Battered by the Recession, Some Sac Breweries Close While Others Hang on

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This has been a brutal year for Sacramento-area breweries. In the past 12 months, a solid handful have shut their doors, including Elk Grove Brewing Co., Beermann’s Beerwerks, Oasis and Greenhouse. The most recent victim of the recession: 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 blamed the bad economy and said closing was “a painful decision.”

Beth Ayres, an owner/manager of River City Brewing Company in Downtown Plaza, sighed when asked about the troubles affecting local brewpubs. “Yes, it’s sad,” she said. “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 said River City’s bar is still busy, but its restaurant business is suffering. State-worker furloughs are one culprit. “State workers were our bread and butter,” she pointed 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 few and far between. To keep the place open, the brewery’s owner/managers have taken pay cuts. “We’re weathering this,” said 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,” said Noah Whitmarsh, restaurant manager of Brew It Up Brewery & Grill on 14th Street. He attributed that to the brewery’s location near the convention center, Sacramento Theatre Company and Memorial Auditorium, a solid base of regular customers and a steady stream of daily deals and specials. Brew It Up is also the only brewery in town where customers can brew their own beers. “That keeps people coming back,” he noted.

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,” said Glynn Phillips, the owner of Rubicon Brewing Company on midtown’s Capitol Avenue. Despite the economic downturn, he said his brewpub is still doing pretty well. Phillips chalked 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.”