Sunday, September 13th, 2015

What I learned at the California Craft Beer Summit

Ron Swarner


The following is what I learned during day two of the California Craft Beer Summit in Sacramento Sept. 12, which included a late afternoon Brewers Showcase Festival featuring 150 California breweries lined up outside between the State Capitol Building and the Sacramento River.

According to Dr. Charlie Bamforth, professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California Davis, there’s a beer for everybody. “Some people say to me: ‘I don’t like beer.’ That’s nonsense. You just haven’t found the right beer for you yet. If you like Miller Lite, then I’m sad for you. But at least you found the beer for you.”

The beers from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, or SARA as they are popularly known, can barely be found in most of central coast California, much less anywhere close to the Pacific Northwest. That’s one reason their most famed beer, the Pinot Noir-barreled apricot sour saison West Ashley, had the longest line at the California Craft Beer Summit’s “Brewers’ Showcase” Saturday. One of the best American fruit sours saisons I’ve had thus far.

Brewers from large breweries have the same problems as brewers from small companies. They talk and actually like each other. It’s marketing that causes the friction between the two.

The Rare Barrel’s Apropos of Nothing is a golden sour beer aged in oak barrels with elderberries and lavender. It’s nectar of the gods.

People will talk about anything after a few beers. They are still debating “Twilight.” For instance, I guess I am on Team Edward. I can’t even believe there is a Team Jacob. I mean, he’s a cool guy and all — if a little agro — but Bella and Edward are obviously soul mates. It shouldn’t even be a debate.

Ken Grossman, who founded Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in 1980, says you can’t have great beer without great yeast.

San Francisco’s 21st Amendment new facility in San Leandro, California is a 100-barrel, four-vessel system, which will have an initial capacity of eight brews per day. To put that in perspective, eight brews a day on that system is as much beer as 21st Amendment currently brews over the course of a year at its San Francisco brewpub location. Based on their Brew Free Or Die IPA recipe, The San Leandro Batch 0001 is a winner with grapefruit, lemon-lime and tangerine, hints of tropical fruit, a little pine and some light caramel malt sweetness.

People don’t always look like their Twitter handles.

Lemon and Grassy IPA, the third beer to be released from the Hop Freshener Series by The Hop Concept. The nose is slammed with freshly grated lemon zest, subtle mint and hints of biscuit. Hops, hops and more hops explode on the palate. Grassy bitterness, citrus peel and the faintest sweet malt leads to a lingering clean finish. It’s laudable and great.

Women have more sensitive palates than men.

According to Dr. Bamforth, good beer is about consistency. That’s where the big beer companies excel. “My thesis is, if I buy a product I’d like to know that it’s going to be good. If I fill my car with gas, I’d like to know the car is going to drive. So if I buy a beer, I’d like to make sure it’s going to be good. So for me, I like a surprise insofar as I like to perhaps try a new beer, but I’d like to make sure the next time I buy that beer, it is just as good.”

Some people drop their plastic cups on purpose just for the crowd cheers.

There are 115 breweries in San Diego County. Eighty-two of them opened in the last five years. Forty more will open within the next year.

Volunteers have endless patience, but they are inconsistent in their love for beer. Note to certain volunteers (not all): Take five minutes to learn the basics about the brewery you are pouring for. If you don’t like beer, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

Greg Koch is a rock star. He was also just promoted from CEO and transition into a new role as executive chairman at Stone Brewing. Koch will focus on long-term and higher-level strategic planning for the company.

In California, brewers are not as closely connected to breeders, farmers and growers, because hops and malting barley are not grown in state.

HenHouse Brewing’s Oyster Stout is inky black, pleasantly bitter and roasty; it has a crisp, almost briny, character and dry finish. And no, it doesn’t taste fishy.

Anheuser-Busch has been using rice in their beer for more than a 100 years and everyone says that’s bad. Trappist monks use candy sugar in their beer for more than a 100 years and everyone says that’s good.

What I thought was a large contingent of forest park rangers was actually the crew from Fresno brewery Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Co. Their logo resembles a ranger badge. Their General Sherman IPA came with a huge citrus-like aroma and flavor.

The Brett and barrel character really shine and overshadows the extremely light and delicate flavors of the peach in Mraz Brewing Company’s Saison Je’ Peach. It’s delicious, with hints of butter oak, stone fruits and tons of earth.

Tony Magee, who founded Lagunitas Brewing Co. in 1993, picked the realtor out of a phone book to open Lagunitas’s gargantuan new Chicago brewery in 2014. Magee says synchronicity played a part on every level opening it. “You need to be wide open to luck to open a brewery,” says Magee.

Variety packs seem to be taking away some share from seasonals, suggesting that craft beer drinkers are evolving from wanting what is new and different, to wanting the right beer for the right occasion.

Quality through analysis is attainable at every level of commercial brewing.

Velvet Merkin has always been the barrel-aged version of Firestone Walker’s seasonal Velvet Merlin oatmeal stout. What’s different this year is that the Velvet Merkin includes a barrel-aged lot of an experimental milk stout version of Velvet Merlin. Merlin is defined by its coffee, roasty, dark chocolate character. Put it in a bourbon barrel, and it’s transformed into Merkin, which is all about milk chocolate, vanilla and coconut notes. It’s freaking delicious.

AleSmith Brewing’s X Extra Pale Ale is perfect to end a beer festival on a hot day. Crisp, clean, light, and refreshing — a very light-bodied American pale with an effervescent character with dominating hops and the straightforward malt is only there to support. Cheers.

Link: Day one of the 2015 California Craft Beer Summit