Erin Peters
Credit: Erin Peters

“There are 4,700 breweries in the U.S., and 10,000 wineries. There’s room to grow.” —David Walker, Firestone Walker Brewing

The craft-beer movement has reached nearly every nook and cranny of the Golden State: Some 80 percent of Californians live within five miles of a craft brewery—including the vast majority of us in the Coachella Valley, thanks to Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse, La Quinta Brewing Co. and Coachella Valley Brewing Co.

Thus, it makes perfect sense that the folks at the California Craft Brewers Association decided to brew up the California Craft Beer Summit.

The second annual three-day event recently took place in Sacramento. There are now 700 breweries in California, which provide jobs for more than 50,000 people, according to the California Craft Brewers Association. California craft beer contributed $7.29 billion to the state economy in 2015, and the summit plays a vital role in bringing together all of the players involved in the industry—from brewers to retailers, from distributors to craft-beer drinkers.

The event began on Thursday, Sept. 8, with a welcome reception. I missed it—but Sactown welcomed me just fine. America’s self-proclaimed Farm-to-Fork Capital has also proudly staked a claim as a craft-beer paradise. It would have been impossible to pay a proper visit to the region’s 45-plus breweries (with more on the way), but we were able to visit a couple while also soaking in beer knowledge at the summit. While Sacramento is obviously an important political city, the people there totally know how to have fun.

My Thursday night began at the Dive Bar. There’s a double meaning within that title that combines two of my favorite things: dive bars with great beer, and swimming. Strange, yes, but this rollicking bar features mermaid-costumed women swimming around in a giant fish tank above the bar. Seriously.

On Friday, the CCBS held educational sessions including “Bringing Malting Back to California” and “A Talk with AleSmith, Chartering Growth Over 21 Years.” Peter Zien, the CEO and owner of San Diego-based AleSmith, talked about staying true by brewing high-quality beers with passion and integrity—even when the market wasn’t quite ready for them yet back in the mid-’90s.

“You’re an artist and you’re a businessman, or -woman,” he told the audience.

In 2008, when much of the economy was suffering, Zien was ordering a brand-new brew system from China in order to “up (our) game.” AleSmith went from 1,100 barrels to just more than 4,000 that year—but it wasn’t without blood, sweat and fears. While the brew system was making its way to California on a ship, Zien feared the system would end up at the bottom of the ocean due to a grizzly typhoon that was brewing off China. Thankfully, the new brew system made it to San Diego just fine.

“It allowed me to dream,” Zien said, adding that the system helped AleSmith celebrate its most profitable year in 2013.

Long-time brewers like Zien have inspired younger brewers to dream—like Ken Anthony, of Device Brewing Co. in Sacramento, who is now making a name for himself with quality artisanal beers.

Anthony, Device’s owner and head brewer, was a structural engineer before entering the beer business, so it’s no surprise that Device uses a beautiful, custom-built 7 BBL brewhouse from Bennett Forgeworks to brew up some delicious IPAs and awesome seasonal brews.

I also got to know—and fell in love with—Berkeley-based Fieldwork Brewing Company, thanks to its beers, branding and atmosphere. The brewery makes awesome cards explaining every beer in detail, with humorous antidotes. The Salted Cucumber Farmhouse Ale is perfect for a hot day—and probably equally delicious on days that aren’t all that warm. According to the detailed card, “The addition of French sea salt keeps all taste buds on high alert, convincing you to keep chasing the cucumber.”

On Saturday, I attended the “Master Pairings: Craft and Artisanal Chocolate” session with Bill Sysak. “Dr. Bill” is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on craft beer and food pairings. His session was a wonderful way to start a day. That afternoon, the Summit Beer Festival pleased hundreds of beer-drinkers with the creations of more than 160 breweries. The lineup was arranged by region across the Capitol Mall: San Francisco Bay area, Northern California, Los Angeles, San Diego and Central California.

It was an awesome weekend that showed how truly amazing the California craft beer industry has become. Cheers to California craft!