Chugging along on Sacramento’s craft beer-tasting train
By Janelle Bitker
Sacramento Bee

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Californians are clearly divided when it comes to funding a high-speed bullet train. But the Sacramento River Train? Now that’s a vehicle with a much higher approval rating – especially since it started offering craft beer-tasting trips.

The Sacramento River Train chugs along a 28-mile line built in 1911 that connects West Sacramento and Woodland. In 2005, the train underwent an extreme makeover, improving its open-air cars, dining cars and sound system. Now, the train brings passengers on a variety of three-hour themed excursions each month, including Saturday’s beer-fueled Oktoberfest celebration.

Even among its wine-tasting trips, brunch trips and murder-mystery-theater trips, the beer-tasting trips reign supreme, according to Chris Hart, manager and owner of the Sacramento River Train.

“The beer train is the new favorite, usually with the biggest turnout,” Hart said.

The company’s first boozy train ride occurred in July 2012 and led to a year with five wine trips and three beer trips. But quickly Hart realized more beer was needed, and he doubled that number this year. He’s already experienced some sell-out trips, he said.

Four breweries are invited aboard for each trek, and each brewery brings two beers for tasting. Passengers can taste them all – a standard ticket includes eight pours – and buy additional rounds for $1 apiece.

Hart focuses on the local scene when inviting brewers aboard. But Sacramento’s beer scene is growing, as is the popularity of the beer train, making Hart’s job a bit more difficult. “There are so many breweries around now that there’s more demand than we have space,” he said.

But one brewer has an open invitation: Sudwerk. The Davis brewery has been involved since the first brew-tasting trip and has only missed one since.

Trenton Yackzan, Sudwerk’s operations manager, said the company keeps coming back because the mellow, social atmosphere and memorable views from the open-air cars pair perfectly with their beverages.

“It’s awesome, scenic, and I don’t think a lot of people know it exists,” he said. “It’s like Yolo County at its finest.”

And often breweries bring specialty beers aboard. Representatives can easily get feedback from passengers during the three-hour trip.

“It’s a great way to get to know our customers,” Yackzan said. “You don’t have anything to do except talk to people.”

For Saturday’s Oktoberfest, Sudwerk will bring its California Dry Hop Lager, released in August, and its Oktoberfest special Fest Harvest Lager, a caramelly amber with 7.5 percent alcohol.

Also on the menu: Bitter American, a session pale ale, and Fireside Chat, a spicy winter ale, from San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery; Great White, a Belgian-style wheat beer, and Ginger Root Harvest Ale, a fall special, from Eureka’s Lost Coast Brewery; and Molly American, a red ale, and Thunder Beast IPA from Sacramento’s New Helvetia Brewing Co.

As beer is always better with something to snack on, Joe Thompson, of Crisp Catering in Sacramento, is scheduled to dish out bratwurst, vegetarian sausages, sauerkraut and potato salad. Folks can then dance off the beer and brats while listening to a live country-rock band.

Fido is welcome aboard as well. Hart recently began making certain trips dog-friendly, and Saturday’s Oktoberfest is one of them. Other passengers on the ale express? It varies.

“We’ll get couples in their 20s on a date, but we also have a woman in her 80s who has come on eight trips,” Hart said. “It’s a range, and it’s really nice.”


What: A train ride along the Sacramento River featuring beer tastes from Sudwerk Brewery, 21st Amendment Brewery, Lost Coast Brewery and New Helvetia Brewing Co.

When: Boarding at 3:30 p.m., departure at 4 p.m., Saturday

Where: 400 North Harbor Blvd., West Sacramento

Cost: $45 for a regular ticket with eight beer tastings; $65 for a VIP ticket with two extra tastings, a meal and advance boarding; $25 for a designated driver ticket; $10 for a dog ticket.