The year 2009 was brutal for Sacramento-area breweries. During that time, a solid handful closed their doors, including Elk Grove BrewingCo., Beermann’s Beerwerks, Oasis, Greenhouse and Sacramento Brewing Company, which closed Oct. 19. In a note on the company’s website that begins with the words “Goodbye, Sacramento,” Sac Brewing’s owners George and Sarah Irwin blame the bad economy and say closing was “a painful decision.”
Beth Ayres, an owner/manager of River City Brewing Company in Downtown Plaza, sighs when asked about the troubles affecting local brewpubs. “Yes, it’s sad,” she says. “It’s been hard. We don’t see an end in sight yet. We’re hoping that the last couple of months were rock-bottom.” Ayres says River City’s bar is still busy, but the restaurant business is suffering. State-worker furloughs are one culprit. “State workers were our bread and butter,” she points out. “We’re not getting all the birthday and retirement parties and everyday lunches.” Another problem: The mall is practically empty. Only 60 percent of the stores are rented, and shoppers are scarce. To keep the place open, the brewery’s owner/managers have taken pay cuts. “We’re weathering this,” says Ayres. “We don’t have any plans of going anywhere.”
Despite the doom and gloom, other breweries in town are hanging on and, in some cases, even thriving. “We’re doing very well, actually,” says a cheerful Noah Whitmarsh, restaurant manager of Brew It Up! Brewery & Grill on 14th Street. He attributes that to the brewery’s location near the convention center, Sacramento Theatre Company/Wells Fargo Pavilion and Memorial Auditorium; a solid base of regular customers; and a new reliance on deals and specials. Brew It Up! also is the only brewery in town where customers can brew their own beers. “That keeps people coming back,” he notes.
There’s also some sense that beer and pub grub are probably just what the doctor ordered in these god-awful times. “I like to say that people have to drink about it,” says Glynn Phillips, owner of Rubicon Brewing Company on midtown’s Capitol Avenue. Despite the economic downturn, his brewpub is still doing “pretty well.” Phillips chalks that up to a “superb location” and prices that are easy on the wallet: “You can get in for a pint and a bite to eat for less than $12 with tip.”