The Beer Chaser
This influential taproom founder followed his passion
By Daniel Barnes
If not for the financial crisis of 2007 and the resulting economic downturn, Kenny Hotchkiss might still be laying tile for a living. A longtime craft beer fanatic, Hotchkiss used his shrinking workload as motivation to pursue his passion project, a taproom and bottle shop that would showcase the best the beer world had to offer. “I kind of backed into it, and if the economy hadn’t taken a dump, I would have probably remained in construction,” says Hotchkiss. “It forced me to go after what I wanted.”
Along with his life and business partner, Patti Aguirre, Kenny Hotchkiss started working on the concept that became Capitol Beer and Tap Room (affectionately known as Cap Tap) in 2010. He finally opened the business in the University Village shopping center in summer 2012.
“I was chasing beer for a long time, and I was trying to start a similar project prior to this with different partners that didn’t work out,” says Hotchkiss. “I think Patti was looking for a business opportunity at that point, and it sounded good.”
With its expertly curated tap list and all-star bottle shop, Cap Tap instantly raised the beer-bar game in the area, joining Pangaea and Final Gravity as a local mecca for beer geeks. In fact, Cap Tap is currently ranked as one of the top 300 beer destinations in the world on the influential RateBeer website. Hotchkiss became a local celebrity in the beer community, to the point that Rancho Cordova-based brewery Claimstake created a beer in his name, a West Coast-style IPA named The Kenny MF’n Hotchkiss. “It was kind of a proud, humbling moment, and it was a great beer, too,” he says.
Kenny Hotchkiss and Patti Aguirre initially pursued a site on the Grid for CapTap, but with the craft-beer boom still a couple years away, the concept met with some resistance. “We just couldn’t find a space back then, and nobody really understood what we were trying to do, so we expanded our search and ended up in the Arden area,” says Hotchkiss. “After doing well there, people started asking us to come Downtown.”
On Labor Day weekend 2017, five years after opening Cap Tap, Hotchkiss and Aguirre finally made it on the grid. After a yearlong renovation process, they debuted Capital Hop Shop, a 40-tap beer bar and restaurant housed in an old auto shop on the corner of 15th and I streets. Tucked inside a shopping center without a street presence, Cap Tap was always more about the beer than the experience, but Capital Hop Shop is something different, a striking beer palace located in a bustling urban center.
“This is the big show,” says Hotchkiss. “There’s a high energy here.” The new location also allowed Hotchkiss to adjust the spelling of “Capitol,” which he labels a mistake. “We got it wrong the first time, but we also wanted each place to have their own personality, their own identity,” he says. “The same concept, but definitely different personalities.”
Instead of the free pretzel bowls and liberal “outside food” policy at Cap Tap, the much larger Capital Hop Shop boasts a full kitchen run by chef Phil Webster, with food specials tailored to rare beers, such as a poutine burger paired with Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout. Other key upgrades at Capital Hop Shop include an expanded number of taps, a digital display and a stylish layout that maintained the industrial character of the building. However, the stricter laws on the Grid regarding the sale of single bottles of beer prevented Hotchkiss and Aguirre from including a bottle shop in the design.
For his part, Hotchkiss has been “chasing” beer for as long as he can remember, identifying Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as the beer that sparked his passion. “It was so bold and in your face, different than anything that I had prior to that,” he says. “I was already into beer, but that was the one that opened my eyes.” He moved to the Sacramento area in 1994, fueling his growing obsession with visits to Rubicon and River City Brewing Company. “I just started chasing beer after that, going to every brewery I could,” he says. “Years of chasing craft beer kind of led me to this point.”
Even though it took him nearly a decade to open the beer bar he originally envisioned, Hotchkiss believes the process worked out in his favor. “We started off real green over there,” he says. “We came up with our formula over time, about how we wanted to present beer, and I think that’s really helped to understand what people want.
“It gave us the experience to come Downtown with better quality.”
Daniel Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.