Born to run

Photo/Eric Marks

Lead Dog owner and brewer Ryan Gaumer samples the newest addition, a chocolate stout.

There’s a pseudo-inspirational line out there, something about the scenery never changing unless you’re at the front of the pack. It makes some sense in the way that sayings on motivational posters do sometimes, reminding you that if you’re not in the lead, you probably find yourself staring at the same unpleasant sight much of the time, trying to get ahead. I wonder if owner/brewer Ryan Gaumer had this in mind when he named his new brewery Lead Dog Brewing.

It’s a glorious time to be a beer consumer. The trend is national, and Reno is a great example of the boom in small local breweries and access to a wide variety of fresh, flavorful beer. We now have a full dozen places in Reno and Sparks where you can drink beer brewed on site, two or three more in planning or construction, and about another dozen within an hour’s drive. If you were a knitter, and these were yarn stores, you’d come unraveled. Needless to say, it’s not easy to simply start making beer and step into position as leader of the pack. Still, if my recent visit for the grand opening is any indication, Gaumer has jumped into the pack with all four feet ready to hit the ground running with the other dogs.

Lead Dog is at 415 E. Fourth St., formerly the future home of Lake Tahoe Brewing before legal troubles ended that future, and prior to that, a janitorial products distributor. You wouldn’t know that storied past today—a spacious, open tasting room, semi-industrial brewery chic with requisite shiny steel fermenters prominently displayed. I was taken by the cool, branded glassware—glasses shaped like beer cans with miniature versions for tasters.

I was surprised how many people turned out for opening night. Of course, there was the usual crowd of beer nerds, brewers and the sort that I expect to see. For us, a new brewery opening is like Christmas morning, everyone excited to see what’s new, taste new beers, and decide where it falls into their mental ranking of local breweries. Beyond that, though, a good-sized crowd showed up, and opening night looked to be a smashing success.

Let’s get to the beer. Lead Dog opened pouring four house beers and two guest ciders. The general consensus from beer lovers I chatted with was an overall thumbs up—well-made beers, all approachable, nothing offensive or too challenging for anyone. The obligatory IPA was solid—an easy drinker without excessive bitterness. Probably my favorite was the chocolate brown ale pouring in both regular and nitro versions. It was as delicious as it sounds, a roasty, well-rounded beer with a touch of hazelnut. A blonde ale and a slightly confusing orange wheat ale round out the taps for now. That’s evidently just the start—another dozen or so taps stand ready, and a small rack of barrels sitting in the taproom suggest something special coming in the future, I’m sure.

Things weren’t perfect, as one would expect on opening night, but Lead Dog Brewing has a promising start for the new kid on the literal block. My tablemates headed off into the night, creating their own impromptu neighborhood beer crawl. With a dozen other breweries to choose from, Lead Dog will need to keep the ball rolling, brew more beers and get it out into drinkers’ glasses if they want the scenery to change. Looking out into the Fourth Street Brewery District isn’t a bad view at all for now, though.