In what is sure to become a yearly pilgrimage, my wife can't wait for our trip to the 2018 California Craft Beer Festival in Sacramento. We went for the first time last year and filled up on legendary favorites from 21st Amendment, Stone, Russian River Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada along with a fair share of cult-following microbreweries across our beloved state. 

sacramento beer festival

Summit Beer Festival: Celebrating West Coast Craft Brewing

Believe it or not, my first drink of alcohol was on my 21st birthday. It was a shot of peppermint schnapps at 14,000 on a failed attempt on Mt Whitney. My first beer on the other hand was with my father, who has since endowed us with great respect for craft beer. In other words, its a mortal sin to drink mass produced lagers and all beers are poured into a frosted mug. Between that, my time living in New England and my time living in the Upper Midwest, I'm as snobbish as they come. My wife had a similar upbringing and hence any time we travel together, we hit up craft breweries. So when we finally moved back to the West Coast, the Summit Beer Festival of Sacramento was a huge event to us.

2018: Classic IPAs and New Brews

A brief survey of the several hundred beers represented at the festival shows the continued heavy trend of IPAs. West Coasters like their ultra hop-forward, IBUs-by-the-dozen beers. I think its something to do with climate; nothing beats an IPA on a characteristically hot, dry summer's day in California. In our state, IPAs are akin to Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignon in fame. So though IPAs probably make up over half of the beers being poured at the festival, we look forward to sampling different styles and taste the evolving trend. New england ipa

Obviously not a California Beer but the one on the right is a classic example of a New England IPA

Speaking of trends, prepare to see a lot of "New England Style" IPAs. These distinctively hazy ales differ somewhat from a traditional or double IPA in their creamer texture, softer bitterness and floral/fruity flavors. Ironically, I never tried a New England IPA when I actually lived in New England and visited 20+ microbreweries around Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Supposedly this style emerged from Vermont in 2010 and benefits from the unceasing increase in IPA styles nationwide. Beer lovers frequently remark about the unusual color and opacity of New England styles but their smooth on the palate and very approachable to those dentured by hyper-hopped beers. I consider it a better pour on a fall or winter day. In the way of New England IPAs, I'm sure to try 21st Amendment's A Terrible Idea (Mashup with Berkeley's Fieldwork Brewery), Central Coast Brewing's Fresh Kicks and hopefully several from breweries I've yet to meet.

Cult Beers and Nano-micro-breweries

The best part about the Summit Beer Festival is sampling from up-and-coming breweries all across California. Certainly I'd like to try every single beer in the state but with 900+ craft breweries, that might not be possible (at least while I'm working full time!). Here's some pours I'm looking forward to:
  • DarkHeart Brewery: Due to open in Sacramento, they caught my eye on the beer list for a few reasons. First, I love the pirate theme (arrg). But more importantly, their focus on producing a Scottish Ale intrigues me. On the spectrum, Scottish ales are far different from IPAs; they're lower in IBUs and hence tend to have malty, sometimes smokey but often caramel flavors. Not unlike Scotch, there's tremendous variability in scottish style ales and I like the contrast to what we typically pour out west
  • Drakes Brewing: Despite being around since 1989 (ancient history in craft-beer world), I've never tried anything from this famous brewery in the East Bay. They're bound to pour several new releases at the festival and I'm anticipating the Drakes Bourbon Barrel Darkonic will be memorable. I'm a fan of the bourbon-aged stouts which are a dessert in themselves. I find the bourbon barrels add a delicate sweetness to otherwise malty and roasted stouts.
  • Barley Forge: Not long ago I tried their Grandpa Tractor Lager which I found surprisingly drinkable and robust for a Lager.  Their stout, The Patsy is award-winning and a brew I eagerly want to meet.
  • Altamont Beer Works: Altamont is another local brewery that I've yet to visit but I've had their Lupulin IPA before and the Hella Hoppy which were fantastic pours in the crowded IPA scene. Surprisingly, I've never had their Maui Waui which is regionally famous.
I'm bound to discover many other breweries too! Therapist IPA

Where to Start? There's an App for that

My ever-inventive father in law officially created an online organizer for this whole affair - . This is great because we can plug in the styles we're looking for and see which breweries we can agree upon. The festival organizes the breweries by major Metro Areas and larger geographic regions of the state. So, you better believe we will be prepared to taste our way through our great state!