honest and truly represented the cause in every way.
Each year, the members of Runnin’ for Rhett, a group now 650 strong, run, walk and volunteer in the Shamrock’n Half Marathon. Participating in the half-marathon is a tradition that was started by Rhett’s mother, Beth Seevers, in 2005; exactly a year after the day of Rhett’s passing. Now, each year, the organization works to support its slogan, “Move into Life” by encouraging healthy movement. In addition, each year, two $5,000 scholarships are given to teachers or students getting accredited to work in special education in the Sacramento area.
The success of Capital Beerfest was phenomenal for more than one reason – friends, local and nationwide brewers, homebrewers and many others on the Sacramento Beer Week and Capital Beerfest committee came together to spread the word on the art and possibilities of craft brewing. Beer was talked about in terms of moods, meals and seasons. Add to this the overall camaraderie, plus donating to a good cause, and I can be absolutely positive that it was highly enjoyable for everyone involved.
From the last call, drinkers began to trickle to the white school buses that would take them back to Midtown. It was hard to imagine a more jovial and friendly atmosphere of adults on a school bus. I only hope that the man with the Beeriodic Table T-shirt was sitting tall in the front seat.