Brews at the State Fair

Pioneer Brewer Peter CadelAt the State Fair this year, both amateurs and commercial brewers can compete in more than 30 categories: from pale ales and dark lagers, to porters, stouts, and spiced beers, in American or European brewing styles. Thirty-plus categories of suds is an exponential leap from the efforts and  output of Sacramento area pioneer breweries, which began operating in 1849—the wildest and most celebrated year of the California Gold Rush. That year, German immigrant Peter Cadel opened the Galena Brewery in a small frame building one hundred yards east of Sutter’s Fort. Cadel’s brewery and his early day competitors, such as the short-lived Zins and Weiser Brewery on nearby city blocks, likely produced just six to eight barrels per brewing process. Both breweries functioned on land now occupied by the sprawling Sutter General Hospital complex, private medical offices and surrounding commercial outlets.  Through the end of the century, new operations established ever-larger, higher-capacity facilities, among them the Phoenix, Sacramento, Sutterville, Pacific, Union, Ruhstaller and Capital Breweries. By far the largest—in fact, the largest brewery west of the Mississippi—was Herman Grau’s Buffalo Brewery, which opened to much fanfare on May 10, 1890. Its main building stood five stories high, attached to a four-story icehouse for cooling the beer, allowing Buffalo to brew year round despite Sacramento’s sweltering summer weather.  In 1919 Prohibition brought an end to large local commercial breweries, although the Buffalo Brewery did resume production after repeal, operating into the 1940s.  In the 1970s, two enterprising law students revived the famous Buffalo label and product for a few years, before folding. Today, many craft breweries throughout the state carry on the tradition.