In the woods
We took a convoluted road getting to The Brewing Lair of the Lost Sierra for a Monday picnic lunch and flight of beers. Not literally, although the drive from Reno into nearby Plumas County, California, to get there took about an hour.
Our journey to The Brewing Lair started in late June when a family reunion trip conflicted with a magic show. My son was really bummed to miss it, so we thought we’d catch it in Las Vegas during fall break. After considering the required amount of driving and cash, we opted instead for a camping weekend at Lahontan, during which I ran out of time for a distillery visit. The night was cold and motivation low. We broke camp early and headed home. A whole day of potential family fun remained, and my wife wanted to take a drive to see some fall color, so to The Brewing Lair we went!
Opened in 2012 as Undercover Ale Works, rebranding came shortly after legal action over another beer with “undercover” in the name. Now going on year six as The Brewing Lair, founding couple Susan Duniphin and Rich Delano brew tasty craft beers in this charming pocket of northern California.
Charming barely describes it, really. It’s easy to miss the dirt driveway if you’re not paying attention driving CA70 from Hallelujah Junction. It takes you through quaint logging and Gold Rush towns like Portola and Quincy if you keep going. We got there shortly after the noon opening with a packed lunch for our whole family.
Duniphin and Delano oversee a 15-acre forest destination. Kids and (leashed) dogs are welcome in the almost entirely outdoor space. Virtually the only indoor areas are the outhouses and gift shop, part of a recent expansion with the expected T-shirts and hats, but also artwork and handmade growlers and steins from local potter Joe Winter. The grassy, tree-surrounded grounds were mostly empty during our visit, leaving amenities like disc golf, ping-pong and cornhole free for our enjoyment.
The beer is good. As Delano put it, they’re keeping it simple. More than five years in, a small brewery might be chasing market trends, looking for a bigger facility or expanding distribution. During our visit, the five taps were pouring a typical Brewing Lair lineup—four hop-forward beers and one light, approachable sour, probably the only concession to popular beer trends. The other brews included a straightforward, textbook IPA, a single hop variety called Mosaic Solo, and a dark IPA, a mostly abandoned style that was quite popular just a few years ago. Aside from the choice of hops in the Solo, most were familiar. I typically look for any new and interesting beers, but I suspect sticking to a short, familiar roster of recipes works well here, given the limited brewery capacity and small distribution reach. Besides beer, water and canned Izze soda are available to drink. Food options are limited to housemade flavored popcorn or local pizza delivery. However, barbecue grills are available for customers’ use.
We gathered our lunch remnants and wrapped up our visit to the Brewing Lair, made a quick Frostee stop in Graeagle and took the scenic drive past old farms and trees, the only things between us and home to conclude the journey that brought us here.