These days, the Sacramento region’s beer scene is so large and bustling that a consumer may find it hard to keep tabs on it without a scorecard and roadmap.
That’s where the brewery passport comes in. Looking very much like an official passport, the blue booklet ($17) lists breweries in the six-county Sacramento metropolitan area by location and, as users peruse the book and find new places to check out, encourages folks to get out and explore through incentives.
With enough stamps, a user qualifies for a range of prizes, from a special bottle opener for the first seven stamps to a custom map suitable for framing if a stamp is secured at every brewery in the passport. In 2020, that will require serious road-tripping — the newest edition includes 77 breweries.
The passport is the centerpiece of Sacramento Beer Frontier, a program that’s the brainchild of Aaron O’Callaghan, a grants manager at a nonprofit foundation. He drew upon his love of making maps and his passion for local businesses to create a product that has had a significant impact since its launch in 2016, especially for new breweries trying to attract customers in an increasingly competitive business.
When O’Callaghan launched the passport, Sacramento’s craft beer scene was already booming and 48 breweries were included. Since then, about 10 breweries have closed and about 40 have opened. O’Callaghan says he sold 1,800 passports the first year and roughly 3,000 each year since.
Two new passport customers are Jonathan Rojas and Jess Delgado, friends who say they have used the booklet to branch out well beyond their usual haunts in Sacramento. They’re already planning a road trip to Auburn, where four top-flight breweries have made the foothills town a true destination for beer lovers. But they’re also finding new places to check out closer to home.
“Now, when we go out and have a beer, we make it our mission to get our stamp,” Delgado says while enjoying a beer at Fountainhead Brewing Co. in Sacramento’s Hollywood Park. “It shows you different places in the area where you normally wouldn’t travel. Do we know about all the different breweries in Sacramento? No. I didn’t know about this one.”
Sacramento Beer Frontier website. He does all the research himself, tracking down new breweries and keeping tabs on those with plans to open in the months to come. He doesn’t sell ads and doesn’t do a lot of little things that might generate more revenue. His primary motivation is to showcase what he calls “this amazing beer town” — a transformative addition to the business and social landscape of the region in the past 5-7 years.Most craft breweries have limited budgets for marketing and advertising, so the passport gives them a way to attract new business. O’Callaghan is a one-person operation — designing, printing and selling the passport from his
Kyle Blake is a power user of the passport and a prominent part of the beer scene. He founded the Sloppy Moose Running Club in 2013, which involves regular meet-ups at New Helvetia Brewing Company, a 3-mile run, then beer and good times. Blake bought the first edition of the passport and methodically garnered all 48 stamps, along with some extras from breweries that have opened since (O’Callaghan puts blank pages in the back to accommodate additions).
“It’s great. It definitely gets you out,” Blake says. “I live relatively close to (Bike Dog on Broadway). Going to Elk Grove and checking out the breweries there, it was phenomenal beer that I never would have checked out if it wasn’t for the passport.”
Jessica Christiansen likes her brewery passport so much she created an Instagram account to chronicle her adventures. She posts photos of each brewery visit and each stamp collected, often accompanied by her husband and 3-year-old son.
“I really like the passport because we get to get outside of Roseville and Rocklin. We’re very centralized here, but to be able to try the different spots that are outside of the normal places we go to, it’s just really cool,” Christiansen says while seated at a table at Moksa Brewing in Rocklin. “Places like this, everyone feels comfortable bringing their kids here. It’s 2020 and this is what parents do now — we go to breweries and bring our kids.”
For O’Callaghan, publishing the passport has taught him plenty about the impact craft beer continues to have on Sacramento and surrounding communities. He says breweries have become fixtures for casual meeting spots, where folks run into their neighbors and meet newcomers. Kids and dogs are a big part of the atmosphere too.
Device Brewing Company owner Ken Anthony says the brewery passport has made a difference for his Sacramento business. “We have seen a tremendous number of visitors who would not have known of us or would not have taken the time to visit us because they don’t live nearby,” Anthony says. “We get a lot of folks from the Foothills, Elk Grove and Davis because of the passport. … Every time I see people coming in to get their books stamped, there’s always this heightened level of excitement and enthusiasm, which I think is really cool.”