It’s no secret the craft beer scene is exploding. Whether you are looking to expand your beer-drinking horizons—or are a novice hoping to figure it all out—here is your guide to finding a good pour in the Sierra Nevada.
By: Matthew Bieker, Katrina Paz, Thea Marie Rood, Whip Villarreal and Kathleen Vivaldi
Legend credits California with starting the craft beer movement—the “first” microbreweries opened in Sonoma and Chico in 1977 and 1980, respectively—but in reality, beer in our region goes way, way back. “A year ago, we just exceeded what we had before Prohibition,” says “Big” Mike Moore, an international beer judge and craft brewery consultant. “There were 600 breweries in California in the ’20s and 750 today.”
What is undisputed, however, is the current industry’s boom since 2011. According to the California Craft Brewers Association, the state’s microbreweries now contribute $7.29 billion to the economy, support more than 51,000 jobs, and—perhaps most importantly—produce nearly a million barrels of beer.
The same is true in Nevada, where the number of microbreweries has more than doubled in the past six years, leading to several legislative fights, some backed by corporate beer money and some by grassroots brewers, over production limits (barrels per year) and whether and where microbrews can be bottled and sold. “The truth is ‘the big boys’ can’t compete with the microbrews,” says Moore. “So they have recently been sued for their ‘pay to play policy’—paying bars to have their tap handles—and saying breweries of such-and-such a size can’t be in the distribution network. They are also buying up small microbreweries— about three a month.”
Despite these conflicts with corporate beer, however, experts agree local brewmasters are surprisingly compatible, invariably supportive of more craft beer coming on the scene. “I’ve never seen a brewer get mad because another brewery is opening close by,” says Moore. “In Auburn (for example), you have four breweries within 3 miles of one another, and they are all destined to be world class.”
In fact, competition between breweries is resulting in “better and better beer,” Moore believes, but brewmasters also commonly combine their creativity. “We (worked) with Great Basin and Tahoe Mountain to do a collaboration for the upcoming ‘collabeeration’ for Reno Craft Beer Week,” says Scott Emond, president and founder of Under the Rose Brewing Company. “We’re all like-minded people just trying to create something for Reno—it’s a great industry to be in.”
It’s also a great industry to patronize—which our guide will help you do. Is our list in any way exhaustive or totally inclusive? Nope. Because that would be a book rather than a magazine article. It is also somewhat subjective—in that many of us are craft beer drinkers and we have opinions about what the experience of visiting a pub or tasting room should be like. We also wanted to showcase some old and some new breweries, and include a fair representation of California and Nevada.
But what we can promise you: These microbreweries will help you find a summer pour you love—and you’ll have fun while you’re drinking it.
Reno/Lake Tahoe Area
Brasserie Saint James
The Brasserie Saint James has been a fixture of Reno’s Midtown since 2012 and— as a result—became a flagship of the city’s craft beer scene. Pairing its wide spectrum of wines, cocktails and award-winning beer styles with brunch offerings, pub fare and gourmet entrees, this old-world style brewhouse and pub delights in the details.
The Brasserie is the second installment in owner and operator Arthur Farley’s collection of properties in Reno, following his establishment of the tap house/nightclub St. James Infirmary in 2008, and preceding the opening of combination bar, barrel house and music venue The Saint in 2016. Farley also launched a sister brewpub in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2016, magnifying both its reach and reputation as a craft beer destination.
Brasserie St. James is located in the historic Crystal Springs Ice Company building, where head brewer Josh Watterson draws from both an in-house artesian spring water well, and his own international certification in fermentation sciences, to produce award-winning European styles—year after year. Favorites like the Daily Wages Saison or the Third Man Belgian Triple have taken silvers and golds in competitions all over the country since 2013.
The Brasserie is known for its appreciation of live music and comfortable patio seating on warm days. The light and crisp Koln Concert German Style Kolsch makes for easy summer drinking. Or hop-lovers can try the big and bold Hopalong Cassidy American Double IPA—with a signature Brasserie Burger—for happy hour.
901 S. Center St., Reno, NV, brasseriestjames.com; opens weekdays at 11 a.m., weekends at 10 a.m.
The Depot brewpub and distillery is a landmark destination in the continued revival of the Reno/Tahoe area—as both a steward of the historical NCO Railway building it inhabits and as a decidedly Nevadan take on the craft beer experience. After opening its doors on New Year’s Eve 2014, The Depot has become one of the crown jewels of the city’s expanding Brewery District, and serves more than a dozen original craft beer styles, signature hard liquors, cocktails, and no shortage of pairing options on the brunch and dinner menus.
In 1910, the Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad headquartered its operations in the iconic rail house—shipping livestock, hay and grain as far as Lakeview, Ore. After the NCO closed down, the property sat abandoned for decades until it was remodeled by owners Chris Shanks, Justin Stafford and Brandon Wright to fit the brew tanks, bar, patio and copious dining-hall seating. With a sophisticated design that cherishes its traditional roots while still appealing to modern tastes, The Depot’s physical location is every bit a metaphor for its brewing standards.
The brewery’s faithful selection of year-round drafts includes easy winners—like The Ranch Hand American Ale and The Voyager IPA, perfect for those needing a familiar style made with local ingredients. Adventurous seasonals, like The Rodeo Queen Raspberry Sour, showcase Brewmaster Wright’s range and willingness to think outside the box, and pair nicely with warm sun and the pulled pork sandwich.
Observant guests will also notice a unique caricature on each tap handle behind the bar. Designed by the same local firm that saw to the rest of The Depot’s branding materials—Laxalt & McIver—these minimalist cartoons serve as embodiments of the beer’s (and perhaps customer’s) character. Local personalities include the Burner Pilsner, portrayed in full playa gear, and the Trekker India Pale Lager, who dons his goggles and pack for a backcountry stroll in the Sierra Nevada.
325 E. Fourth St., Reno, NV, thedepotreno.com; opens daily at 11 a.m.
Great Basin Brewing Company
Great Basin Brewing Company started in November 1993 and is Nevada’s oldest operating brewery. Great Basin is most known for its Ichthyosaur “Icky” India Pale Ale, named after the state fossil of Nevada.
Icky was also the first brewmaster-seasonal the brewery created—and it sold out all 14 kegs in two days. Since then, the company has added Icky to its flagship brews and produces it on a regular basis. In fact, Cameron Kelly, director of sales, says that Icky is the No. 1 selling craft beer in Northern Nevada and it consistently outsells Samuel Adams, New Belgium, Firestone Walker and Sierra Nevada.
Great Basin Brewing Company was founded by current owners Tom and Bonda Young. Before opening the brewery, Tom was a geologist by trade and spent a lot of time in small cities across the Silver State where he had trouble finding craft beer—and at times no beer at all. So he began home brewing and got better at it with time. When the gold mines he was working for took a downturn and began closing, he decided to go into the brewing business.
The original brewpub is the Victorian Avenue location in Sparks. In 2010, Great Basin opened a second brewpub in Reno about three and a half times the size of the original. However, the Youngs underestimated how popular it was going to be and ended up hitting production capacity in the first six months instead of the projected five years. With the success of the second location, however, the company expanded its operations by purchasing a brewery warehouse location that allowed it to quadruple production.
The seasonal and locally sourced pub food pairs well with the beer, especially the Brewery Fish and Chips or the salmon tacos with fresh mango salsa. And don’t miss the famous Icky Bread, made every day from Icky IPA, spent barley and local honey.
Brewery and Pub, 846 Victorian Ave., Sparks, NV; Brewpub, 5525 S. Virginia Street, Reno, NV, greatbasinbrewingco.com; open daily at 11 a.m. (Brewpub open Sundays at 9:30 a.m.).
The Brewer’s Cabinet
Opened in 2012, The Brewer’s Cabinet is a small batch brewery and gastropub that serves as a hub for the local craft community. Located at the confluence of Downtown’s RiverWalk and the corridor to Midtown, it is equally ready to please the casual consumer and the dedicated beer lover.
Established by Chris Kahl, Mike Connolly and Zachary Cage—longtime friends and locals of the area—The Brewer’s Cabinet marked the trio’s venture into creating their own beer after opening and operating a number of other successful bars in town. With the advent of the craft beer scene in Reno, they found a more-than-willing market and recently started to distribute their flagship Tahoe beer styles as far as Las Vegas.
The Tahoe Beer, Tahoe Amber and Tahoe Pale Ale are evergreen favorites on tap, but the Dragon Punch IPA and Apparition Double IPA are well-known crowd pleasers. Brewmaster Eric Ramin and his staff keep a steady rotation of in-house drafts, but Brewer’s Cabinet is unique in its active collaboration program with other local breweries—inventing limited edition brews not found anywhere else.
The summer seasonal Green Chili Kolsch is a hit when paired with $1.25 tacos on Wednesday nights, and their well-attended Kegs & Eggs Sunday brunch makes the most of the outdoor patio seating and family-style tables.
475 S. Arlington Ave., Reno, NV, thebrewerscabinet.com; open weekdays at 11 a.m., weekends at 9 a.m.
Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company
Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company specializes in sours that are barrel-aged one to three years. For example, the Reno Noir is a dark ale, with hints of chocolate-covered dried fruits, and aged on tart cherries in port barrels for 14 months. The brewery also produces India pale ales, saisons and porter stouts.
It started in 2012 as a small brewery in Tahoe City above its pub. But soon after opening the original location, the brewers were unable to produce enough beer to satisfy the demands of the restaurant-goers at the brewpub downstairs. So they expanded to a larger facility in Truckee that has a tasting room on-site and allows the company to brew in higher volume.
Owner Aaron Bigelow was a home brewer who had a passion for craft beer, which propelled him to his wide reach: Tahoe Mountain currently distributes its brews across Nevada, California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Colorado.
The brewpub menu has beer-pairing favorites such as deep fried pickles, loaded “tots,” and house-smoked brisket pastrami.
Brewery/Tasteroom:10990 Industrial Way, Suite 104, Truckee, CA; open Thursdays and Fridays at 3 p.m., weekends at 1 p.m. Brewpub: Cobblestone Center, 475 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City, CA; open daily at 11:30 a.m.; tahoebrewing.com.
Under the Rose Brewing Company
Under the Rose, owned by husband-and-wife team Scott Emond and Jesse Kleinedler, opened its doors for business in 2013. It has two signature beers: its European-style saison beer and the Nevada Beer, a classic American pale ale. The saison beer pairs well with pork, seafood, chicken and anything spicy, while the Nevada Beer goes down great with bratwursts, pizza, hamburgers and fried foods.
The name of the brewery is to pay tribute to the Mount Rose ski resort, one of the main reasons Emond and Kleinedler moved to Northern Nevada from the East Coast 10 years ago. Scott was also a home-brewing hobbiest at the time, and soon decided he wanted to make a living brewing beer.
The brewery has an industrial look, but the feel of a friend’s garage. The tasting room comes with giant Jenga, foosball and benches to play cards while enjoying one of its craft brews. Food trucks are also often on-site. The company is looking to expand later this year by adding a second location in Midtown to increase production and add more personnel.
559 E Fourth Street, Reno, NV, undertherosebrewing.com; open Thursdays and Fridays at 5 p.m.; weekends at noon.
Ol’ Republic Brewery
Ol’ Republic owners and brewers Jim Harte and Simon Olney are seemingly the old-timers on the local craft beer scene—perhaps it’s because of the decades of experience between them: Harte began brewing the minute he was of legal drinking age; at 7 years old, Olney was helping his dad concoct wine and ales in their backyard in England. It could also be their rugged “motor-head” and mountain lifestyle that has amicably weathered them. Previously related, they refer to themselves as “outlaws” now, and that comfortable familial vibe is what everyone feels when they enter Ol’ Republic.
The pair—and their legions of fans—recently celebrated the brewery’s fifth anniversary. And while their love for all things with engines is evident (they sponsor their own land speed racing car), the usual crowd consists of everyone from teachers and engineers to organic farmers and artists. The taproom is more like a local’s living room, with live music and events—from soapbox cars to bicycles—drawing festive crowds.
Ol’ Republic is best known for its lagers and ales, and its Dead Canary Lager took Best of Show at the California State Fair. Harte recommends the new IPA Clouds of Jupiter for summer because it’s “a little cloudy and the foam is pillow-y, meringue-like.” There are generally food trucks on hand, but guests are also encouraged to bring a picnic dinner or grab takeout from the nearby organic cafe, pizza place, or tap house and grill, all of which, of course, carry Ol’ Republic beers.
124 Argall Way, Nevada City, CA, olrepublicbrewery.com; Sundays–Thursdays noon–9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays noon–11 p.m.
Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co.
Named for the south, middle and north forks of the American River, Three Forks opened its doors in the summer of 2014. While its beers have cultivated a strong local following, what truly sets this popular taproom apart is its location and primarily organic food menu. It’s nestled in downtown Nevada City, where guests can enjoy—for example—the Emerald Pool IPA with bacon and date spread crostini or a roasted pork belly sandwich (a whole hog arrives every two weeks, along with ingredients from local farmers and ranchers).
“We’re a restaurant that happens to brew our beer on-site,” head brewer and co-owner Dave Cowie says. “We’re filling a niche that previously didn’t exist. There wasn’t a local brewery downtown and no one doing food like we do it.”
With eight beers on tap (five standards and three seasonal), Cowie acknowledges that most of his are West Coast craft beers. He recently introduced the brewery’s first true lager beer, a German-style pilsner, and he’s eager to start converting recipes to use more lager yeast. Three Forks is also about to begin bottling their beers—and getting them to local stores and restaurants.
The dining room is often bustling and come summer months, there are two large rolling doors that are kept open, creating an inviting atmosphere. It was a conscious decision not to schedule live music in order to create a community hub, for meeting old and new friends and allow for conversation and connections.
211 Commercial St., Nevada City, CA, threeforksnc.com; open weekdays at 7 a.m., weekends at 8 a.m., closed Tuesdays.
Moonraker Brewing Co.
Just down the block from Knee Deep is Moonraker. Although it just celebrated its first anniversary on Earth Day, this newcomer quickly made a name for itself with Yojo, a New England-style IPA that has notes of pineapple and apricot. Yojo, for nonliterary fans, is a reference to “Moby Dick.” Owners Dan and Karen Powell are avid sailors and fond of the nautical theme, which is subsequently where the name Moonraker came from (a rare sail on ships).
Head brewer Zack Frasher says there are 16 beers on tap and they typically release something new every few weeks. Heading into the summer, Frasher suggests the Crush series, a line of single malt and single hop beers that are pale ales but within the New England style. “Super quenching, juicy, hop character, and lower ABV,” says Frasher.
Tucked into a business park, the taproom is deceptively large: the back warehouse doors open up to an expansive patio, which is covered by a solar canopy-shade structure (the entire brewery is 100-percent solar powered). Wander inside past the tanks to a lively bar setting, and then even further back to a lounge area with comfy couches and quiet corners. The crowds are diverse, from locals getting off work, to small families, to craft beer aficionados—and of course dogs. Food trucks are on hand most nights with occasional live music scheduled.
12970 Earhart Ave., Auburn, CA, moonrakerbrewing.com; Wednesdays–Fridays 3-9 p.m., Saturdays noon–9 p.m., and Sundays noon–8 p.m.
Knee Deep Brewing Co.
Along with Auburn Alehouse, which opened its doors in 2007 and paved the way for countless other craft beer makers, Knee Deep Brewing Co. is one of the more established breweries in the area. The company began brewing beer at Lake Tahoe’s Mt. Tallac Brewing in 2010, had a brief stint in nearby Lincoln, but eventually found a home near the Auburn airport and opened its first taproom in 2013.
Its distribution is extensive, reaching across 25 states, as well as Canada, Australia, Japan and Singapore. The warehouse-style taproom and inviting courtyard regularly accommodate scores of guests. With 24 beers on tap, bands every weekend and food trucks offering everything from wood-fired pizza and brats to lobster grilled cheese and gourmet burgers, Knee Deep has evolved into a convivial community gathering place.
A knowledgeable and friendly staff will create the perfect flight to introduce newcomers to the various styles of beer. Owner Jerry Moore points out his favorites: the Breaking Bud India Pale Ale (which recently took a bronze at the Great American Beer Festival), Hoptologist Double IPA, and Simtra Triple IPA. New releases are introduced monthly and several lighter beers are set to come out now, in time to enjoy on warm summer days.
13395 New Airport Road, Auburn, CA, kneedeepbrewing.com; open daily from noon to 9 p.m.
GoatHouse Brewing Co.
GoatHouse Brewing Co. is a family-owned brewery, tasting room and hop farm located in Lincoln, California. Established by Michael and Cathy Johnson in 2013, GoatHouse embodies a farm-to-glass philosophy.
The Johnsons had professional careers in the Bay Area, but decided they wanted out of the grind of commuting, working long hours and having too little time together and with their kids. Planning for GoatHouse Brewing took five years, but the duo established their business with specific ideas in mind.
Known for playing country music in its restored, rustic red barn, GoatHouse emits a comfortable vibe. The Johnsons also make all their handcrafted beer with ingredients from their land. While sipping a pint or a flight in the barn, customers can see the hops growing, goats and pigs grazing, bee houses in the distance and fruit orchards through the windows.
Menu highlights include Honey Baby, which is a honey ale made with honey from the property’s bees. Disco Lemonade, a farmhouse saison, includes hand-squeezed juice from Meyer lemons from the orchard, and is a refreshing drink perfect for a summer evening. Finally, Big Hoppa, an Imperial Dark IPA, is known for its smooth nature and no bitter aftertaste.
GoatHouse-goers are able to enjoy the tasting bar in the barn and sit at tables inside and outside. They can also play games like cornhole out back by the picnic tables. Paired with drinking ice-cold handcrafted beers amid the rural scenery, it’s a unique summertime experience.
GoatHouse offers light snacks, but encourages customers to bring picnic materials—especially if kids or pets are along—to the family-friendly local brewery.
600 Wise Road, Lincoln, CA, goathousebrewing.com; tasting room open Thursdays and Fridays, 2–6 p.m., weekends, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
Crooked Lane Brewing Company
Crooked Lane is Auburn’s newest brewery, just coming up on their one-year anniversary in August. It sits above Highway 49 with sweeping views from floor-to-ceiling windows and a 3,000-square-foot patio and beer garden. Owners Adrian Psuty, Paul Schilling and Kirt Braun set out to create a place with an authentic neighborhood vibe—and Psuty and Schilling are actual neighbors, living on the eponymous Crooked Lane.
Psuty’s wife, Teresa, is the brewmaster. The husband-and-wife team bring with them a strong science background (both with chemistry degrees) that gives them a distinctly analytical approach to beer making. Most of the expertise, however, comes from Teresa and the team’s extensive hands-on studying and sampling.
There are 18 different beers on tap, ranging from traditional German, English and American to experimental. Several of the beers infuse regional ingredients, including mandarins, Meyer lemons, pomegranates and honey. The Pomegranate Kolsch appeals to wine (or non-beer) drinkers, while the Mandarin Pale Ale (“not a fruit beer,” they emphasize) has also proven popular.
The Double IPA SR16 is one of Crooked Lane’s top sellers, while the German-style Kolsch and Kino Hefeweizen are top summer suggestions. “We strive to provide something for everyone,” Adrian says.
Trivia nights are held every Wednesday, with live music on the weekends. A comedy series will return (by popular demand) and authentic beer garden festivities will keep the neighborhood vibe thriving through the summer.
536 Grass Valley Highway, Auburn, CA, crookedlanebrewing.com; open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 3–9 p.m., Fridays 3–10 p.m., Saturdays noon–10 p.m. and Sundays noon–9 p.m., closed Tuesdays.
Gold Hill Vineyard & Brewery
Gold Hill Vineyard & Brewery is located one mile from historic Coloma and Sutter’s Mill. The property’s vineyard was founded in 1980 and the seven-barrel brewhouse debuted in 1999.
Gold Hill Brewery’s signature craft beers are served year-round. Its award-winning 49’er Red American Amber tends to be the brewery’s most popular with tasting room visitors: a British-inspired, full-bodied ale with hints of caramel flavor.
Boomtown IPA, an American version of the historic English style, is also offered; it balances between malt and hops with hints of citrus flavor. Another notable drink on the menu is the Old Miner’s Scotch, which is a traditional Scottish beer, with malt as the dominant flavor and hints of caramel and toffee. Another custom brew is the Axe Pic’n Stout, a medium- to full-bodied dry beer with rich coffee-like flavor that is highly popular as well.
Gold Hill Vineyard and Brewery has a food truck offering tasty bites, but patrons are more than welcome to bring their own picnic fixings.
The idyllic foothill property hosts weddings, gatherings and concerts. In fact, every second and fourth Friday in summer months, Gold Hill offers music concerts free of charge. Bring a blanket and a picnic basket—and enjoy the ice-cold, handcrafted brews made on-site.
5660 Vineyard Lane (off Cold Springs Road), Placerville, CA, goldhillvineyard.com; tasting room summer hours are Thursdays–Mondays 10 a.m.–5 p.m., but remains open until 9 p.m. on concert evenings.
June Lake Brewing
June Lake Brewing, better known as “JLB” to the locals, became a dream come true for owner Sarah Walsh and her brewmaster husband, Justin Walsh. As frequent vacationers in June Lake, they decided it would be a great place to start a business.
They followed through in 2014: The Walshes moved to the area and opened June Lake Brewing on the summer solstice of that year.
Justin describes the June Lake Brewing mission statement as one that has become a three-prong ideology. “One, make super awesome beer; two, give back to the community; and three, get people outside,” he says.
The locale is of course famous for views of peaks and lakes, as well as endless hiking, biking, fishing, and camping, and the brewery reflects the area’s relaxed vibe. But the Walshes are also entrepreneurial business professionals and hope to provide a unique brewery experience to their customers. It’s “only natural to pair great location and culture with great beer,” Justin says.
June Lake Brewing has three summer favorites (although they are served year-round because of popularity): Alpers Trout Pale Ale, a primarily pilsner pale ale, well-rounded with strong citrus notes and hints of spice; Deer Beer Brown Ale, a traditional English brown with a smooth, light caramel taste that is light-bodied and refreshing; and Hutte Double IPA, which is a robust, hoppy IPA with citrus and floral notes.
June Lake Brewing hosts Ohanas 395 food truck, which is permanently parked at the brewery. Ohanas 395 is open daily and serves its Hawaiian soul food “until the food runs out.” Patrons are also more than welcome to bring a picnic.
131 S. Crawford Ave., June Lake, CA, junelakebrewing.com; tasting room summer hours are Sundays–Thursdays 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m–9 p.m.
Black Doubt Brewing Co.
Owners Drew and Kerissa Wallace, who have been residents of Mammoth Lakes for more than 10 years, opened Black Doubt Brewing Company in December 2015, so it is a fairly new brewery in the area, but one that is gaining attention from both locals and visitors. “Black Doubt has been open for a year and (six) months and we have an amazing following,” Kerissa says.
The Wallaces’ nano-brewery prides itself on creating one-of-a-kind craft beers, specializing in sour beers, barrel-aged creations and Belgian-style ales. Popular in the summer, but also served year-round, are The Charmer, which is a West Coast IPA, and Nick Sours, a citrus gose brewed with lime and blood orange.
Black Doubt Brewing Co. has anywhere between six and 13 craft beers on tap at a time and their brews are sold only on-site. Growlers and cans can be refilled with any of the beers on tap.
Black Doubt Brewing is quaint and casual and the space is used as the tasting room and brewhouse. Patrons are welcome to bring in their own food from home, or pick up an order at a nearby restaurant (such as Thai’d Up, Giovanni’s Pizzeria or The Stove).
Sierra Center Mall, 452 Old Mammoth Road, #104, Mammoth Lakes, CA, blackdoubtbrewing.com; tasting room summer hours are Mondays–Sundays, 2:30–9 p.m., Open Mic Nights on Mondays, closed Tuesdays.