Cheers and welcome fellow craft beer lovers. This is a series that’s meant to highlight small, local breweries with unique beginnings owned by people with standout personalities who are brewing incredible beer. I’ve brought it upon myself – and BeerSelfie – to go around interviewing breweries to get their story. As we all know, behind every great beer is an even better story.
In this series debut I decided to travel 15 minutes north of my small NorCal town to the even SMALLER city of Galt, California. A rustic, rural, agriculturally savvy community that has a long lasting farming history, but not so much a beer one. Thankfully, a man and his wife set out to change that 5 years ago.
Now, this write up will be a tad different than others I plan on doing. River Rock is at the tail end of their new expansion so that means there’s no pictures of the space in here. Just the delicious beer I had the privilege of trying. But before we get to the beers, let’s talk about how this brewery came to be because g dang it’s quite the tale.
Several years ago, born and raised Galtonians Ed and his wife Shery had the idea to open up a brewery in their hometown. Ed had been home brewing for a little under two years at that point and had gotten enough encouragement from friends to start up his own space. I’m not going to get into specifics on this but when he finally did open his brewery doors, people were less than thrilled about it. Not because of the beer or the man behind the beard. It was the name. I’m sure you that some of you have heard the story. It was kind of national news at the time. People were upset. Tempers were hot, and it showed. It all came to a head one early morning back in 2016.
Ed and Sherry were cleaning out the brewery after a typical open night when they heard glass shatter near them. As they went to investigate the realized that someone had thrown rocks from the local river through their brewery window, undoubtedly by a person upset with their name choice (yes, people were THAT mad). Tired, frustrated, and fed up with the backlash, the married couple started to clean up the mess. As Sherry was sweeping up glass and continued to trip over the rocks that were thrown she suddenly yelled out “Well if we stay open or start a new brewery we might as well name it River Rock!” They stopped. Both looked at each other with the same spark in their eyes and said without saying, “That’s actually not a bad idea”. Those rocks, which started as a spiteful act of vandalism, had been reborn like a phoenix from the ash and broken glass of their brewery floor into the new inspiration of a fresh start.
Cut to the interview. The newly dubbed River Rock Brewery had been open for a little while when they decided that they needed a bigger space. It is a brewery AND homebrew store after all. That’s where I come in. I reached out to Ed (not THE Ed, another Ed who works at the brewery) and was able to schedule some time to come sit down with the folks of River Rock and chat over some beer. As I met Ed outside and walked in I was greeted by about 7 or 8 people. Some were workers and others were friends who have been helping them get the new space set up for the opening in December. I made my rounds, shook hands, and sat down at the *newly installed* bar. The man standing on the other side? Ed, the owner himself. A guy with a beard (not made of hops, unfortunately) wearing a grin and worn out River Rock hat.
Bless Ed’s (and everyone’s) heart for dealing with my questions because I asked a slew of them. After the first initial inquiries by me we all just got to talking. Telling stories about brewing, people we know, other local breweries that I need to try out (boy did I get quite the list from everyone!) and even broke down some of the official titles of everyone who works there. Then I got to pick Ed’s brain about his process and inspiration behind some of the beers. Just one small town guy with a wealth of knowledge talking to another small town guy who loves to learn about all things beer. And speaking of beer, let’s talk about it already!
The first beer I tried was their Red Rye Rocker, a rye IPA. Absolutely what you look for with a rye beer. There was that nice, warm chewiness from the rye that was married with a spicy hop bitterness that plays perfectly with it. Delicious, crisp, and a beautifully rich, deep copper color. Next, I tried their Leee Roy Brown (yes, it has 3 E’s y’all). A super flavorful brown ale that would fool even the most avid beer drinker into thinking it was a porter. Packing a huge nutty chocolate one-two punch, the clean up is done by the incredibly smooth body and tasty coffee notes at the end. Lastly, I had one of the most well-known and loved beers done by them: Burn Yur Butt. A ridiculously complex Jalepeno Amber Ale. On the nose it’s 100% spicy jalepenos that are jalepen-yo face (which honestly made me nervous to drink it). But as soon as this amber colored liquid hit my lips I instantly freaked out. NO. HEAT. I’ve tried quite a few jalepeno browns and ambers in my day. This is by far the best executed in my opinion. Ed could tell I was concentrating after each sip, waiting and waiting for that sudden burst of hot pepper to torch my taste buds and he eventually chuckled and said, “There’s no heat. Trust me.” Boy was he right. A beer with incredible depth: malt that provides a very sturdy body, hops that enhance the spicy notes the pepper should be providing. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a little kick. But the hops make it palatable. Such a well done beer with an intense amount of warmth that was only matched by the warmth I felt from all those folks at the brewery that night. Plus I heard a local restaurant uses that beer in the batter for some fish tacos so you know where I’m taking my wife on our next date night.
As I left the brewery I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I was for that experience. I thanked the River Rock crew endlessly as I left but I still didn’t feel like it was enough to show them what their hospitality meant to me. Then I realized that this is just what they were about. Here’s a local guy who started his city’s FIRST brewery and has no desire of expanding into multiple cities or distributing outside of 50 miles or so from his area. In his own words, he just wants “A place that people want to come and hang out at in Galt”. Well he’s definitely created that. Not only does this place brew some incredible beer, they’re a certified home brew store. They host taco Tuesdays featuring tacos made from a local spot. Sundays are for people to come together and watch football. There’s also comedy nights, trivia, and future home brew workshops that will be hosted. This place screams local and community engagement. It’s what small spots like this around here are all about. I know that California is home to some of the best breweries in the nation, but it’s places like this that really deserve some time in the spotlight. I’m making it my personal mission to find these spots and give them the credit they deserve. Thank you so much to the gang at River Rock. They open their doors officially on December 1st. With beers cold enough to get you in the door and smiles warm enough to make you want to stay past closing, this is a spot that you MUST come and support if you’re ever in the Sacramento area. They’re brewing some fantastic stuff and their space is going to look incredible. Till next time y’all! Cheers, and remember: Onward for beer!
Jordan works in the alcohol distribution industry and has a passion for family, writing, and all things beer (both drinking and brewing it). You can find him on Instagram: @travelersbeerlog