SACRAMENTO - Football fans have the Super Bowl. Techies have CES. Fantasy and sci-fi fanatics have Comic-Con. And for each of the past five years, craft beer lovers within reach of California's capital city have had Sacramento Beer Week to look forward to every February. Dan Scott, the founder and executive director of the annual gathering of beer geeks and foodies, spared a few precious moments from his frantic February schedule to discuss the origins of the event, what's new this year and how to get the most out of the 2014 edition of the 11-day celebration of craft beer.
News10: What does being the founder and director of Sacramento Beer Week entail?
Scott: It's really being the hub of a wheel. Sacramento Beer Week is really nothing without the brewers and pubs and restaurants doing their events and hosting breweries from around the area and around the world. What I do is I get the word out.
News10: Do you do it alone or do you have people working with you?
Scott: We have a team of designers and social media experts, and a team of beer lovers who get the word out about all the events and promote Sacramento as a craft beer destination.
News10: Are the team members freelancers, volunteers, employees?
Scott: They are freelancers but they get a small stipend. We all work primarily for the love of craft beer, and the love of our home town.
News10: What do you do when you're not doing this?
Scott: Different things. I started this when I was writing my master's thesis for public policy. So, I also do consulting on political issues, public policy issues. I do a lot of different things.
News10: What inspired the idea for beer week?
Scott: It was a topic of discussion among local brewers, restaurateurs and distributors that this is something we really needed to do. And so I was asked to explore the idea and see if it would work, and luckily, thanks to all our great beer businesses in the area it did. They embraced it immediately as participants and hosts, and as you know, Sacramento's a beer town and a drinking town so the response was great.
News10: How many local brewers were involved in the first Beer Week?
Scott: There were nine, what we would consider local brewers in the Sacramento area – and that includes Two Rivers Cider. When we talk about craft beer, we're always talking about cider. And when we're talking about local beer, we're talking about Two Rivers Cider. They are an integral part of our scene and have a long history with all of our brewers as well.
News10: How many are there this year?
Scott: This year we have 27 local breweries. What I mean by local is within about a 45-mile radius. The Sacramento beer area goes from Berryessa Brewing Company in Winters to the west, up to Sutter Buttes Brewing Company which is in Yuba City, and to the east there's Auburn Alehouse in Auburn and Nevada City has Ol' Republic. We don't really go very far south.
News10: Do you remember how many events there were in that first year?
Scott: I think there was 150-ish.
News10: And this year there will be?
Scott: Three hundred to 500. The thing is, beer week has taken on a life of its own outside our immediate campaign. So there are businesses that choose to participate in the advertising campaign. They all chip in a little bit of money to help get the word out. And some businesses just say, "hey, we're doing a beer week thing." There's a lot of unofficial events and a lot of official events. So there's no real way to know. I would say 500 events is very likely among 100 local businesses.
News10: What would you say is a key factor to the continued growth and success?
Scott: It's all about providing enough options for different people because not every event is going to appeal to every person. There's rare, weird beers out there that the craft beer hardcores are going to embrace. And then there's just the craft beer curious. Or there's people that just enjoy very standard beer styles, pale ales, red ales, stouts and lagers that want to go out and celebrate our local scene. That's one of the great things about it, is that there's an enormous diversity of events that go on for pretty much anybody... if they're over 21.
News10: Did you envision it would grow this much this quickly?
Scott: That's tough to say. I knew that the craft beer scene was exploding. I did not think it was going to boom as hard as it is right now.
News10: What is the planning process like for an event like this?
Scott: Usually in the fall we'll announce the dates, let people know what's up. It's up to the individual businesses to plan out their events. And these are thing that can't be planned out too far in advance. Back in November when we start talking about beer week, these businesses are thinking about Thanksgiving, then they're thinking about Christmas, for January they're thinking about the Super Bowl. Once the Super Bowl's over, that's when they can really concentrate on things – except for some of the local restaurants who are pushing Valentine's Day. A lot of it is last-minute planning. There's a lot of forethought and thinking and tentative plans but it all explodes in February. On a year-round basis I'm in communication with larger entities, some beer magazines, some media so it's always in the back of my mind, but it's a little ridiculous to talk about beer week all year long.
News10: How does beer week benefit the city of Sacramento?
Scott: On one hand it's simply dollars in the coffer. Most participants in beer week that I talk to say their busiest week all year long is beer week. Also it's a matter of branding Sacramento as a destination for craft beer lovers. And that goes hand in hand with the farm –to-fork movement because local craft beer is farm to fork. We have these local people taking agricultural products and turning them into a local product that's fresh, has an expiration date and exhibits a bit of a terroir if you will. That comes from the earth with wine, but it comes from culture and style with beer where they're drawing from our region and our agricultural influences in order to make beer that says Sacramento.
News10: With an event like this, I'd imagine there's a tourism draw too?
Scott: Absolutely. I get emails from people each year, and they ask me, "Hey, when's that beer festival going to be? I have friends from A, B C coming to visit from out of state," or, "I live in Florida."
News10: Have you had any pushback for having a week that celebrates the consumption of beer?
News10: What's new this year?
Scott: As I mentioned, there are many new breweries. The biggest new thing different from last year is that we're bringing back the Sacramento Brewers Showcase. It was done in past years, but last year it didn't happen. This is the beer festival that is exclusively for Sacramento-area breweries. That's going to be held at the California Auto Museum on Thursday the 27th of Feburary. There'll be a dozen restaurants as well serving food samples. That's the standout event to me because it's showing what we have here that's unique to Sacramento.
As in the past several breweries are making beers exclusive to this week, including some teaming up and making one together. This includes a collaborative beer where each brewery starts with the same pale ale recipe and puts their own spin on it. At the Sacramento Brewers Showcase, each brewery will bring their creation for sampling and guests will vote on their favorite for a People's Choice award. This is the first year this is being presented and they will get a trophy that gets passed to the winning breweries each year.
The other big change is the Capitol Beerfest, which is in its fourth year, is moving to downtown Sacramento on the Capitol Mall on March 9. It's amazing that the city and the Convention Visitor's Bureau are embracing this idea that we can bring beer and food down to a giant outdoor area like so many other cities do. I can't imagine that it'll be anything but successful. It's one of the largest beer festivals in California.
Another new thing that is different this year is that we are offering the Beer Week Geek Membership. This is to reward the people that are going out the most and are really into going to the big events. As a beer week geek, you'll get expedited VIP admission to both beer festivals that I mentioned. You'll also get an exclusive tulip glass which is not going to be available on the market. It's a $150 value for $75. So it's a great way to tell the geekiest of the local beer geeks that their participation is appreciated.
News10: Where can people get the Beer Week Geek membership?
Scott: They can order that on the website.
News10: Can you discuss the partnership with Uber this year?
Scott: We've always considered responsibility and safety to be important. But as we get larger, we have more opportunities to make sure that people are aware they are responsible for their behavior and businesses need to do their best to help put the word out. So we have Uber as the official safe ride of Sacramento Beer Week.
News10: What other efforts are being made to ensure safety?
Scott: We're also working closely with an organization called Drink Safely Sacramento, which is a new nonprofit that we helped establish last beer week. First of all it's a localized campaign that hopefully will grow. But secondly, it's not all about preventing driving under the influence. People have personal accidents when they drink too much, there's public violence, domestic violence, vandalism. There's so many things that are the result of people being irresponsible. It's a great thing that this campaign is going to help remind people, even in small ways, that there are safer and smarter ways to enjoy yourself without doing things that you might regret, or particularly that might hurt other people or businesses. It's all about being a responsible member of your community.
News10: How much would you estimate Beer Week has contributed to the growth of Sacramento's craft beer scene?
Scott: It's a chicken and egg type of thing. I'd say it supports it. It assuredly supports it. My favorite thing I hear all year from the public is I constantly hear people saying, "If it wasn't for Beer Week, I would have never heard of this business, or this brewery." It's a great way for people to discover new places that are serving beer or food that they enjoy, or places they simply enjoy hanging out. I think craft beer is a runaway train and no one thing is going to be stopping it or improving it. It's all a giant cultural movement. It's way bigger than any of us here in town, or any single brewery or business.
News10: If you could describe Beer Week in one sentence to someone who's never experienced it before, how would you do it?
Scott: The largest variety of beer in the area all year long.
News10: What advice would you offer someone trying to fit in as many events as possible?
Scott: Well, of course my first piece of advice is be responsible. You don't want people driving around all day going to a dozen events. There are some hot spots where you can walk all day long to a variety of events. Downtown, midtown, East Sac, Roseville, even Auburn have several businesses. Particularly though, downtown, midtown and East Sac are the concentration.
It's easier for someone who is craft-beer conscious because you can look at breweries you've never tried before, or breweries you know are doing new and interesting things. If you're completely new to craft beer, there are many businesses that are featuring what the calendar is going to list as a "mini fest" where there might be 10 different breweries. So they'll be pouring samples. You don't have to go to an event and buy a pint of beer, and if you don't like it, you're out of luck. Or, if you do like it, there's only so many pints of beer you can drink. Most of these events do small samples of these beers where they'll put together a tray of whatever it is that they're serving.
Also, go to places that you already know you enjoy. A lot of people's favorite restaurants are going to be participating. And maybe they've never had a beer dinner at one of these places. That's a great way to sit down, relax, get a great meal and good beer.
Talk to your friends. If you can't decide what to do, maybe a buddy of yours has a really good map or agenda lined out.
And don't be afraid to try new things.
News10: What are your favorite type of events?
Scott: That's difficult to answer simply because I'm on the extreme end of beer geekery. I like events where there are as many different breweries as possible, because I'm looking for variety and novelty. For me the weirdest beer, and the most cutting edge beer is at the sour fest at Sam Horne's Tavern, but there are several other sour fests being planned that week, so I don't want to just limit it to that. Any sour beer fest, that's one of the ones where you're going to find me.
Another one that I really like for its novelty is the cask fest, the firkin fest I believe it's called over at Rubicon. They have a dozen or so, maybe more, different beers that are on cask. That is the old way of way of serving beer before we had gases propelling carbonated beverages. It used to be in a barrel. You put a hole in the barrel and the beer would pour out. And so this is beer that is a little bit warmer, more at a cask temperature than it is a chilled temperature, and these are the freshest beers that you're going to find unless you go to the brewery where they're being made. Many of these beers are not available year round, they're specifically put into the cask for this event. So that's another one where there's going to be beer that is interesting. You probably haven't had it and if you have, you probably haven't had it in that format.
News10: Now for the question the beer geeks are waiting for, where is Pliny the Younger going to be?
Scott: Nobody ever knows. It's like the magic elf appearing out of nowhere. For the uninitiated, Pliny the Younger is a very limited version of one of the Holy Grail beers that is most widely regarded as that beer you have to try. It's from Russian River Brewing Company is Santa Rosa, California. Every February, they make their triple IPA version of their double IPA, Pliny the Elder. It's made in very small amounts and luckily Sacramento has grown to be enough of a beer market that we are getting this beer. You will get this beer in the Bay Area, Sacramento, San Diego, Colorado, Philadelphia, Portland, probably Seattle too. That's really about it. It's in a handful of markets. Gosh, there might be a total of 50 places in the United States that'll get it. You'll probably find it at five or six places around town during the week where you might expect it. Places serving the widest variety of craft beer. Keep your ear to the ground. Keep your eye on Twitter. That's usually where you'll find somebody announce that it's going to be happening.
News10: Anything else you want people to know?
Scott: As I mentioned before, beer week is a week to go out and try something new and to broaden your horizons, as well as to go to your favorite place and enjoy your favorite beer. It's really an opportunity for people to celebrate one of the things that's great about the Sacramento area, that we are a fantastic craft beer scene. Our beer scene is tied into our local agriculture and we are able to enjoy things that nobody else in the world can, and that's special. It's a great time to be a beer lover in Sacramento.
Follow Paul Janes on Twitter: @News10_Paul