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A Good Cold One

Feb 24, 2010 05:37AM, Published by Wendy Sipple, Categories: In Print

Photos by Dante Fontana

Until last spring, I had a fairly regular microbrewery ritual. Beermann’s was brewed in a Roseville warehouse not far from my house. Every Friday afternoon they would roll open their doors and serve beer to a cadre of regulars.

There was little seating, but customers were perfectly happy to stand on the loading dock or amidst the stacks of cases and kegs. It mirrored their slogan: “We’re Here for the Beer,” and was like a kegger for grownups. Alas, for reasons that had nothing to do with the quality of their product, the brewery closed last spring. It is a scene missed by many, including me.

So the editors hit me up for this article at the right time; I’ve been jonesin’ to find another good local microbrewery. I found five. Well, OK, four, and a place Johnny Appleseed would’ve loved.

Jack Russell Brewing Company

Sitting on five rolling acres in El Dorado’s bucolic Apple Hill region, there likely isn’t a prettier setting for a microbrewery anywhere in California. They don’t serve food, but customers are encouraged to bring a picnic for one of several outdoor tables in the brewery’s courtyard. Kevin and Christina Richardson do. They come up from Folsom every couple of weeks with their children and dogs. “The beer is fantastic but it’s the essence of the place...we send the kids off with buckets in summer to pick berries or we’ll just toss a Frisbee,” says Kevin. Christina says it’s like having a relative to visit in the country – a relative who makes pretty fantastic beer. There are several styles on tap, including the smoothest IPA I’ve ever had. Kevin recommends the White Water Pale Ale and their seasonal Vanilla Brown. Another worth mentioning is the Scottish Ale, a substantial, dark-as-midnight beer with a unique smoky flavor. Its earthy wallop comes from peat malt, and according to Christina, it makes exquisite bangers-n-mash. I bought a growler and aim to find out.

Placerville Brewing Company

Placerville Brewing doesn’t have quite the same setting as Jack Russell. Across the street from a shopping mall, it looks more like a typical sports bar and parking can be a challenge. But make no mistake, they take their brewing seriously. Co-owner Steve Meylor talks about his beers with the same pride other people have talking about their kids. Their signature beer is the Strong Blonde – a buxomy (sorry) ale that Meylor says is deceiving. “We use a lot of hops in it but it’s still very sweet and easy to drink.” They also make two seasonals – the Hop Harvest Ale and the “4-2-5” (four pounds of hops to five barrels of beer), using only locally-grown hops, something unique in the region. Meylor says the difference is instantly noticeable. “It’s so fresh, it’s almost like the hops were in your hand and you just popped them in your mouth.” They can brew those two styles from late summer through early spring. After that, you’ll have to wait. But that’s OK. Their other beers (and the fish and chips!) will get you through.

Auburn Ale House

The brick-and-steel interior gives this place a hip, small-town-meets-mid-town ambiance and huge picture windows let in picturesque Old Town. You, however, might have to wait. On a busy evening, seating can take as long as an hour. It’s worth it though. My favorite was the Fool’s Gold Pale Ale, a far less brash cousin of their Gold Digger IPA. Gold Digger is loud and proud – like a miner coming into town with a few gold nuggets to blow –and took first place at the 2009 California State Fair. So did the more humble Old Town Brown. Worth mentioning: the Coffee Stout, which our waiter said is, “what beer would taste like if you could get it at Starbucks.” He was right. They use 200 pounds of coffee beans for every batch and surprisingly the flavors played quite nicely together. And, the food’s good too!

Sudwerk Riverside Restaurant and Brewhouse

The beer is brewed in Davis so technically they’re not “local-local” but without Sudwerk’s influence, it could be argued the microbrew phenomenon in the greater Sacramento region may never have become as popular as it is. Overlooking Lake Natoma, it’s worth a visit for the view alone, although the beer will make you stay (along with the avocado egg rolls. Seriously, get some). The Pilsner is airy and crisp, a perfect reward after a mid-spring bike ride on the nearby American River parkway. The IPA was hoppy but not sinus-clearing. I liked their Hefeweizen best. I love “hefes” anyway and Beermann’s made my all-time favorite, but I’ll be back for this…and the avocado egg rolls.

Fox Barrel Cider Company

Cider? In a piece about microbreweries? Yes. Granted, the process of making hard cider has more in common with wine making than beer brewing. But the spirit of the beverage has more kinship to beer than wine. In early America, hard cider was the alcoholic beverage of the common man, not beer. Did you know there were two ships in Boston Harbor the night of the Boston tea party? The one carrying tea was sunk. The other, left alone. It was loaded with cider. I learned this and a lot more from owner/proprietor Bruce Nissen, a fascinating guy and evangelical about his craft. It’s easy to see why–his product isn’t anything like the syrupy hard cider most often sold commercially. In the tasting room you’ll find three styles on tap: an English-style apple cider (his wife Carrie calls it “Tuesday Night Champagne”), a black currant cider (which my wife made sure we left with) and a prize-hogging pear cider that’s been declared the best in the U.S. There’s also a seasonal mulling cider that should be a part of everyone’s Thanksgiving dinner. Spiced with cinnamon and cloves, it tastes like late-November.

Nissen’s ciders are made with only locally-grown apples. Lively and refreshing, they’re all natural too, no preservatives. If a batch is going to be sold in stores, Nissen says it will be heat pasteurized but otherwise, “it’s just apples, water and yeast.” His goal is nothing short of a revolution for the cider industry and with his product and passion, it could happen. Those Boston patriots would be proud.

Now, there are other places worth looking into, like Bradley’s brewing in Orangevale and Lockdown brewing in Folsom, although neither are open to the general public on a regular basis as of yet. Basic in old Roseville will soon start brewing on-premises, and the national franchise BJ’s is fun, with good product too. But visiting these five were all that my schedule, assigned word-count and liver would allow. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to write my editors a thank-you card.

Jack Russell Brewing Company

2380 Larsen Drive, Camino
530-644-4722, jackrussellbrewing.com

Placerville Brewing Company

155 Placerville Drive, Placerville
530-295-9166, placervillebrewing.com

Auburn Ale House

289 Washington Street, Auburn
530-885-2537, auburnalehouse.com

Sudwerk Riverside Restaurant and Brewhouse

9900 Greenback Lane, Folsom,
916-989-9243, sudwerkriverside.com

Fox Barrel Cider Company

1213 South Auburn Street, Colfax
530-346-9699, foxbarrel.com

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