After I had completed my “experiential researching” for this month’s cover story on brewery architecture, several staff members who do not imbibe asked about the availability of non-alcoholic micro-brewed goods in the Sacramento area. So in case that question isn’t limited to Comstock’s staff, let’s eschew the wonders of hops and malts for a minute to explore the fizzy but kid-friendly offerings of Sacramento beverage artisans.
Back in the early 1920s, Roy Allen and Frank Wright opened five of the first A&W root beer stands in America right here in Sacramento (also America’s first franchised restaurant, by the way). Today several companies continue this tradition of soda brewing, a holdover from Prohibition when brewers scrambled for a new, legal product.
River City Brewing Co. may be the most locally well-known, having produced a frothy, deeply-flavored root beer for two decades. Sadly their soda and beers are both on hiatus while the company moves to the soon-to-open Milagro Center in Carmichael. New Glory Brewing Co., another Sacramento-based craft brewery, has also fiddled with some soda formulas but says they haven’t hit upon one worth bottling yet.
A more exotic non-alcoholic option has become a recent favorite: Roseville entrepreneur Payam Fardanesh’s Silk Road Soda updated the traditional Middle Eastern sekanjabin — a honey and vinegar concoction flavored with mint, cucumber or pomegranate — for American palates. Currently produced by a Portland bottler, Silk Road sodas are locally distributed by Blue Dog Beverages, a Sacramento company owned by Bob and Janet Lake. They too brew their own. Chances are good you’ve sampled their River City root beer (no relation to River City Brewing Co.), ginger beer or blueberry lemonade; both Silk Road Sodas and River City sodas can be found in local supermarkets and specialty stores like Corti Brothers and Selland’s Market-Cafe.
There’s also a bevy of local kombucha homebrewers and producers. Made by fermenting green or black teas and often flavored with ginger or citrus, kombucha has a reputation as a health drink. It’s purported to aid in digestion and boost the immune system, and while those claims are widely rejected by the scientific community, the culinary community has embraced them. Several breweries, like New Helvetia Brewing Co., consistently carry kombucha. But the real venues for the drink are local coffee houses like Insight, the Mill and Old Soul. Zeal Kombucha, based in Placerville, produces five flavors which run the gamut from piney and earthy to fruitful and herbaceous. Kombucha Kulture is also in the fermented drink biz. The nation’s first mobile kombucha bar taps up to five kegs in a retro 1950s trailer out of Oak Park. An acquired taste, kombucha doesn’t threaten the local beer scene much, but does represent one of the many creative ways local artisans are developing new delectables for the Sacramento region, minus the alcohol.
So there you have it. No need to get tipsy to imbibe local brews.
For more from Andy Galloway, check back in a couple of weeks for our October cover story, “Brewed by Design.” Sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll email you when it’s available online.