Straight from the vat

Local breweries offer seasonal beer for the darker days of winter

Brewmaster Tom Young and head brewer Jazz Aldrich check the filtration process of the beer at Great Basin Brewing Company, where seasonals like Gone to Helles and Rosemary Ryepatch can be found.

Brewmaster Tom Young and head brewer Jazz Aldrich check the filtration process of the beer at Great Basin Brewing Company, where seasonals like Gone to Helles and Rosemary Ryepatch can be found.

Photo By David Robert

Budweiser, Michelob and Miller Genuine Draft are all adequate substitutes for real beer. But they’re not real beer. The real stuff comes from breweries, not heaving factories off the freeway. The Truckee Meadows has a few good breweries serving beer that somehow complements the fall months and makes long, hard winters a little more bearable.

Great Basin Brewing Company is currently producing several seasonal brews, Silver Peak has three seasonal beers on tap, and Brew Brothers is selling an Oktoberfest beer.

Great Basin Brewing Company
846 Victorian Ave., Sparks, 355-7711

For the uninitiated, the Great Basin Brewing Company has a wonderful atmosphere. It’s laidback and quiet for a bar, and the décor centers on beer and the casual enjoyment of it.

Owner Tom Young runs Great Basin with a strong sense of adventure. If you like wacky beers, Great Basin is the place for you.

“True brewers really explore as many flavors as they can,” he says, while cracking pinion nuts for his upcoming harvest ale.

Great Basin offers several oddball beers these days. Young says he always investigates new blends, experiments with unusual grains and looks for new herbs to flavor the hops.

The Munich Kellerbier, offered earlier this fall, was a smooth and mild light beer. Brewed from wheat and served unfiltered, it’s ideal for chilling out with friends. It’s also more healthful, “The Munich Kellerbier is full of B-Vitamins,” says Young.

It’s a good thing Munich Kellerbier has those vitamins. B-vitamin depletion is one of the causes of hangovers, and your humble scribe could easily overindulge in this tasty, tasty brew.

Silver Peak brewmaster Mike Cronin serves a fall beer.

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Gone to Helles is the same as the Munich Kellerbier except that its yeast has been filtered out. With the yeast go the vitamins. That’s not as big a deal, though. The harsher, edgier taste didn’t tempt me to drink as much.

Death-by-Chocolate is a stout beer with interesting roast flavors. It tastes a little like coffee, and even though it’s served cold, it seems warm. The first time Young brewed Death-by-Chocolate, he jammed several filters and broke his thumb fixing the machine. However, after winning the World Beer Cup gold medal for chocolate beers, he said the fracture was worth it.

It makes sense that the beer’s name might make you feel hungry. Young says pairing food with beer works even better than pairing food with wine.

“You take a stout … and you’ve got a good pairing for desserts,” he says. “Better than [port] wine.”

Wheeler Peak Wheat beer is reminiscent of other American-style beers like Budweiser Select, except it’s much, much tastier. Young says this smooth, light beer is a good session brew. In other words, you can drink lots of it in one sitting.

The all-organic Truckee River Red Ale was brewed, not surprisingly, in honor of the Truckee River. Young, who grew up in the industrial Midwest, says he wanted to create a clean, environmentally friendly beer to reflect the cleanliness of the Truckee. He plans to donate the proceeds from the beer’s sales to the McCarran Ranch Project.

“It’s a symbol of their efforts [to protect the river],” he says.

The beer itself is a flavorful, easy-to-drink beer with a lusty red color. Young says it gets its flavor from the crystal malts.

While they don’t have it on tap now, Young plans to resurrect the Great Basin’s Smoke Creek Rauchbier. Rauchbier is German for “smoked beer.” He makes the beer by cold-smoking the grains from his Oktoberfest brew. The result is excellent. It has all the hop flavor of Great Basin’s Oktoberfest with an aftertaste not at all unlike smoked gouda cheese. It also smells like beef jerky. This was easily my favorite beer. Too bad it’s not on tap right now.

Seasonal brews becoming available in the next couple weeks include the Rosemary Ryepatch, which is made with Geman rye, and the Spice Herb beer, also made with rosemary. Out next week is the annually anticipated Harvest brew, which is the brewery’s tribute to the Great Basin. It’s made with locally harvested pine nuts, sage and juniper.

Silver Peak Brewery
124 Wonder St., 324-1864
135 N. Sierra St., 284-3300

Silver Peak’s Peavine porter.

Photo By David Robert

Silver Peak Brewery’s use of high-quality ingredients results in a line of seasonal beers that tickle rather than bludgeon the palate. At the Wonder Street location, the impression of quality pervades the building itself. The waiters are professional, the food is carefully prepared, and the rooms are comfortable. Even the walls are pleasing to look at.

Silver Peak makes an unfiltered porter for the winter months that’s the best I’ve tasted. Using chocolate, caramel and black malts, Peavine porter tastes quite substantial. However, because it’s unfiltered, it is much smoother than Great Basin’s porter.

“It’s not a beer you can have 6 or 7 of,” says brewmaster Mike Cronin. “It’s filling.”

Silver Peak also brews the most flavorful Oktoberfest. Cronin says Oktoberfest is a fixture of fall for Silver Peak.

“The leaves on the trees are changing, and it just seems appropriate,” he says.

Bighorn Brown Ale is a light bodied, strongly flavored brown ale. Conin says this beer is especially good for winter months. It’s heavier and more filling and doesn’t have to quench the thirst people work up in the summers.

Brew Brothers
345 N. Virginia St., 786-5700

Lastly, there is Brew Brothers. Brew Brothers is one of the hottest nightspots in town. Looking as if it were a cross between the Old West and the world of the Jetsons, Brew Brothers has a pleasant ambiance set inside the Eldorado Casino. They get good local musicians, make good food, and they brew their own beer.

Their seasonal beer on tap is Oktoberfest. Malty with a little chocolate flavor and a 6.2 percent alcohol content, this brew is pretty mild.

“It’s hit and miss,” says brewmaster Greg Hinge. “We get an older crowd, and they tend to stick with the lager. Anyway … I’m a traditionalist when it comes to beer.”

Nearly everybody makes an Oktoberfest brew. If strong beer is desired, Great Basin’s Oktoberfest has the most body and is the most bitter. For easy drinking Oktoberfest, Silver Peak’s is lighter in color and has more complex flavors—a little tart, a little sweet and very smooth. Brew Brothers’ Oktoberfest splits the difference. Easy to drink, it’s mild but not as flavorful as Silver Peak’s Oktoberfest.

So while those macrobeers that are manufactured near freeways instead of crafted by brewmasters are less expensive, there’s a reason for that. Colder months are more thoughtful months— adjust your beer accordingly.