In the past two years, the number of Sacramento-area breweries has roughly doubled, with the overall total now hovering somewhere above 50. If that’s not enough, there are at least a dozen new breweries in various stages of development throughout the region, with Sacramento-based King Cong, Lincoln farmhouse brewery/meadery/cidery Dueling Dogs and Rocklin’s Moksa (which is taking over the Dragas space) among the businesses slated to open by the end of the year.
With so many new players in the game, and so many options to chose from, it really means something to stand out from the crowd. As breweries from the previous boom cycle currently take steps to expand their empires (Bike Dog opened a second location on Broadway, while Track 7 and Out of Bounds are both readying new brewpub ventures), we should consider which of the new breweries might follow in their footsteps.
These are my picks for the top five breweries to open in the region since the start of 2016. Interestingly, none of them are located in the city proper, which reinforces the idea that Sacramento is more than a beer city – it’s beer region.
1. Moonraker (12970 Earhart Ave. #100, Auburn)
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This is such a blowout that I almost felt like calling it the Moonraker Award. It’s like drafting Stephen Curry for a playground pickup game. The beer review website RateBeer named Moonraker one of the top 10 new breweries in the world, for crying out loud. That’s the world. Considered the best brewery in the region, Moonraker gets respect for their magical touch with hoppy beers both hazy and clear, but they also absolutely crush their sours, blondes, barrel-aged and dark beers.
2. Claimstake (11366 Monier Park Place, Rancho Cordova)
The revamped logo for the former Argonaut Brewing Company states that it was established in 2015, but their doors didn’t open until early 2016. This brewery started good and got consistently better over the past two years, excelling at every type of IPA, from singles to doubles to triples to their pineapple session IPA Shawnalulu.
3. Solid Ground (552 Pleasant Valley Road, Diamond Springs)
When I look at the list of breweries that failed to make this list, I see some places that offer ambitious beers without the execution, while I see others that are content to execute unchallenging brews. Opening a few months ago, Solid Ground Brewing combines an ambitious tap list (including wine-infused beers and oddities like a cinnamon hefeweizen) with stellar execution.
4. Hillenbrand Farmhaus (5100 Virginiatown Road, Newcastle)
Over-extension is another common factor among the also-rans. Too many places are bottling, canning, barreling, souring, distributing and diversifying before they have even produced a decent pale ale. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear Patric Hillenbrand talk about perfecting his existing beers instead of expanding his portfolio. He’s produced five good ones so far, and it will be interesting to see what develops as Hillenbrand institutes a food-pairing program and starts harvesting hops and crops.
5. Flatland (9183 Survey Road #104, Elk Grove)
Flatland is more hit-or-miss than the other breweries on this list, although their misses generally boast a spirit of small-batch experimentation, and some of their hits are legendary. Their crisp and delicious Pilsnerish is the award-winner in the family, but I’m looking forward to another round of their spot-on, Easter-themed, Cadbury-like Crème Egg.
Beer of the Week
International Stout Day fell on Nov. 2 this year, but it’s never too late to celebrate this delicious and diverse style of dark beer, especially as the autumn weather grows increasingly cold and gloomy.
Capital Hop Shop (1431 I St., Sacramento) curated a typically all-star lineup for the occasion, with Dogfish Head Oak-Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout (17.5 percent ABV) tying for the biggest beer on the board alongside Avery Tweak.
It poured an impenetrable black with a sandy brown head, giving off powerful aromas of roasted coffee. However, the addition of vanilla beans smooths the bitter flavor of this infamously overwhelming beer. If stouts aren’t your thing, maybe start preparing for National Lager Day on Dec. 10.
Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer, film critic, beer enthusiast and one half of the blog “His & Her Beer Notes.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.