Usually, when people think of Nevada, they think of one thing—Vegas, baby! But about 400 miles northwest, you’ll find another destination. One that’s smaller and less touristy, with an active year-round outdoors scene and a thriving university community. Welcome to Reno.
In the wake of the declining tourism economy, the Biggest Little City is redefining itself—whether as a launching pad for Tahoe ski resorts or for Burning Man, as a booming arts scene, or simply as not-Vegas / not-California, but with elements of both. One element that’s been pivotal in Reno’s renaissance, unsurprisingly, is craft beer.
From retail to bars, dinners to fests, and especially in online communities, Reno is awash in good beer like it’s never been before; 2011 saw at least four homebrew competitions, some for charity, others run by Beer Judge Certification Program judges. Casinos are getting in on the action too—the Atlantis hosted a gourmet brewmaster dinner with Mammoth Brewing, and Eldorado holds an annual “Brews and Blues” street party. Even the University of Nevada’s Young Alumni Chapter holds an annual beer fest to raise funds for scholarships. And, since its beginning in 2009, the biggest annual beer event is CANfest, a celebration of the finest canned craft beer hosted by Buckbean Brewing, and a beer destination that put Reno on the map.
Craft Beer and Wine
The best thing to happen to retail beer selection in Reno since Prohibition. Owner Ty Martin encourages distributors to take a chance on obscure brews. Besides the living-room-sized walk-in cooler, Craft has three taps, a bar and several tables, letting visitors enjoy their purchases on site, and maybe grab a bite from a nearby food truck.
Tacked onto the outer wing of a shopping mall, 775 doesn’t seem like much at first glance. A closer look reveals over 20 rotating taps and several hundred bottles to choose from, with a seasonally updated food menu featuring locally sourced gourmet burgers and tapas.
This off-the-beaten-path former warehouse is a local hub for brewers of all stripes. Owner Rob Bates’ thoroughly stocked homebrew supply store is also host to the local homebrew club, Washoe Zephyr Zymurgists. Have a beer, sit out front, shoot the breeze, pet the dog and listen to the train roll past on the rails out back.
Great Basin Brewing Co.
If we had to pick a moment when good beer came to Reno, it would be when Great Basin opened the first brewpub in the state. They had to get laws changed just to make it happen. Homebrewers-turned-businessmen Tom Young and Eric McClary opened in 1993, and have gone on to win multiple festival medals over the years. Current owners Young and his wife, Bonda, opened the Reno location this summer, expanding production and beginning to bottle their flagship Ichthyosaur Pale Ale.
St. James Infirmary
This charming space on the south edge of downtown has an extensive bottle list in addition to regularly rotating taps. The décor is a sort of retro Hollywood/old Reno that draws a varied crowd, particularly during warm weather when the rooftop deck is open. Coming soon: Owner Arthur Farley is opening Brasserie St. James, an “Old World Craft Brewery and Restaurant,” in a historic building nearby.
The Brew Brothers
Well established as part of the casino that houses it (Eldorado), Brew Brothers offers a solid range of brewpub beers, good food and nightly live music. Attracting large crowds of tourists, university students and weekend partiers, Brew Brothers can get crowded, but the dark wood, copper kettles and spacious interior make it a worthy stop in downtown Reno.
An Abe Lincoln-themed, “speakeasy-style” bar on the old Lincoln Highway, just east of downtown near the ballpark. Between bottles and 30 taps, they offer over 100 different brews any given night, and a beer garden behind the building provides a nice outdoor space.
Ole Bridge Pub
Literally downriver from Sierra, this relative newcomer has come on strong. Several cooler doors display a variety of excellent bottled beers, and taps always have something special (Luciernaga and The Stoic are recent examples). Riverside outdoor tables are a big hit during summer months. Bring your empty growlers!
Silver Peak Brewery and Restaurant
Another “founding father” of the Reno beer scene, Silver Peak has been serving customers at their main brewpub since 1999. They offer a range of brewpub food, standard beers and regular rotation of seasonal specialties, like Bourbon Barrel Stout, Lemongrass Wheat and Raspberry Wheatwine. A rooftop deck with its own bar provides a great view of the surrounding mountains.
Buckbean Brewing Company
Reno’s only production brewery, Buckbean opened in 2008. Co-founder and brewmaster Dan Kahn brought his recipe for Original Orange Blossom Ale as one of their first releases. A Schwarzbier and Red Ale total three year-rounds, all sold in 16-ounce cans, with several seasonals being released on draft. Fill your growler or enjoy a pint in the brewery’s tasting room.
A small brick building houses Chapel Tavern, hidden in plain sight on Reno’s main street. Where metro hip meets dive bar, uniquely (for Reno) non-smoking, and appealing equally to cosmopolitan cocktail sippers and beer geeks alike—that’s Chapel. Owner Duncan Mitchell can often be found talking beer behind the bar. Seek it out for the healthy selection of Euro brews and a welcoming, comfortable vibe.
Sierra Tap House
252 West First Street
As the name might suggest, this bar overlooking the Truckee River in downtown Reno has an informal partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, with 11 taps dedicated to Sierra beers. Summers are jam-packed during kayak and tubing season, but STH still finds time to host a Sierra Nevada-sponsored homebrew contest. Also check out their monthly cask night.
BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse
Although the suburban location and corporate ownership might not seem like part of the local scene, it’s one of the company’s few locations with a working brewery on site, and BJ’s brewers are part of the beer community. A solid food menu and consistently good beers can be counted on here. ■