Brewery cheers city’s past, supports its future
By Rebecca Kuzins
As a kid growing up in Sacramento, David Gull often visited his Uncle George’s house. George, bar manager at the old Buffalo Club tavern, had a collection of memorabilia from the Buffalo Brewing Company in his basement. Buffalo Brewing operated at 21st and Q streets from 1890 until 1945. At one time it was the largest brewery west of the Mississippi.
Years later, Gull remembered his uncle’s collection and conducted research about the brewery. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if someone brought back this historic brand, this historic beer? That was my lightbulb moment,” he says.
That moment led him to found New Helvetia Brewing Company, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in December. Named for John Sutter’s original settlement, the brewery and taproom are located at Broadway and 18th Street in Land Park. The taproom is decorated with Buffalo Brewing memorabilia, along with maps and lithographs of Sacramento.
When Gull opened New Helvetia, there were a handful of breweries in town. Since then, the popularity of craft beers has skyrocketed. The Sacramento Area Brewers Guild estimates more than 80 breweries operate in Sacramento and nine nearby counties.
Competition can be tough for small breweries like New Helvetia. “If you’re small, you have to be nimble,” says Erle Mankin, president of the brewers’ guild and owner of Jackrabbit Brewing Co. in West Sacramento. “You have to be able to turn on a dime, adjust to trends and stay lean.”
New Helvetia tries to stand out by celebrating Sacramento’s history as a beermaking town and its ties to the community. Those ties are evident in the names of beers, such as Buffalo craft lager (a homage to Buffalo Brewing Company), 916 pale ale, Land Park IPA and Homeland stout. The company produces many other beers, including a new malted milk ball stout.
New Helvetia’s products are sold at grocery stores, including Raley’s and Nugget Markets, Total Wine & More, and small beer and bottle shops. Local restaurants also serve New Helvetia brews.
“We’ve really tried to focus on making quality beer and supporting Sacramento arts and culture,” Gull says. “We really try to be a cheerleader for Sacramento.”
To that end, New Helvetia has partnered with Capitol Public Radio, Fairytale Town, Sacramento Zoo and other nonprofit organizations. The brewery created a beer called Kilohertz Kolsch and donated some of the proceeds to Capitol Public Radio. Similarly, New Helvetia brewed Fairytale Ale to raise funds for Fairytale Town.
For its 10th anniversary, New Helvetia collaborated with four local breweries, creating a partnership called The Neighborhood. Alaro Craft Brewery, Device Brewing Company, Oak Park Brewing Co. and Urban Roots Brewery & Smokehouse worked with New Helvetia to brew four different styles of beer. These beers were sold on tap and in four packs at New Helvetia. Each participant poured a keg at their brewery.
“It was a really cool way to celebrate our 10th anniversary with our friends and our breweries in the neighborhood,” Gull says. “We will be doing more collaborations.”
New Helvetia sponsored many events before the pandemic, including a weekly run, live music and a block party on 18th Street. These activities were canceled in 2020 and are slowly being restored. The brewery now offers a weekly run, live music and weekly trivia contest.
A popular event is Wonk Wednesdays, where mayors, City Council members, state lawmakers, police chiefs and others meet with customers to discuss local political issues. Gull says these events offer citizens a direct access to public officials. “They don’t have to go to City Hall and go through all the procedures,” he adds.
It takes about two weeks for New Helvetia to brew a batch of brew, using a process Gull explains is more complicated than winemaking. What makes a good beer?
“Your preference,” he says. “We make what we believe is going to be a good beer, You, the beer drinker, have to decide. That’s the truth of it for all breweries and all consumers.”
Rebecca Kuzins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.