City life

Bartender Sarah Sikora has solid beer knowledge.

Bartender Sarah Sikora has solid beer knowledge.

Photo/Marc Tiar

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It seems that people rarely enjoy attractions where they live. Parisians don’t visit the Eiffel Tower. New Yorkers don’t go to Times Square, and Renoites usually only visit Virginia City when they have visitors. So on one of his first visits before relocating here a few years ago, when my father-in-law suggested visiting there, I thought, “What the heck, haven’t been there in a while.” That became a short-lived tradition—fun trips to the Comstock whenever he visited. Of course, now that he’s a local, we haven’t been back.

That being the case, when I decided to go see what Virginia City Brewery and Taphouse had to offer, there was no question that we’d make it a family expedition. We loaded up the car and off we went up Geiger Grade, followed by a short hunt along C Street for parking.

I have mixed feelings about Virginia City. It just barely balances fascinating local history with faux tourist dreck—shop after shop peddling nostalgia in the form of re-creations of everything historic. It’s not hard to find the genuine, but most just settle for the easy—shuffling from one pseudohistoric experience to the next, satisfied with a convincing blend of authentic and manufactured history. I’m a sucker for history, but I find no joy in an old timey souvenir tin Coca Cola sign.

And so it is with Virginia City Brewery as well. I really didn’t have any expectations, but the “Old West saloon meets modern brewery” was not surprising to walk into. I’d tasted maybe one or two of the beers previously, random choices appearing in Reno establishments. Nothing really wowed me, but it certainly piqued my interest enough to visit the source.

Situated in a prime spot on the main drag, the brewery is well positioned to cash in on tourists’ Old West love and genuine high desert thirst. Spirits are also available, but beer is obviously the main draw—it’s a brewery, after all.

We ordered tasters—five house brews plus one guest beer to complete our flight. Sadly, the house pale ale and IPA were both sold out—perhaps an indication of the best beers, but more likely just a sign of the hop-loving times. I often order IPA as my first taste of a new brewery, but it was not to be this time. Instead, we relied on a mix of other styles—a pilsner-like lager that was nice, light and refreshing on this hot day, an average wheat beer, and a red ale. Two stronger beers, including an unseasonable pumpkin ale, completed the flight. The guest taps made up for the missing hoppy house beers with three from Revision, two other local brews and a cider.

While none of the beers were great enough to merit a special trip, if you’re in Virginia City, the brewery is worth a stop. They capably serve a parch-quenching lager as well as a winter warmer, regardless of the season. Their deftness with hops remains a wildcard.

Our bartender, Sarah, was a highlight when we went—working solo, keeping up with a mostly full bar and six tables, growler fills and a popcorn machine. When asked for recommendations, she responded with as much solid beer knowledge as any bartender I’ve heard.

Virginia City Brewery probably won’t blow your mind with its beers, but there’s something enjoyable about drinking in this old building, perhaps where Mark Twain or Julia Bulette once drank. After some Old West touristing, you could do worse than to end your day with a pint here.