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Beer drinkers at the California Craft Beer Summit
Courtesy of California Craft Brewers Association

California Craft Beer Summit

Beyond being the state capital, Sacramento has staked its claim as one of California’s nerve centres for great craft beer. The annual mid-September California Craft Beer Summit, first launched in 2015, further enhances that status by offering an up-close look at California’s beer-making world—whether you want to start brewing beer like a pro, or just appreciate it with a new level of expertise.

When the Craft Beer Summit debuted in 2015, the access it provided regular beer-lovers with to VIPs made it an instant hit. 'Attendees at our first year were amazed to see brewers like David Walker of Firestone Walker pouring their beer and talking to fans on the floor of the expo hall,' says Leia Ostermann Bailey, managing director of the California Craft Brewers Association, the event’s sponsor. 'Having the brewers talk about the flavour, the history of the style, and even reminisce about the early days—the challenges and mistakes that brought them to where they are at today—that is an amazing experience.' 

Since then, the festival has expanded to three days, with the first two devoted to letting craft-beer pros share tricks of the trade—the kind of insider atmosphere that is enticing whether you dabble in brewing or just like soaking up their energy. On the first day, learn about the mechanics of brewing as well as beer trends, hospitality and branding. The second day is devoted to the nuances of beer creation, from home-brewing methods to pairings and the parameters of beer judging. 'We developed these educational sessions for every sector of the industry—from start-ups to home brewers to chefs,' says Ostermann Bailey. 'There is something for every type of beer lover, beer drinker and beer brewer.'

The crowd-pleasing third day features the Summit Beer Festival, the largest craft beer festival in the state, which focuses just on tasting, with more than 170 brewers setting up camp outside the capitol building. 'We have the line-up arranged in order of region across Capitol Mall, so attendees can take a true tasting tour through the state of California,' says Ostermann Bailey. While there will be plenty of familiar names—like San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co., San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company and Santa Rosa’s Russian River Brewing Company—the festival is a nice way to try more local brands, like Sacramento’s artisanal Track 7 Brewing. 'Many of California’s craft breweries do not distribute outside their hometowns,' says Tom McCormick, CCBA’s executive director, 'so the Summit provides a chance for craft-beer lovers to taste all of California’s finest beers, from both the largest and smallest craft breweries.'

Insider tip: you can buy single-day passes, including for the Beer Summit festival with its unlimited tastings. If you want to attend on more than one day, buy the three-day pass, which basically gives you one day free.