California Craft Brewers Showcase wows with 'can you top this?' beers

by Daniel Barnes

As I waited in a fifteen-minute queue for a 3-oz. pour of Sante Adairius’ sublime West Ashley apricot sour, a woman behind me fetched beers for her boyfriend, grabbing selections from the many lineless brewery booths all around us.  “This is some sort of meyer lemon saison bullshit,” she said.  “I just went to them because they were all alone. I feel like I should go to some of the ones that are alone.”

Held last Saturday afternoon on Capitol Mall under a splotchy, smoky, orange-brown sky, with the skeleton of the new downtown arena looming to the north, the California Craft Brewers Showcase served as the final blowout for the two-day California Craft Beer Summit.  The summit was all bout speeches and symposia, but the beer did the talking on Saturday afternoon, and the nature of the event seemed to inspire a “can-you-top-this?” attitude in the breweries.

The Brewers Showcase featured over 150 breweries, including many that do not distribute in the Sacramento area, so it was a surprise to find the event so fiercely under-attended. However, that left the festival with an embarrassment of riches in California-based breweries and an unusually knowledgeable crowd eager to sample new and rare beers. With white confetti from the previous day’s heroes parade crushed under our feet, Saturday served as an unofficial selection ceremony for the Golden State’s beer geek all-star team.

Line size served as the ultimate bragging-rights currency, and only a few breweries inspired noticeably long lines, with The Rare Barrel, Sante Adairius, Russian River and Mraz among them. Otherwise it was walkup service all day long, whether for barrel-aged bottle pours from The Lost Abbey, a coffee stout from Modern Times, or The Bruery’s excellent lambic blend Rueuze. While the crowd didn’t always get it right (every hophead who didn’t sample Cellarmaker’s Dank Statement Triple IPA or Beachwood’s Laurel is a damned fool), it’s hard to argue with the results. 

For my part, as soon as the gates opened at 4 p.m., I bee-lined along with about thirty other people to the booth of The Rare Barrel, the Berkeley-based sour beer masters. “Everyone not in this line right now is stupid,” I thought. A bottle pour of their new tart cherry sour Impossible Soul confirmed this thought, and I returned later in the day for samples of their cinnamon- and vanilla-inflected Home Sour Home and their lovely elderberry sour Apropos of Nothing.

A few other breweries such as Firestone Walker attracted a long line when they did special scheduled pours. As David Walker himself poured a barrel-aged buckwheat stout at 6 p.m., two guys from Fresno-based Full Circle Brewing, reeking of something far danker than a triple IPA, pushed through the line and playfully harangued the crowd about all the “free beer” they were missing out on at the booth next door.

It must have been especially sobering (see what I did there?) for local brewers to see the long lines snaking out of the Mraz booth, even though they were stationed at the very end of a three-block  corridor of free-flowing taps. The El Dorado Hills-based brewery wowed the crowd with a deep list of nuanced sours and in-your-face IPAs, but the highlight was a special tapping of their new Mrs. Kiwi and Mr. Nelson, a sour brewed with kiwis and Nelson Sauvin hops, all fleshy fruit and tropical gummi candy sweetness.   

If the opinion of the beer geeks gathered on Capitol Mall last Saturday means anything, then Mraz has entered a rarefied air among local breweries.

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