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Photo Gallery | El Dorado Hills brewery brings a taste of Belgium to the land of IPAs

EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. – Upon entering Mraz Brewing, one is immediately struck by a look and feel distinct from other local craft breweries. In place of the stereotypically industrial backdrop of brighteners and fermentation tanks, the Mraz tasting room features handcrafted tables, wall sconces and a comfortable atmosphere where the communication flows as freely as the taps.

“I wanted a Belgian style atmosphere,” explains owner and brewmaster Michael Mraz. “Nothing pretentious. A social gathering type place where people could come and enjoy good conversation.”

But it’s not just the ambiance that stands out at the El Dorado Hills taproom. Turning one’s attention to the draught list, visitors will see a cast of crafts markedly different from most other regional breweries. Steering clear of the more hop til' you drop menus of the area, Mraz features a diverse lineup tipped more toward those with a taste for Belgian style ales.

Mraz cites the level of respect the Belgians pay to the process of brewing as a strong influence in the way he brews and the style of beers he has produced.

With that being said, the El Dorado Hills local understands the geographic magnetism towards IPAs and hasn't forgotten to accommodate area hopheads in his lineup.  In addition to their Belgian inspired White Ale, Strong Ale and Saison, Mraz Brewing also boasts a Pale Ale, four IPAs that rotate seasonally, an American Brown Ale, American Blonde Ale and a not-to-be-missed nitrogen infused Blonde.

“As a homebrewer, I wanted to do that beer for a couple years,” he says of the nitrogen blonde. “Once I had the equipment, I went for it. I’m surprised people don’t do it more. Right now in the heat, we sell the snot out of that thing. It’s easy drinking with a little creaminess to it. Boddingtons kind of influenced it, but I thought Boddingtons could be done better.”

Homebrewing was where Mraz cut his teeth in 2006, but despite earning a solid reputation as a homebrewer, he admits he never envisioned opening his own brewpub.

“I didn’t go into this with the idea of starting my own brewery. I had a friend who was making home brews and I thought, hey, I could start doing this," says Mraz. "I started experimenting with all kinds of ingredients, brewing with everything I could get my hands on.” 

His experimentations apparently worked, as Mraz was crowned Homebrewer of the Year for the state of California in 2008, then repeated the feat the following year.  Mraz was also honored with two “Best in Show” Maltose Falcon awards for his Pale Ale and Flanders Red.

The award for the Flanders Red, a sour style beer originally brewed in the Flanders region of Belgium, was early recognition of his aptitude for brewing Belgian style beers that would continue to grow.

“I’m kinda known for it on the internet world,” says Mraz.  “That’ll help me in the Sacramento area at least. Everyone’s doing it a little, but I’d like to have a large portfolio of sours. I’d like to be known for having sours continuously on tap or in bottles”

But Mraz says his personal preference for Sours, Saisons, Dubbels, Tripels, and virtually anything else that comes out of the land of the Cistercian monks, has not influenced him to identify any of his Belgian offerings as a flagship for the brewery.

“I’ll let the people decide on our flagship beer by how mad they get if we don’t have it on tap,” he says.

However, Mraz openly admits he hopes his customers will decide in favor of a Belgian style beer.

“In a land of IPAs, I would really like a Belgian beer to be our flagship.”

It’s a bold approach considering the area's craft beer drinkers were cultivated on pale ales and IPAs from the likes of Sierra Nevada and Russian River.  But bold is something Mraz embraces. It’s symbolized in the sword in the company logo, obvious in his willingness to experiment with styles of beer that challenge the local palate, and shines through in his ambitions for the young brewery.

“We’re not going to rest on our laurels here. We’re always going to move forward and be aggressive with our beers.”

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