By Bobby Bush
Compared to Sacramento’s oldest brewpub, Hogshead, the capital city’s second oldest
brewpub is a godsend. Established in November 1987 about six blocks east of Capitol
Park, Rubicon Brewing Company is above ground, makes good-to-great beer and is an
inviting, hospitable place. It also has not changed much since opening. An industrial
design, accented with galvanized sheet metal walls, tile floor and stainless steel bartop,
Rubicon has a small brewery area opposite the bar and an even smaller kitchen.
But size does not beer determine. Though the Wheat, with a shocking 70% wheat
bill, was unavailable, the Czech Pilsner and Amber Ale served the light side well. Irish
Red packed 5.7% abv power, while the IPA, just a tad stronger, was blessed with
excellent Chinook and Cascade hops bitterness throughout. This being an early Sunday
morn, I passed on the 7.3% robust Old Moe Porter and found the full bodied Stout,
complex yet smooth. Rubicon is nothing fancy, but they have nothing to be ashamed of
either. And they are open for breakfast.
North across the Sacramento River near the State Fair Grounds resides Sudwerk
Restaurant and Brewery. Open since 1997, this expansive facility is owned and
operated by the same folks who started the original Sudwerk in Davis, a great college
town itself. My stomach maintained a moderate growl as I perused the menu of
schnitzels, pizza, ribs and ravioli, settling on a variety plate of chicken bratwurst with
sweet red cabbage and German potato salad..
Working with open fermenters, a large brewhouse and mostly German-style beer
recipes, brewer Rich Ellis was extremely busy, stopping just long enough to say hello.
Taking a seat at the small length of bar, which had a big seating area nearby, I mistakenly
ordered a liter of Marzen. This malty lager, endowed with the goodness of five different
malts, was nice and filling. Trying hard to leave room for more, I eventually sampled the
unfiltered Hefeweizen, with 50% wheat content, a light but tasty Helles and a German
hopped Pilsner. Sudwerk’s seasonal were an English-style Pale Ale, with subtle hops
effect, and a potent Dopplebock, served only in 0.3 and 0.5 liter glasses. Deep chestnut in
color, decked with a thick tan head, the taste was semi-sweet with no noticeable hops. It
begged for another taste. Had I not had other stops on my Sacramento itinerary, I could
have stay at Sudwerk all afternoon. The Davis brewpub is just as cordial with great beer
It didn’t take long to find Sacramento Brewing Company, the “most decorated
brewery in California.” Founded in 1994, this neighborhood brewpub with a great coaster
collection has won 37 medals in the past three years, mostly at the State Fair and
California Brewers’ Festival. Though the bar was busy, the bartendress was friendly,
serving a sampler tray of all ten beers as the wait staff cleared the remnants of the Sunday
Champagne Brunch. In a bit of a rush, I started with a banana-cum-lemon Hefeweizen,
which hit the Bavarian-style head on. Miner’s Extra Pale Ale was light but almost as
hoppy as the front-to-back IPA. River Otter Pale Ale was pure UK, beginning with a
malty mouth which swiftly evolved into a tempting bitter fullness. Roasted malt flavored
the Celtic Amber, while the medium bodied Red Horse Ale benefited from dry hopping.
Dark ruby-brown, Scotch Ale had a hmmm thick sweet malt appeal. The seasonal Porter
was full bodied, chocolate with little bitterness. At 8.0% abv, Mighty Imperial Stout was
big and black, while the 10% Babylon Barley Wine had only medium body. The bartender
advised that “this is good stuff.” Enjoying behind-the-teeth bitterness trailed by
Belgian-esque malt flavor, I had to agree.
Out the door to my last Sacramento area stop in the suburban town of Citrus
Heights. Sacramento Brewing Company’s Oasis, known locally as simply The Oasis,
began business in its shopping center locale in 1996. Egyptian theme decor anoints this
big, airy, malt vinegary smelling brewpub. Four of the brewpub’s nine beers were trucked
over from the Sacramento brewpub. The others included Hefeweizen, Pharaoh’s Liquid
Gold (an IPA), golden red Ancient Amber (malty and satisfying), River Otter Ale (which
was less bitter than its Sac cousin) and deep black and immense Imperial Stout. Not quite
as friendly as the Sacramento location, Oasis beers were just as good.
Gotta move on. Lots more beer before I sleep.
(The story continues: Blue Frog Grog).
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush