Capital idea

Owner and brewmaster Jeff Young samples a new batch of Vanilla Cream Ale.

Owner and brewmaster Jeff Young samples a new batch of Vanilla Cream Ale.

Photo/Eric Marks

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Like the old movie cliche where calendar pages flip past with increasing speed, time is marching on—most of our epic winter behind us, bulbs and trees blooming, and your intrepid Drink columnist venturing a little farther for a beverage. Spring also means the eponymous school break for my children, so I made sure my destination was kid-friendly and we all made the short drive to Carson City after lunch to try the recently opened Shoe Tree Brewing Company.

Breweries in Carson have had a bumpy history in recent years. Where there was once Doppelganger’s, there arose High Sierra Brewing. Lease troubles moved High Sierra to Baldini’s in Sparks, and Lake Tahoe Brewing briefly took over the same location before collapsing amid legal troubles. Now, just over a year since, Shoe Tree Brewing has stepped up to try their luck as the capital’s only brewery.

Situated on the same grounds as the Carson Hot Springs and Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint, it feels like kind of a destination. Aside from the location, tucked behind assorted state government buildings, I could see how the combination of a hot soak, food and beer would make for a trifecta of fun indulgence.

Still all new and shiny, it’s fairly small and doesn’t feel comfy and broken in yet, like a new baseball glove. People were drinking, tasting or getting growlers filled. I ordered a flight of four tasters for me and a house-brewed root beer for the kids, and we took a seat enjoying the view of the snow-capped Carson Range out the front window—on a warmer day, we might have occupied a picnic bench out front.

I started with the cream ale—despite the name, dairy free, and no idea why it’s called that—a light, blonde beer some might find boring, but I thought it would be a good first taste to assess their chops. For a relatively unexciting style, I was impressed and really enjoyed it. I moved on to the IPA. For me, an IPA is like pad thai at a Thai restaurant—a popular standard you’d better get right, or you’re doomed. Unfortunately, Shoe Tree’s IPA was more of a miss than a hit for me—a little undercarbonated, and the balance of hops leaning more toward bitterness than the delicious fruity/juicy flavors and floral aromas that most breweries are focusing on now.

Shifting to darker brews, the root beer stout sounded like a delicious novelty I couldn’t pass up. Not as root beery as I had hoped and a certain flavor I couldn’t put my finger on, it wasn’t my favorite but that’s likely personal preference more than anything really wrong with it. The Irish coffee stout was more to my liking, a creamy nitrogen-poured stout flavored with house cold-brew coffee—also available separately on a nitro tap—and Jameson-soaked oak. The coffee/stout ratio was perfect, with no stale coffee flavor I dislike in some coffee beers.

I like the variations they’ve got going here—house coffee and coffee stout, root beer and root beer stout. I didn’t taste the two honey wheat beers, American and Bavarian, but I bet they are the same recipe fermented with different yeasts, a nice twist for variety. I don’t expect to love every beer at a brewery, but I like varied options.

Their root beer quickly emptied, the kids got bored, and it was getting busier, so it was about time for us to go. Even this brief visit tells me Carson beer drinkers are eager for a decent local brewery, and Shoe Tree Brewing seems up to the job so far.