High times

Bartender Athena Quilao pours a beer from one of the dozen taps at High Sierra Brewing Company.

Bartender Athena Quilao pours a beer from one of the dozen taps at High Sierra Brewing Company.

Photo/Eric Marks

For more information, visit highsierrabrewco.com.

By my calculations, this marks 364 days since my inaugural Drink column, the 53rd time I have offered you my observations and opinions on places to consume our old pal alcohol around the greater Truckee Meadows. It felt notable and worth thanking you for your readership.

I’ve barely ventured into any casino properties, despite the readily available drinks to be found there. It was something of a conscious decision, not because they aren’t worthy, but mostly because, at least in my mind, there’s not much variation or distinctiveness among them. I must admit, the same could be said for many non-casino bars, and I’m sure plenty of you are regular patrons of local gaming establishments.

At the risk of oversimplifying, there are two kinds of casinos—those that cater to visitors and those for locals. Whether by location, marketing, or lack of hotel, places like Bonanza and Baldini’s fall squarely into the latter category. After a nearby errand on a recent Sunday afternoon, I decided to check out High Sierra Brewing inside Baldini’s. The last time I visited High Sierra some years ago, at their brewpub in Carson City, I found the beer average, with good food and a nice atmosphere—nothing worth a special trip, but no regrets. To their credit, they did win a national gold medal for their Buzzed Bee Honey Ale in 2013. In the years since, High Sierra left that location, entered a partnership with Baldini’s, and, since 2016, became fully owned by Baldini’s.

I honestly had pretty low expectations for High Sierra Brewing at this point. It’s barely a blip on the radar among local beer aficionados. The social media accounts have been ignored for over a year, the website is dated and unclear about whether the brewery makes anything but the same core beers they have for years—OMG India Pale Ale, the aforementioned Buzzed Bee, Black Pussykat Imperial Stout, and Seamus O’Faolain Irish Red Ale. A lineup like that would have been mediocre in the heady microbrew days of the 1990s but wouldn’t suffice for a midwest airport bar in 2017.

I’m happy to report High Sierra was a pleasant surprise. For a working-class, locals joint, the selection of beers is impressive, and people were drinking them. Aside from one ultra low carb bottle, the other drinkers all had pints of one of the dozen house drafts in front of them. While the four expected flagship beers were there, I was pleased to find an acceptable Czech Pilsner. I briefly considered two fruit variations of the Honey Ale, but opted to taste the Espresso Stout and Doppelbock—a rich, strong, malt-forward lager. It’s uncommon for most craft brewers to invest the time and ingredients in, but I consider it an occasional treat. High Sierra’s version, Hallucinator, didn’t disappoint. The IPA was ordinary but inoffensive and drinkable.

I didn’t eat while I was there, focused on beer and a crazy World Series game, and there was only one occupied table, but the size of the dining area compares to a full-sized restaurant. Besides beer, a standard selection of spirits and a few wine choices are available.

My bartender was attentive between her other duties and friendly chats with her regular customers, serving up $2 happy hour pints and suggesting the new kölsch when the pilsner ran out. It was like being served by a neighbor.