SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- They piled out of cars driven by their chauffeurs and made their way through Sactown Union Brewery's front gates, chattering excitedly among themselves. They were drunk on the success of their recently concluded Little League season and ready to guzzle down whatever sodas were being sold out of the food truck.
Scenes like this aren't especially rare at Sacramento-area taprooms, Sactown Union brewmaster and co-owner Michael Barker said. Patrons far below the legal drinking age can be seen at nearly every craft beer hot spot in the region, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.
As pundits argue over whether America's craft beer market is nearing a saturation point, most taproom owners are doing their best to avoid limitations that might sway customers toward a competitor a few blocks over. That's clear at Urban Roots Brewery and Smokehouse, which opened late last month with an emphasis on easily palatable European beers and kids toys tucked away next to a Dippin' Dots vending machine.
"(It's) a very American viewpoint that alcohol should be drunk in quiet corners away from the view of impressionable youths, and we absolutely reject that notion," Urban Roots co-founder Peter Hoey said. "A pub is a place for family."
Establishments that serve alcohol can allow minors if they also sell any sort of food -- even just snacks or sandwiches -- on site, according to the California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control licensing system. People under 21 can also visit breweries, wineries or licensed clubs regardless of whether they serve food.
Few of the Sacramento area's most popular craft beer hubs restrict their customers based on age. Loomis Basin Brewing said "that's enough" to both kids and dogs two years ago, deciding that the few problem cases were obtrusive enough to merit a full ban. Capital Beer and Tap Room is another exception, though the downtown Capital Hop Shop serves food and allows kids of all ages.
Sacramento's craft beer scene began taking off in earnest around 2008-12. The youngest early customers are now in their late 20s or early 30s, many -- like Tyler Stumbaugh's peers -- with kids of their own.
A 30-year-old childless truck driver who lives in unincorporated Sacramento County near Rancho Cordova, Stumbaugh said he visits a local brewery or taproom at least twice a week. In a post to the Sacramento Beer Enthusiasts Facebook page this year, he took the admittedly controversial stance of wishing more breweries wouldn't allow kids, which elicited more than 300 comments from other group members.
Stumbaugh said his bar conversations with friends are interrupted about twice per month by the shrieks of children climbing unsupervised on bike racks and tables. Breweries that ban kids risk alienating some of their core customers, but many in the Sacramento area could do more to establish a designated adult zone, he said.
Short of that, he points the blame at negligent parents.