I recently took a field trip to Old Sacramento, and was lucky enough to find an amazing exhibit on our local brewing history. This might be too geeky, but would love to read other homebrewers drunkenly spout their local brewing histories.
(BTW I spilled beer on my keyboard and my numbers don't work, hence all the written out dates.)
Sacramento, CA’s brewing history begins with Swiss Immigrant John Sutter, who produced homebrew at Sutter’s Fort in the eighteen forties. Importing his hops from the East Coast he maintained a supply for himself and the residents of Sutter’s Fort. It is unclear how he cultured or imported his yeast, though I would kill to taste what he had goin’ on. Being Swiss, he probably had some good brewing knowledge in his genes, but with the primitive setup at Sutter’s fort, I can’t imagine it tasted very good. I’m inclined to think the native people made regional fermented libations of their own, which could have included certain mycological treasures that would have had intoxicating effects slightly different than a bastard lager.
As soon as Miners arrived for the Gold Rush and realized there was no gold, they wanted something to drink. By eighteen seventy nine, there were fivehundredsixty thousand gallons of beer flowing out of Sacramento per year. Between the eight local breweries, a saloon on almost every corner, and acres of hop fields, beer was big business in Sacramento.
The first brewery, the aptly named Sacramento Brewery, was established in eighteen forty nine. After its success,many German immigrants followed suit, and brought their bounty of brewing lore and lager yeast with them from the homeland. Steam Beer, using a lager yeast fermented at ale temps due to lack of refrigeration, became the most popular drink of the day. Sacramento was so full of beer that Mark Twain commented that, “you can shut your eyes and march into the first door you come to and call for a drink, and chances are that you will get it.”
At the pinnacle of its brewing history, hop farms surrounded Sacramento. What is now California State University was once a two hundred and forty four acre hop farm. The brewery industry employed many Sacramentans. They worked in the Sloughouse hop fields, breweries, and saloons, and at times they clashed over worker’s rights. At its worst, the confllicts resulted in a bloody massacre of hop farmworkers by strike breakers. All that would all change with the passing of the eighteenth ammendment.
The industry began to crumble all over the region. Workers lost their jobs and every single legal brewery closed their doors. The local beer industry was never again able to get a foothold in the post-prohibition clydesdale race. The Capitol Brew’s exhibition features some incredible artifacts from the pre-prohibition glory days: brewing and hop-growing equipment, bottles, photographs, newspaper clippings, and advertising. As a brewer and history lover, I felt the nostalgic pull of lost time.
Thankfully, the craft-brewing movement has created a thriving culture of brewing here once again, and our local breweries, Rubicon, Sacramento Brewing Company, River City Brewing Company, and Hoppy’s to name a few, have many devoted and proud followers. Thankfully, the number of homebrewers is also growing by the day, thanks to the local homebrew shops Folsom Brewmeister and the Original Homebrew Outlet. Despite this vibrant economic niche, local breweries are struggling under the weight of recession, rising energy and commodities prices. Time will tell if the Sarcramento region can sustain its beloved beer diversity.