Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rubicon Goes Wild

Last night found me and my lovely wife in Sacramento's most beloved brewery, Rubicon, for what we thought would be a quick drink before getting home at a reasonable hour. We were both a bit tired and looked forward to a relaxing weekend ahead of us - we were clearly not out for a party. We realized soon after arriving at Rubicon, however, that we'd need more than just one drink, as their menu read like a dream: IPA (of course), Dunkel Hefeweizen (seasonal), English Porter (seasonal), Winter Wheat Wine (seasonal) and High Mountain Cherry (the last of it).

You'll recall Rubicon took home a GABF gold medal for their sour cherry beer in last year's festival, a beer that took years of patience and craftsmanship to create. Well, it was going to be a thing of history in no time at all, the last of this one-off beer is headed to San Diego for a few festivities down there - we were quick to order a glass.

Phone call, unknown number. I answer and piece together that the caller is none other than Tom Schmidlin, Wyncoop's 2006 Beer Drinker of the Year. With all the noise in the bar it was hard to make things out, but it was clear he was in the bar. Hanging up it only took a minute to spot Tom walking toward me with a gift in tow - Hair of the Dog's Fred of the Wood. We exchanged the necessary pleasantries and before too long he too had a glass of the cherry to enjoy.

Tom, for those who don't recall, won the Beer Drinker honors for his work with yeast strains and other science stuff that, even when told, didn't quite understand. I did catch this though - the guy's smart, likes his beer and knows more about the magic of fermentation than I will ever hope to know. On top of that, he's one hell of a cool guy to have a drink with - or a few.

Within a few drinks of cherry beer I figured it'd be a good thing to introduce Tom to the long-time brewer at Rubicon, Scott Cramlet, working the midnight shift in a small brewery that seems to never stop. From there, the night only got better. Scott told the stories you'd expect a man to have after 18 years working in the same brewery, a brewery that has seen very little in the way of change since opening its doors more than 20 years ago. He's a masterful brewer, by the way, helping to shape the current-day understanding of one of the country's most beloved beer styles - the American IPA. In fact, Scott's beer took the very first gold medal at GABF when the style was officially recognized - then again the following year. By today's standards one would argue it's not hoppy enough, or lacks the intense aromas needed in the category - but those who say that are weird. It really is a great beer, and over the years we've enjoyed our share.

The night bled into the morning and Scott treated us to some great beer, the wheat wine being particularly fantastic this year, like candy! The on-tap version of the IPA is unfiltered, full of flavor and completely satisfying. Sadly, this is not a treat we should get used to, as the market demands Scott filter the beer before leaving the brewery - Rubicon's IPA is on tap throughout the region and without him to explain the hazy quality of an unfiltered beer, bar-goers seem quick to return the beer without appreciating the haze and hand-made goodness in front of them. Before too long that bottle of Fred was opened too - man is that oaky!

It was 2AM when we parted ways. Scott still had a bit of work to do, Tom had a hotel and Tracy was eager to drive me home.

Conclusion: beer people are cool people. I've said it before, you've heard it before, but its truth cannot be overstated. Tom and Scott are examples of a story played out around the country, brewers taking time to really talk with those who really appreciate the work they do, making people like me feel at home. With people like this, there's no wonder the people of the country are flocking to support craft beer and the craft beer industry.