This is the story of two brewers & breweries, both in Northern California. Each has won multiple awards at The Great American Beer Festival – in fact, each won a Brewmaster of the Year award at the 1999 GABF. The first is a brewery you’ve likely heard of – it’s a small outfit in Santa Rosa called Russian River Brewing Company. The other? As the title suggests, it’s the now-defunct Elk Grove Brewing.
Clearly the continued success at Russian River is well-deserved. Vinnie & his brewing team continue to rack up awards, honors and other tangibles that measure a company’s success. This story is not about Russian River.
Elk Grove Brewing & its brewmaster Bill Wood didn’t stop winning awards in 1999. In fact, between 2000 and 2008 (the year it closed) the brewery brought home EIGHT GABF medals (two in 2001, one in 2003 and 2004, two in 2006 and 2008). This was no slouch in the beer industry, clearly. In fact, I’m willing to bet you’d be more than happy if your local brewery performed that well year after year. So, what happened?
I don’t fully understand, clearly, but it seems to me that a business closes because it doesn’t have enough butts in seats to pay its bills. This example of a brewery closing, to me, is the most clear reason I can point at to support your local brewery. Why wouldn’t you? Do you know how many great small breweries there are in this country? It seems likely to this writer that you live pretty damn close to a place that makes fantastic beer – but does your community know? Do you continually choose the trendy craft beer over the local craft beer – of world-class quality?
For me, “Beer Weeks” around the country are a celebration of Beer – not just beer (the liquid), but the people that make it, sell it, distribute it, serve it and keep that process repeating. As you likely know, I have taken on the role of Beer Director for Sacramento Beer Week. I do this not for the love of liquid, but for the appreciation of the industry overall and the fear that if we don’t create a reason to support our local brewers on a large-scale, we could see even more great brewers lost to closures. It’s happened too much here.
Breweries that Have Closed Around Sacramento & The Names I Associate with Them
- Elk Grove Brewing – Bill Wood
- Oasis (Sacramento Brewing) – Peter Salmond, Peter Hoey
- BJs (though they only closed brewery) – Andy Armstrong, David Mathis
- Beermann’s Beerwerks – Mike Sutherland, Tim Spinelli, Andy Armstrong (again) & many more
- Sacramento Brewing – Peter Hoey (again)
Sacramento Beer Week isn’t just a nine-day, beer-crazed romp, it’s a way for me (and Dan Scott, the Executive Director) to get people excited about their local breweries. Each of the places above made GOOD beer – at least! Still, it seems that our community chose to embrace the more trendy beers – be it craft or industrial (mostly industrial, here). It’s a shame.
To be perfectly fair, I also understand that at least two of these closures had nothing to do with beer sales, but closed due to the fact that they had large restaurants attached that were under-performing. I don’t believe that is the case for for the other three, however.
So, beyond beer week – what can you do? It’s simple really. Stop in on occasion to fill a growler, enjoy a pint – have meetings – at your local brewery. I know you’re only one person – I suffer the same experience. Still, it’s good to do what we can individually in hopes to make a collective difference. There’s no good reason great breweries should be forced to close its doors. Don’t let your local, award-winning brewery suffer the same fate as Elk Grove.
About Bill Wood
Bill, the former brewmaster at Elk Grove, works today as Head Brewer for Auburn Alehouse (with Brewmaster & Owner, Brian Ford). Auburn Alehouse took home its first-ever medal from GABF in 2010, for its Pilsner.