Ice cold beer

Local breweries offer up cold weather seasonal brews

Brewmaster Charlie Johnson a Dog Sled, the Brewer’s Cabinet’s milk stout.

Brewmaster Charlie Johnson a Dog Sled, the Brewer’s Cabinet’s milk stout.

Photo/Allison Young

Now’s that time of year when getting toasty, in more ways than one, always sounds like a good idea. And we're here to point you in the right direction, with our mug-free hand, of course.

Focusing on six local breweries in and around the Reno area, we've scoured the market to bring you some winter seasonal beers currently available to down (or sip, if you're a lady). But you have to tap the kegs while you can—as the name implies, these seasonal beers are only available for a limited time.

Brewer’s Cabinet

The Brewer’s Cabinet, on the corner of Arlington and California Avenues, has less than two years under its belt, and it’s come a long way in its local beer production. When they first announced themselves, the modestly sized brewery—which is housed entirely in the upstairs corridor of the building—had only a couple of personally brewed beers on tap. As of the beginning of this year, their personal beer selection has outgrown its brewers’ britches. A look at the menu boasts an offering of 10 housemade beers, and the demand is so strong that it’s led to the decision to cut out the guest list.

“Every Monday I print out our sales report, and I see how much of what has sold, and [the guest beers] are always at the bottom,” says Charlie Johnson, Head Brewer at the Brewer’s Cabinet. “People like to drink the beer they know is made 10 feet above their head, I think they enjoy the fact they can sit down and actually have a conversation with the person who’s making what they’re drinking.”

Right now the seasonal selections on tap include such winter offerings as Dog Sled, an 8.4 percent alcohol milk stout with a flavor profile typical of a winter beer—slightly sweet, it’s brewed with cocoa nibs offering a hint of chocolate layered with a light roasted flavor.

“When I think of the winter time I think of a little higher alcohol beers,” Johnson says of a traditional winter beer. “It’s cooler [outside] so you want to be a little warmed up. They’re heavier, darker in color, and bolder flavors typically.”

For the atypical winter beer drinker, there’s the Espiritu de Noel, lighter in alcohol—only 4.1 percent. It’s a persimmon apple spiced sour ale, aged in pinot grigio barrels with a hint of Vietnamese cinnamon.

“I try to [connect the] flavors I want in beers to memories I had of winter. There’s candy canes and chocolate, so you have a chocolate stout and a peppermint porter [also a seasonal option currently on tap], or there’s mulled ciders—so we’re trying to bring that out in the persimmon sour.”

High Sierra Brewing

While this brewery may be a little off the beaten path, its brews are accessibly carried at various retailers and in bars around Reno—Craft, 1864 Tavern and Blind Onion to name a few. High Sierra Brewing Company in Carson City has been open since 2010, having just celebrated their three-year anniversary on Christmas. On top of six year-round beers on tap, the brew masters—brothers Jeff and Paul Young—always try to keep a seasonal beer on rotation as well—to keep things interesting for their customers. Currently, that “interesting” option is their Harvest Ale.

“[For the Harvest Ale], we took a traditional pale ale and turned up the alcohol volume to 7 percent,” says Paul Young. “We and used rye wheat and local honey to accomplish a malty spice flavor. It’s not a crazy spice, we just wanted it so that as it goes over your tongue it starts citrusy, then goes spicy, and ends really clean … that was the goal.”

Silver Peak

The Silver Peal Brewery on Wonder Street consistently keeps a seasonal offering on tap—sometimes even pushing past the months for which they were intended, if demand calls for it. That explains why at the beginning of January, their Pumpkin Ale, which Head Brewer Joe Lenzi says is Silver Peak’s top seasonal, is still ripening on the tap.

As for their actual winter selection—a collaboration beer between Brewer’s Cabinet and Silver Peak, known as the Envious Stout, is also available. Aged in bourbon barrels, the 8.5 percent alcohol stout features the full-bodied flavors of vanilla, caramel and chocolate.

The collaboration beer is not only good for warming up its drinkers, but it’s worked to warm relationships for the brotherly breweries.

“We thought it would be fun to do a collaboration beer and make it more of a family type of thing as far as the breweries in town go,” says Lenzi. “We wanted to pull away from being competitors and show we can work together to make craft beer better for the town.”

Brasserie St. James

Over at Brasserie St. James on Center Street, beer drinkers can deep in the flavors of the season with their Quadrophobia—a 10 percent alcohol Belgium dark ale. With notes of toffee and caramel on the start, and finishing with flavors of dark fruit, bread and spice, bar manager Steve Widmer describes it as the brewery’s own take on the traditional style.

“It’s a nice sweeter beer, and we brew it for the winter time because with its coffee and the caramel flavors, people seem to enjoy those more during the cold season,” says Widmer.

Under the Rose Brewing Company

Husband and wife owners Scott Emond and Jesse Kleinedler have fast learned the demand for seasonal beers since opening their brewery on East Fourth Street last summer. With their modest tap featuring just two year-round staples, the slightly ADD tendencies of their craft beer customer hit them right from the initial tapping.

“We have four fermenters—it’s a small set-up, and from day one people go, ’OK, I’ve had your blonde, I’ve had your saison—what else?” says Emond.

Under the Rose has adapted two seasonal taps, currently playing host to a British and porter beer. Their British beer features an aroma of citrus and green apple, with the flavors of sweet malt and slight hop rounding it out.

“We wanted to take the traditional British beer, which has a nice minerality to it and a really good biscuit character, and transform it into a holiday beer,” Edmond explains, of their brewing technique, which aims at recreating the likes of seasonal apple pie.

As for the porter, the traditional winter beer is described as having a “biscuity and bready mild roastiness,” with flavors of “dark chocolate and deep mahogany.”

Great Basin Brewing Co.

Celebrating not only the beginning of a new year in their customers’ lives, but also the escape of the end of times, Great Basin (located on South Virginia Street in Reno and Victorian Avenue in Sparks) welcomes a new version of 2012’s Mayan End of the World brew: Mayan Maybe Not.

“It features ingredients that would have been cultivated by the Mayan civilization—so we have chocolate and cocoa nibs, vanilla, three types of chili peppers, and corn, as well as honey and molasses,” says Cameron Kelly, Brewery Manager at the Reno Great Basin. “It’s a sweeter beer with smoked malt, to add to the world-is-burning idea.”