Distributing Craft in California’s ‘Cowtown’

Jason Mussetter has been working with beer since well before he could drink it.

“Born into it,” Mussetter said. “That’s all I’ve known.”

At 15 years old, he was doing breakage and emptying old cans for recycling money. As he grew older, so did Mussetter Distributing, his father’s beer wholesaler based in Auburn, Calif., and he was there for every stage of its growth, in every job imaginable: delivery driving, merchandising, working in the warehouse, sales supervising. Now he’s taken over the family business, working as the general manager for a distributor that has adjusted its portfolio, but not its goal of spreading beer from Benicia, Calif., just outside of the Bay Area, through Sacramento to Lake Tahoe.

The state of the craft beer industry will shape much of his future; a modernized version of the business that constructed his past.

Beer distributor Jason Mussetter isn't alone in his belief that Sacramento has room to grow with craft.

Mussetter is optimistic because of Sacramento’s current positioning in the beer industry: gaining momentum, but with lots of runway.

“People are kind of migrating away [from Southern California] and it’s just trickling into Sacramento right now,” he said.

Craft has a significant following in California, as evidenced by the craft beer markets in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but there’s untapped potential remaining. Meanwhile, Sacramento, a city commonly known for what’s not there compared to what is, has started catching onto what the other major Californian cities have so heartily embraced.

But how does the beer revolution spread, especially when the beer distributors of Northern California have long fought for customers against the renowned wineries, which have served not just something to drink, but also a tourist experience? That second part is something that the brewers are still working on. Steve Swinford, the executive director of the Northern California Brewers Guild and a consultant for Sacramento-based Rubicon Brewery, said that despite the firmly established presence of the wineries, a strong core of craft diehards and loyalists, like Mussetter Distributing, have built a formidable craft presence in Sacramento and the areas surrounding it.

“What has happened in Sacramento is certainly on the coattails of the Bay Area market,” Swinford said. “We’re close enough to the Bay Area where there’s common knowledge of good beer.”

Mussetter said that while no craft breweries have emerged in Sacramento like Anchor Steam in San Francisco or Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego, he has a good idea of who could meet the challenge.

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