I really wish I had a beer in front of me right now. More accurately, I really wish I felt like having a beer right now. Bad timing, this head cold, the week I’m supposed to dive into this new column. It drains my life energy, dulls the senses of taste and smell, so vital to enjoying beer. Nonetheless, the show must go on, as they say. My passion cannot be quashed.
Reno being the drinking city that it is, and seeing as the local beer situation has been humming with vitality in recent years, a big beer geek like me couldn’t sit idly by and not find a soapbox for the gospel that is good beer. Our noble editor agreed there was a place for a column offering news, knowledge and a look at the locals who are producing, selling, and, of course, consuming beer, spirits and other libations. A column is born.
So when you’re hip-deep in beer culture, living in the Biggest Little City, and think to yourself “What is Reno beer?” there’s really just one answer: Icky. Our old friend, Ichthyosaur IPA, from Great Basin Brewing Company—even though the original brewery is actually in Sparks. If your beer drinking is limited to cans that come in 30-packs maybe you think Icky is too bitter. If you’re a beer snob, maybe you feel like you’ve moved on to more elite brews. Truth is, after all these years, Icky is still one rock solid beer.
Quick beer/history lesson: IPA stands for India Pale Ale. The story typically goes that in the days of British colonialism, brewers needed to add a bunch of extra hops, which have antiseptic properties, to help their regular pale ale survive the long sea voyage to India. Hops add bitterness to balance the sweetness from the malt, so IPAs have more hoppy bitterness. That story has largely been debunked, but the name remains. Fast forward a century and a half, and the microbrew revolution is underway in America. The IPA style had largely died out before being resurrected. Homebrewers were a driving force in bringing bigger, more flavorful beers into our beer-drinking consciousness.
From that scene, Tom Young and Eric McClary opened Great Basin Brewing in Sparks in 1993. The bankers they approached for loans said a bitter beer like Icky wouldn’t sell. It wasn’t going to be a regular offering, just part of a seasonal rotation. But when it became their first beer to sell out, plans changed. The microbrew market was booming but still very much in its infancy. The beer festivals and competitions had one basic IPA category.
Fast forward again to 2016, and the craft beer boom is in full swing (again), both in Reno and across the nation. IPAs are the most popular craft beer style around, and reading through the sub-styles sounds like a scene from Forrest Gump—you’ve got your double IPAs, your session IPAs, West Coast IPAs, black IPAs, red IPAs, and so on.
So where does that leave our iconic Icky, and what does that have to do with my head cold? Icky is like the old man on the porch, telling these kids to get off his lawn. By the style guidelines used to judge beers, it’s on the low end of IPAs, bordering on pale ale. It’s old-school for sure. And sometimes, that’s just what you want. You don’t always need a triple-strength, wine barrel-aged, wild yeast beer with ancho chilies. Sometimes, the old classic is the best medicine.