The biggest little beer scene in the world
Reno is often thought of as a mini-Las Vegas, and its downtown does feel like what I assumed old Las Vegas felt like. The $5.99 steak dinners still make me chuckle. Northern Nevada, however, is becoming its own version of Silicon Valley and an enclave of creative industries.
As Reno’s economy diversifies, it further separates itself from Las Vegas’ sphere of influence and draws closer to the mountainous getaway it neighbors, Lake Tahoe and the Bay Area, while Las Vegas resembles where most of its new residents are coming from: Southern California.
I’m not sure why I doubted Reno even after I knew what Las Vegas offered. Reno is even better. It has the state’s beer pioneer in Tom Young and Great Basin Brewing Company, a venerable brewery opened in 1993 and churning out more than 15,000 annual barrels from a lineup full of incredibly well-brewed beers. Great Basin’s Cerveza Chilibeso was one of the first chili beers and won three GABF gold medals before retiring from competition. Ichthyosaur IPA is a classic IPA, with hops nicely balanced by a forward malt presence. And Outlaw Milk Stout’s creamy, roasty goodness is perfect for the Tahoe ski slopes.
As with Big Dog’s, medals don’t tell the full story, but to win more than 20 GABF and WBC medals consistently over 25 years does show some sort of serious quality. There’s certainly luck involved, but the consistency is impressive.
After more than 25 years in the business, Young hasn’t lost his passion or drive to be a great brewery or tout the original craft ethos. I’ve found that’s how most brewery owners who’ve lasted from before 2010 still are. They remember the hard days and building an industry, while some upstarts have a sense of entitlement that roughens their edges. He loves beer. More importantly, he loves Reno. His goal is to help the two love one another.
And Reno should love its beer. Along with Great Basin’s incredible lineup of beers spanning every style imaginable -- from gruit to hazy IPA -- other breweries are bringing a world's worth of style and innovation to the Biggest Little City in the World, creating a beer scene that's fast becoming a destination unto itself.
A relative newbie, Revision Brewing has burst on the scene quickly becoming the state’s most sought-after brewery, making waves across the beer industry with dozens of IPAs, from West Coast to hazy. IMBĪB Custom Brews makes killer sours while Pigeon Head focuses on lagers and Brasserie Saint James brews up killer Belgian-style beers. Lead Dog and The Depot are right next to each other, and both worthy a stop: Depot for its triple threat of beer, food, and spirits, and Lead Dog to sample the impressively diverse beers made by its young gun brewer and owner, who is in his early 20s.
Reno has become a presence at the last several major brewing competitions, too. At the 2018 World Beer Cup, Revision and Great Basin won two medals each. At GABF, Great Basin and IMBĪB took home hardware: not bad for a city with fewer than 15 breweries.
It’s not the insane brewery per capita destination Portland, Oregon -- or even Grand Rapids is -- but for the Biggest Little City in the World, it’s doing just fine. In fact, it just keeps getting better.