Cold weather brews

A quick guide to the winter beers at local breweries

10 Torr Distilling and Brewing just released its Poker Face Vanilla Porter.

10 Torr Distilling and Brewing just released its Poker Face Vanilla Porter.

Photo/Jeri Chadwell

Darker beers are often what beer lovers crave as temperatures fall and days get short.

One thing people say they love about Reno is the climate. For better or worse, we usually have four distinct seasons—scorching summers, lovely shoulder seasons, and sometimes brutal winters with ice and snow aplenty. One thing I appreciate about beer as my beverage of choice is the sheer variety to pair with those seasons—a light crisp pilsner on a hot summer day, a spiced pumpkin ale as the leaves turn colors, and, inevitably, something to sip by the fireplace as big, fluffy snowflakes fall outside.

I spoke to local brewers about what winter beer drinking season means to them and what cold weather brews we have to look forward to in coming months. Some traditional trends come through along with some interesting twists. As you might expect, heartier, stronger beers to take the chill off are common choices, maltier brews get more popular, and darker beers are often what beer lovers crave as temperatures fall and days get short. Get your growlers ready, here’s what’s coming.

Silver Peak Brewery and Restaurant,

124 Wonder St. and 135 N. Sierra St., 324-1864

Head brewer Sam Soliday spoke enthusiastically about lagers to come, but, generally, for this time of year, he likes maltier, full-bodied beers, like the brewery’s McHiney’s Wee Heavy, an 8.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) Scotch Ale brewed annually in memory of former brewer Andy Hines.

Lead Dog Brewing, 415 E. Fourth St., 391-5110

I’m pretty fond of Lead Dog’s Peanut Butter Stout, and the Imperial Vanilla Stout clocking in at 10.2 percent ABV sounds amazing, too. Still, a brewery that turns out gangbuster IPAs much of the time can’t be expected to change radically for the winter months, so it’s not surprising that Lead Dog’s new winter seasonal is a 7.2 percent ABV double IPA called Gnar Gnar. After you’re done shredding the slopes, this West Coast version—extra heavy on traditional bittering hop flavors—of the brewery’s popular Conan’s Wrath hazy IPA should be the can you grab.

The Brewer’s Cabinet 475 S. Arlington Ave., 348-7481

It still felt a bit summery when brewers Eric Ramin and Steve Heberger sat down with me on the patio to talk about winter beers. When your imperial brown ale is on tap year round, what do you brew for winter? A little decadence in a glass perhaps—a milk chocolate stout, creamy with lactose sugar and cocoa nibs. Otherwise, the chai-spiced porter made with local organic spices will put holiday cheer in your glass, or the imperial hoppy red will bring needed warmth when it’s cold outside.

Pigeon Head Brewery, 840 E. Fifth St., 276-6766.

Head Brewer Bryan Holloway doesn’t just like the darker, stronger beers for winter. Something about the season takes our palates back to days of old, mulled wine and spice cake. In that vein, his Turkish Coffee Black Lager, available now, tastes like an old world spice market in a glass—not too heavy, but it’s sure flavorful and unique. As winter approaches, he’ll be bringing out a big imperial stout to warm your soul—watch for possible infused variations and a limited can release.

Bartender Paul Amundson pours a Dirty Wookie at Brewer’s Cabinet.

Photo/Jeri Chadwell

Great Basin Brewing Co., 846 Victorian Ave, Sparks, 355-7711, and 5525 S. Virginia St., 254-7711

Possibly the oldest local winter beer, Great Basin will again release Red Nose Holiday Wassail. It’s one of the few beers dating to Great Basin’s start 25 years ago. The basic recipe remains the same, but the blend of holiday spices changes a bit each year. Brewery Manager Dave Miller describes it as a “winter warmer,” a slightly stronger, malty beer for the season. In addition to a draft release, following Great Basin tradition, brewmaster Tom Young will sign a limited number of bottles.

Occidental Brewing Co., 865 S. Rock Blvd., Sparks, 470-3644

As a newcomer to the local brewery hive, I was excited to see what this Portland brewer of traditional German beers would bring us this winter. Founder and brewer Ben Engler gave me a look at his still relatively new digs in Sparks as we discussed his winter release. Nothing less than a hearty German doppelbock, the liquid bread known for sustaining monks during Lent, would be appropriate. A 2016 World Beer Cup gold medal winner, Lucubrator ("lucubrate,” to toil into the night, plus “-ator,” a traditional doppelbock suffix) will be available on draft only.

The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery 325 E. Fourth St., 737-4330

I walked into The Depot with little notion of what brewmaster Brandon Wright would have in store for the winter. Try to keep up. There’s the Soviet, a monster 12 percent imperial red ale, boasting complex layers of caramel flavor backed by a mighty hop presence. There’s also a version of The Soviet aged—twice—in bourbon barrels, bringing it up to 14 percent. Take home a bottle of that for your ugly sweater party. To close the deal, you can also taste a whisky distilled from the 14 percent version, too, aged briefly in house bourbon barrels, of course.

Imbib Custom Brews 785 E. Second St., 470-5996

Co-owner Matt Johnson offered an interesting observation on what people drink in the winter. Through whatever compels us, drinkers gravitate toward darker brews. But setting aside the obvious imperial stouts and porters, despite its lighter body and relatively average alcohol content, he’s convinced that the darker fruit versions—think huckleberry and black currant—of the brewery’s award-winning house sour, Nevada Weisse, are more popular in winter. Beyond that, I’m looking forward to both the Belgian Strong Dark Ale and the Russian Imperial Stout coming out of bourbon barrels after a year-long rest.

Brasserie Saint James, 901 S. Center St., 348-8888

I fondly remember Brasserie’s 2017 holiday beer, Noel. I snapped up a bottle that remains unopened, waiting for the elusive perfect occasion. Fortunately, brewer Elijah Pasciak says there will probably be another Noel this year. The recipe is still just ideas, but a “Grand Cru” blend of Flemish-style, barrel-aged beers is a good possibility. Looking ahead, here are some other treats—a late winter release of gueze, the classic Belgian blend of sour lambic vintages; an English Brown Ale with hints of smoke, chicory and coffee; possibly even a barleywine early next year.

10 Torr Distilling and Brewing, 490 Mill St., 499-5276.

Like others, head brewer Melissa Test is drawn to darker, sturdier beers for the winter. A nice swath of examples will be coming from the 10 Torr taps soon. The brewery just released its Poker Face Vanilla Porter, at 7.5 percent, just enough to sip slowly and savor. Coming soon, another delicious dessert in the form of the Mocha Milk Stout—creamy lactose, cocoa nibs and finished with local cold brew from Old World Coffee. Finally, cans of their Nightman dunkleweizen (Bavarian-style dark wheat beer) and a triple (yes, triple) IPA will be out in December. Nothing against our other three seasons, but winter is a good time to be a beer drinker in Reno.