I’ve taken a lot of trips and visited a lot of breweries over the last three years. In most cities two or three breweries jump out as fantastic while others are usually pretty solid. Either I visited at a time when the breweries were in a slump or a number of the breweries I visited in my Sacramento trip were not up to snuff. Though Knee Deep, Moonraker, Mraz, and Black Vinyl Ale Project are a ways outside of the city itself, based on beeradvocate forums research they are considered Sacramento breweries by locals and they were recommended over others in the city itself. This suggests to me that the breweries I didn’t visit in the city must be even worse. After a while I just couldn’t stand the idea of hitting another brewery in the area. Because I was staying in the city I didn’t want to make the drive back to Auburn again to return to Knee Deep.
Knee Deep Brewing
Knee Deep is the only brewery of the entire trip that I had ever heard of prior to my research. Many readers may be familiar with their beers as their hoppy beers are pretty broadly distributed in California. I was glad to find out that they brew stouts as well and even a number of other styles that don’t usually make their way down. Because they had over seven double IPAs on tap I asked for a few recommendations of the freshest to taste and added a stout for my husband.
Big Sipper was super smooth with tons of citrus and tropical fruit. Hoptologist was really flavorful with tons of tropical fruit and citrus. Simtra was a bit resinous and bitter and yet super smooth for 11%. The beers seem to all have similar malt bills and so they all started to taste a little similar after a while. I should have stopped with those three hoppy beers because the Citra Extra Pale tasted a bit old and had lost the hop luster of a fresh brew. The imperial Fanilla was a tasty imperial porter that had tons of roast and strong vanilla in a thin body. The IPAs were all tasty but didn’t blow me away at the source like some other breweries. Mostly I found the IPAs to be a cut above the average but I’ve had better at a few San Diego breweries.
Knee Deep has a large tasting room with plenty of indoor seating, two separate bars, some outdoor seating, and room for food trucks. I was surprised to see a few people sitting outside even though it was quite hot when I visited. They had tons of bottles available for purchase and offered growler and crowler fills of most of the beers.
Come to Knee Deep for big strong hoppy beers. Almost everything they make is over 7%
Moonraker is only about a mile away from Knee Deep. They have a smaller tasting room that is able to stay nice and cool with a strong air conditioning. Around the time of my visit, their cloudy, juicy, IPAs were getting so popular that they had to restrict growler fills. Sadly, they didn’t live up to the beers that pioneered the style or even to some newer IPAs of a similar style that Modern Times has made.
The Yojo Deux was dank and citrusy with a cloudy yellow color and notes of mango and peach but it was unbalanced by a strong acidic finish. The Yojo 33 1/2 was slightly less cloudy and had hints of melon, pear, and green pepper. I thought the beer had an off-putting herbal finish that I didn’t really care for. The Dojo was also herbal and quite bitter and my least favorite of the bunch with a similar acidic finish to the first.
Chain Shot 7 was smooth but lacked significant aroma character. It is possible that I tried an off-batch of a few of these IPAs but I didn’t finish what I tried. It is a shame because I really liked the feel of their tasting room, which had plenty of seating, strong air conditioning, and good wi-fi.
Moonraker has recently gotten popular for cloudy juicy IPAs though I was not impressed by what I had.
Black Vinyl Ale House
Black Vinyl Ale House has been doing a number of sours and had quite an expansive tap list available but I didn’t enjoy the first flight enough to try anything else. I started with their citrus saison, which was the only good beer of the bunch. It was nice and earthy with fruity yeast character and a dry finish. The sour stout had a mild coffee base with a tart finish but overall quite average and didn’t taste like much.
The sour red tasted like balsamic vinegar so strongly that I couldn’t taste anything else. Though I’ve gotten acetic acid notes before I’ve never had anything this strong. The sour saison had a strong flavor of lime and a strong supporting ginger note and was quite acidic. It didn’t really taste like beer though if you like strong ginger and lime flavor you might enjoy this. The imperial stout presented mostly strong dark fruit with some mild roast, fairly average.
Black Vinyl has a long way to go before their sours are anywhere near the level that I would recommend them.
Mraz is the only brewery of the bunch that I want to give the benefit of the doubt because they had a fairly strong traditional sour program going at the time and the only sour on tap when I visited was a kettle sour and they had just started that program. I probably should have ordered a bottle of their sours to enjoy on site though outside of certain Belgian breweries, I review breweries based on what they have on tap. Mraz is also quite a long way away because they are on the other side of a large lake so that whether you are coming from the west or the east you are going to have to take a number of surface streets to get there.
Mraz was probably the only brewery besides Knee Deep that really impressed with hoppy beers. I really liked the House Party IPA they had which was super fruity and a good example of how to do a mosaic IPA. The plum (kettle) sour on the other hand was seriously lacking in flavor. Before leaving I tried splashes of the two other beers on tap that sounded interesting but they weren’t good enough for me to order more so I just left.
Mraz is known for sours and Belgian style beers though their kettle sours need a bit of work.
Track 7 was the most recommended of the breweries in Sacramento proper and they were quite crowded when I arrived on a Sunday around Noon. I got a feeling the special event going on drew larger crowds than usual. Because of the crowds they weren’t offering flights so I started with two half pints of two different IPAs. The beer tender I ordered from didn’t even know how to describe the differences between the different flavors of the IPAs available, which should have been a sign to leave and go do something else rather than visiting more breweries.
I tried the Sukahop first, their attempt at a cloudy juicy IPA. I found it had some juicy citrus notes with a strong herbal finish. While it shared some of the herbal notes I got at Moonraker, the beer was a big improvement over Moonraker. The Boomer’s Cut dominated with tropical fruit hops but had a strong alcohol taste on the finish that was quite off-putting. Since at the time they were only really serving IPAs and lighter pilsner style beers I stopped there in part to get away from the noisy crowd and long lines. I generally tend to dislike herbal hop notes in IPAs so if that is your thing you might like the Sukahop.
Visit Track 7 for IPAs
Though they had a large tap list I didn’t feel like drinking much more after the first four tasters. I started with the helles, which was above average. It was balanced with some nice fruity hop notes and a crisp finish. The three IPAs I had were all overly bitter and lacking in aroma such that I didn’t finish any of them. The single IPA on tap was malt forward and resinous but the bitterness dominated. The double IPA was more fruity with notes of caramel malts but again bitterness dominated and it was a malt bomb. The black IPA was all bitterness with no roast and only some mild smoky notes.
If you are into the new school aroma-dominant IPA, you won’t like much of anything at Device except the helles. Their IPAs were the worst of the whole trip. Some years ago I might have loved their IPA lineup but as I have progressed away from hunting out extreme bitterness, I find overpowering bitterness to be a sign of poor skills by the brewer. They had a nice dark feel inside with wi-fi but since it was impossible to go back to the helles after those bitter malt bombs I paid up and left each of the IPAs half drunk.
If you are considering a visit to Sacramento for beer, skip it and go to San Francisco instead where you will find much better breweries. If you are visiting Sacramento for business or other reasons, skip the breweries and go straight to the local beer bars where you will find much better San Diego and San Francisco options on tap and probably some Knee Deep without having to make the drive to the brewery.