On Tuesday, Rubicon Brewing Company announced that after 30 years they are closing their doors at the end of the month. The news hit me much harder than it should have and I have been trying to figure out why. Finally it came to me. Rubicon wasn’t just another brewery. It was Midtown. To me, it was everything good Sacramento had to offer.
I moved to Sacramento in January 1990, and at 19 years old I was already a sort of beer snob. I had been to England and tasted the bitters, porters and stouts of the London pubs. Coming back to the pale representations of a lager style that Coors, Budweiser and other American beers offered was simply not an option.
I grew to love my city of Sacramento. But my first year or so here did not inspire that love. Aside from my new roommates, I had no friends. No real community. The first house I moved into was on the border of south Sacramento at a time when it was tough living there due to some gang activity. It took a little while, but eventually I found Midtown, where I lived for the next 25 years. I found the neighborhood because of Rubicon.
My first visit to the brewpub on Capitol Avenue was with my roommates, all of whom had been there before. I was nervous that I would be carded. I wasn’t. Somehow I wasn’t carded there until I turned 22. It was like they knew I was there for the beer — not to party or be belligerent, but to enjoy the community. From the moment I walked in, I felt the warmth of home.
And then there was the beer.
I couldn’t tell you how much of Rubicon’s amber ale I consumed in my lifetime. I could say the same for the red ale and the dry stout. Although well-known for their IPA, Rubicon served an amber ale that sunk its hooks into me. I was an immediate evangelist for this small brewery that seemed to publically defy the Coors Light drinkers of the world. For the next 10-plus years, Rubicon became my home away from home. On average I was there once per week, usually more.
I got to know the staff. Nothing too personal, but enough to say hi and ask them casually about what was going on in their lives. Every so often, they would “mis-pour” a pitcher of my favorite beer and put it on my table without the drink landing on my tab. When I was 21 years old and moved with my roommate Charlie into a new place, being lazy, neither one of us put the gas bill in our name, and our electricity was turned off. It was December. We were, broke, freezing, sitting in the lawn chairs that were our furniture, watching TV in the living room. We took a quick look at each other: Rubicon. We had no money and prayed we would get “floated” a free pitcher. It worked.
This was just one of the many magical moments I experienced. Rubicon became the epicenter of my community. And then, one day, it wasn’t.
I’m not sure when it happened. Certainly by the mid-2000s, I wasn’t drinking beer as much. My focus had seriously turned to wine. The economy was on the ropes, so I was going out a little less. The ownership changed as well. Small changes, big changes. Life changes.
When I first discovered the micro-brewery in the early ‘90s, Rubicon was niche. In a flood of big brand beers, it stood defiantly alone, a lighthouse to attract fellow craft beer enthusiasts. No doubt it inspired a new generation of Sacramento niche brewers. Brewers with dreams of big, bold IPAs. Brewers that are scrappy and lean. No need to serve food or offer comfy chairs. Sometimes no need for even a roof. Sacramento niche brewers were, and still are, solely about the beer. New groups of beer lovers. New communities.
For a long time, there was no real craft beer competition in Sacramento. Now competition is fierce. Not just microbreweries, but nano-breweries, beer halls and hofbraus. Hell, even my favorite Mexican restaurant (Tres Hermanas) has a rotating beer selection that would satisfy any craft beer lover. As beer has evolved in Sacramento, Sacramento — and Midtown especially — has evolved with beer.
The things that I will remember:
- The way the lights dimmed around dusk, while I was was in the middle of a conversation, and instantly, the space became cozier and intimate.
- The exchange of ideas and arguments (sometimes heated).
- Being in love with the girl across the table from me.
- Falling out of love with the girl across the table from me.
- Crisscut fries. Or the fish n’ chips.
- Ordering the tartar sauce with the fries (so good, right?).
- Brewmaster’s breakfast (chorizo egg scramble on tortillas served with a side of salsa and sour cream).
- Mondays Grateful Dead night.
- Late summer evenings sitting outside, with a cold pint of amber ale and friends, and a feeling of calm.
It’s important to recognize people and places who affect us. Rubicon didn’t just affect me. It affected the way an entire city looks at beer and community. It changed our expectation for what craft beer should be and raised it to a new level. It gave inspiration and safe harbor to people seeking a more creative outlet for their beer and their community. It changed Sacramento.
Rubicon gave me my first opportunity to love Midtown, to love Sacramento. For that, I can only say thank you … and cheers.