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Sacramento's Rubicon Crosses Over To New Owner
By Brent Ainsworth and John W. Ostrom

On June 20, Sacramento’s Rubicon changed ownership for the first time since its opening in 1987. After nearly 20 years of developing, building and running Sacramento’s iconic Midtown brewpub, owners Ed and Susan Brown decided to leave the business and sell the Rubicon to longtime friend Glynn Phillips, who is backed by two other partners.

“I’ve known Glynn since he was a skinny little kid,” Brown said. “He was great friends with my nephews. They would gang up on me playing basketball.”

Also no stranger to the brewpub industry, Phillips has been general manager for Marin Brewing for the past seven years and previously managed Great Basin Brewing in Sparks, Nev. A friend of Brown’s and his family for over 30 years, Phillips had long expressed an interest in someday taking over the Rubicon.

“This is a dream come true,” said Phillips. “I told Ed 10 or 15 years ago that if he ever wanted to sell this place, just tell me. I’ve always had a real spot in my heart for the Rubicon.”

The Rubicon has been the most enduring brewpub in Sacramento, maintaining a reputation for offering outstanding beers in a wide range of styles and for providing one of the most comfortable pub experiences in town. A fixture in the urban heart of Sacramento long before the area became a popular spot for upscale restaurants and loft living, the Rubicon helped define downtown Sacramento as a place to go after all the state offices emptied out.

From the beginning, original brewer Phil Moeller developed the Rubicon’s signature style of firmly hopped ales and innovative seasonal beers, including the fabled Winter Wheat Wine. The brewery quickly developed a national reputation after winning several awards at the Great American Beer Festival, including back-to-back gold medals for its flagship India Pale Ale.

To maintain that reputation, Phillips has repeatedly affirmed his interest in keeping brewmaster Scott Cramlet on board. Cramlet, who learned commercial brewing while training with Moeller, has been with the Rubicon for over 15 years. He continues to brew not only the pub’s IPA, but also a changing assortment of seasonal offerings and innovative creations.

“Scott is very open-minded about things because he’s brewed so many different varieties through the years,” Phillips said. “We’re working great together. He keeps me grounded, and I think I’ve energized him a little bit.”

The Rubicon has a reputation for offering outstanding beers and for providing one of the most comfortable pub experiences in town.

The ownership transition actually began in February when Brown contacted Phillips and said it was time to make a change. After arriving at a deal for the pub, Phillips moved his family to nearby Elk Grove and began preparing to take over the day-to-day operations.

In the near term, Phillips envisions the brewery and restaurant remaining much the same as they are now. In the long run, plans may include increasing Rubicon’s distribution in the Sacramento region, which is currently limited to a few outlets, and the possible opening of affiliated local pubs in the McMenamins style. “Not the large hotel and brewery,” as Phillips pointed out, but comfortable neighborhood pubs located in some of Sacramento’s suburban outposts, stocked with a full lineup of Rubicon beers.

Brown said he leaves Rubicon proud of several things: keeping it open 18 years; having Rubicon voted the best brewpub in Sacramento nearly every year; and “giving people a good product for a good value.” He said the sale wasn’t too hard for him emotionally, but it was hard for his wife, Susan, who was Rubicon’s bookkeeper. She loved her job and the Rubicon atmosphere.

As Ed Brown prepared to leave the Rubicon for the final time before departing on a long European vacation, he summed up his plans by saying, “I’ve got one more thing in me. I just don’t know what it is.”

For his part, Phillips seems prepared to continue the Rubicon’s tradition of outstanding beer served in a comfortable setting, and he may even find a way to spread the Rubicon’s recipe for a great pub experience to new neighborhoods throughout the Sacramento region.

Rubicon Brewing Co.
2004 Capitol Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 448-7032

Brent Ainsworth, a beer lover and resident of Novato, Calif., is the Lifestyles editor at the Marin Independent Journal.

John W. "Brook" Ostrom is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News. He is a national beer judge and an award-winning homebrewer living in Davis, Calif.


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