The Year in Beer - 2015

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2015 has been a busy year for California craft beer brewers, owners, and drinkers. The craft beer industry in California, and the country for that matter, has never been better or bigger, with new breweries popping up and a seemingly endless array of new beers to try. There were buyouts and mergers among some of the biggest names in the industry and for ridiculous amounts of money, three different beer-related bills were signed into law, and one of the biggest craft brewers in the state, Stone Brewing, announced plans to open a brewery in Berlin (finally American beer is not laughed at by EU beer snobs because the West Coast IPA has caught on over there).     

Photo by anna wick at blue note brewing co.

Photo by anna wick at blue note brewing co.

The established breweries in the Sacramento area are putting out consistently tasty brews and, for what it’s worth, have had a good showing at brewing competitions both regionally and nationally. A handful of new breweries have opened up just this year in the Sacramento region including: Twelve Rounds Brewing (East Sac), Dragas Brewing (Rocklin), Fair Oaks Brewpub (Fair Oaks), Blue Note Brewing Company (Woodland), and the Black Vinyl Ale Project (part of Boneshaker Community Brewery in Rocklin). Several other breweries are close to opening too, including Sactown Union Brewery, Big Sexy Brewing Company, and Big Stump Brewing Company opening in conjunction with Old Soul Co.  
 
During the last Super Bowl, Budweiser ran a commercial exhorting the values of “macro brewing” and poking fun of craft beer. Their intent was likely to reinforce their large market share while attracting new customers, but it came off as threatened and petulant, providing a social media meme for breweries and craft beer fans to make fun of. As confirmation of how threatened they really are by the burgeoning craft beer market, Budweiser and Miller-Coors recently entered into an agreement to merge companies, creating a brewing network that would have more than $55 billion in sales and brew 18 of the world’s 40 most popular beers. Currently the deal is being reviewed by antitrust agencies to ensure that the merger wouldn’t create a monopoly in the beer market. 

Photo by chris padalinski of firestone walker brewing co. at art of beer

Photo by chris padalinski of firestone walker brewing co. at art of beer

In addition to the Budweiser/Miller mega-merger, there has been a lot of money moved around in the craft beer world. The largest acquisition in terms of dollars was the $1 billion Ballast Point buyout by Constellation Brands, Inc, the owner of Corona, Modelo, Pacifico among other spirits. This is the largest sum of money any craft brewery has received as part of a buyout, and it confirmed the financial power that craft beer wields in today’s marketplace. Another big California craft beer merger was between Lagunitas, who sold a 50% stake to Heineken. The deal, as framed by Lagunitas owner Tony Magee, is a new type of brewing agreement wherein Lagunitas retains all control while gaining the distribution arm that Heineken wields. How these huge mergers end up working out in terms of the quality of the product and impact on the consumer has yet to be seen, but it will be interesting to see how it shapes out. Other noteworthy California brewery movement includes: Firestone-Walker selling shares to Duvel Moortgat; a partnership between Bayhawk Ales and Evans Brewing Company (both SoCal breweries); Saint Archer Brewery selling to Miller-Coors; and Golden Road Brewery getting acquired by Anheuser Busch.           

As is par for the political course when it comes to growing industries in the USA, the craft beer lobby in our state, consisting in large part of the California Craft Brewers Association, has recently been busy in the Capitol Building pushing to get beer-related legislation passed. Three beer-related laws that were passed are: one piece of legislation that permits passengers on bike buses (like the Sac Brew Bike and Off the Chain) to drink alcohol while peddling between pub stops; another which allows beer and wine tasting at farmers markets; and another that changes the rules regarding how producers and retailers communicate via social media.

photo by anna wick of yolo brewing co. at the midtown farmers market

photo by anna wick of yolo brewing co. at the midtown farmers market

Allowing brew-bikers to imbibe while pedaling is cool, but I don’t really think it will affect people who don’t ride the brew bike (other than maybe making you wait in shorter lines when they show up where you are because they already have a beer).

Beer tasting at farmers markets is a great idea, especially since last year a bill was passed that allowed vendors to sell craft beer there. Markets are a social place and beer is a social drink, so this pairing really makes sense. And, fortunately Beers in Sac is hosting beer tastings at the Saturday Midtown Farmers Market, twice a month, from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., highlighting different local breweries each month. 

photo by anna wick at the california craft beer summit

photo by anna wick at the california craft beer summit

Before the third beer-related law was passed, alcohol producers were barred from telling customers where they could purchase the producer’s product. A Sacramento-based winery, Revolution Wines, was actually investigated about a year ago for just this violation. It seems as though once news spread about how silly it was for these producers to get in trouble with the ABC for such a common business practice, legislators proposed a bill that allowed producers to speak more freely on social media with their customers.

This year has arguably been the biggest for the craft beer industry, and 2016 only looks to continue the trends. Here in Sac we have a lot to look forward to next year, including several new breweries and pubs opening, Beer Week at the end of February, another California Craft Beer Summit next fall, and lots of new and established beer fests which are popping up all the time. It’s never been a better time to drink a beer.    

Written by Beers In Sac contributor Matt Braun

Contact Matt via Twitter @sac_snark