A Good Gamble

Bob Barnes - Discovering more great Nevada beers.

The following is the second installment of my reporting on the burgeoning beer scene in Reno, Nevada, “the biggest little city in the world,” which currently has the same number of breweries as Las Vegas, a city 10 times its size in terms of population. The three breweries spotlighted in this installment are all located in Mid-town Reno, all within a one mile radius of each other, making it easy to visit all three in one outing.

Anyone who’s been aware of the Reno beer business knows Brandon Wright, an extremely experienced and accomplished brewer who went out on his own and opened his own brewery/distillery, The Depot. Located in Mid-town Reno at 325 E. 4th St.in a massive 26,000-square-feet historic railway depot that dates back to 1910 (a Nevada historical landmark), you’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time, with wood flooring, a long wood bar, original red brick and even the depot’s actual safe (sorry ladies, it’s located in the men’s room). Open only since the first of the year, success and more than 25 outside accounts have already led to an expansion, with two new 14 bbl fermenters and a 14 bbl brite tank added.

Brandon and Assistant Brewer Joe Lenzi’s flagship beers are an American Ale, IPA, APA, Stout, Saison and Sour Wheat. Usually four seasonals rotate, which during my visit included a Raspberry Sour fermented in French oak Merlot barrels and an Apricot Belgian Strong Ale that was a balance of citrusy hops, earthy notes and just the right amount of fruitiness. Coming up in small release bottles this winter will be the aforementioned Apricot aged in French oak and in Merlot barrels with bret added, a Blonde Barley Wine aged in bourbon barrels and an Imperial Stout, also aged in bourbon barrels.

As for the spirits, Brandon attended the American Distilling Institute to familiarize himself with the custom-designed Italian Barlson 12-plate reflux column still that is situated in the same room as his brewery. Available all the time are Silver Corn Whiskey (already a gold medal winner at the S.F. Spirit Competition) made from corn from Fallon, Nev.; Biggest Little Bourbon, aged in new oak barrels; and High Country Gin, a unique blend of eight botanicals including Citra hops.

In the building’s third floor is a room dedicated to barrel aging, equipped with an RO mist humidifier for 28 barrels filled with beer and 60 barrels filled with spirits. The Depot is currently the only brewery/distillery in Nevada.

Just a few blocks away at 785 E. 2nd St. is Imbīb Custom Brews, the most recent opening in Reno, in June. Although the 1.5 bbl (55 gallon) system is tiny, there’s plenty of brewing being done by partners Matt Johnson, Jason Green and Bart Blank, three homebrewers who decided to turn their hobby into a business. The décor lends itself to a cool place to hang out and drink beer, with light fixtures made of barrel staves, barrels to play cards on, a foosball game and the centerpiece of the brewery, a 496-gallon oak foeder. Belgian, wild yeast and sour beer styles abound, with an ever-rotating list that during my visit included three Berliner Weisses (regular, cucumber/key lime and apricot puree), a Saison aged in a Chardonnay wine barrel and one dry hopped with Calypso hops and fermented with bret. Aging away in the brewery are more than 40 barrels and one open fermenting beer.

A very interesting project Imbīb is participating in is the High Desert Hops Project, a collaboration with Urban Roots, growing 1,000 hop plants of 10 hop varietals on land owned by UNR to prove that hops can indeed fare well in the Northern Nevada climate. Imbīb is brewing the same base beer and putting it into 10 vessels, each dry hopped with one of the 10 different varietals. The results will be showcased in a tap takeover in October (date TBA).

Imbīb is also a CSA, or community supported ale club, in which members vote on which beer styles are made at the brewery. Club members receive a gallon of beer each month, first rights to rare and bottled beers and a 15% discount all the time. The brewery recently added a Crowler, a device that I am seeing more and more of that taps and immediately seals a 32 oz. pour into a can.

The Brewer’s Cabinet opened at 475 S. Arlington Ave. in Mid-town Reno in 2012 and the brewpub was aptly named for its tiny 3 bbl system. 

Thanks to the brewing skills and artistry of Brewmaster Charlie Johnson, the brewpub has expanded several times and now has grown exponentially, with the opening of a new production facility in West Reno along the Truckee River, a 20 bbl system with four 40 bbl fermenters and two 40 bbl brite tanks. Everything in the brewery is American-made, including the Wild Goose Canning Line that sanitizes and fills 48 cans a minute, enabling the brewery to meet the demand for its more than 20 accounts including all of the Raley’s grocery stores in Reno and Sparks. The production brewery is churning out its flagship Tahoe Beer brand lineup, with the first two coming out being the Tahoe Amber Ale and Tahoe Pale Ale.

Another important emphasis of the brewery is its commitment to barrel aging and the creation of sour beers. More than 100 barrels are utilized to age such beers, such as Our Brett Porter, aged in American white oak barrels for 14 months; and Nuclear Sunset, a barrel aged sour aged on raspberries. The Brewer’s Cabinet has come a long way since its small beginnings as a nano-brewpub and shows no signs of slowing down.

My next feature will spotlight four new breweries that have opened in small towns in Northern Nevada within the past 12 months: Lake Tahoe Brewing in Carson City; Virginia City Brewing; Alibi in Incline Village at North Shore Lake Tahoe; and Tonopah Brewing.

The Author:

Bob Barnes is editorial director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional, regional correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and writes the Top 10 Beer lists for Gayot.com. He welcomes your inquiries and can be reached via e-mail at bob@lvfnb.com.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

Continue the Discussion