Suds of summer
Seasonal local beers
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool IPA fan, and I realize that puts me a few years behind the curve. The IPA craze has been surpassed by fresher trends—among them sour beers, fruit beers and competitive flavor mash-ups that might have resulted from a collision between a pastry chef and a kindergartener. Fifty Fifty’s “Carrot Cake Brown,” Lead Dog’s “S’mores Stout w/ Peanut Butter” and 10 Torr’s “Spicy Tomato Clam & Oyster Lager” were all on the vendor list for the Strange Brew festival, held in May at Brewer’s Cabinet.
Granted, you won’t see all of those quirky brews year-round on tap, but in any case, it’s fair to say that Reno’s brewers have gotten creative—whether they’re exploring every nuance of old-school styles like pilsner or stout, or trailblazing with flavor combinations that’ll shock your grandma.
With Strange Brew behind us and summer patio drinking season upon us, I stopped by a few local breweries to find out what’s on tap for summer. At each establishment, I asked the bartender, server or brewer to recommend the most quintessentially summer beer. And I’m glad I did. I remain a die-hard IPA fan—but one with noticeably expanded horizons.
Silver Peak Brewery
135 N. Sierra St., 284-3300
124 Wonder St., 324-1864
The sidewalk-adjacent patio at Silver Peak on Sierra Street is a prime spot for downtown people-watching, and the rooftop patio at Silver Peak on Wonder Street, with its wide-open view of the sky, is a sweet place to gawk at ridgelines and sunsets or catch the occasional intimate, open-air concert. Both locations share a beer list that the brewers have been honing since the ‘90s.
On the roof of the Wonder Street location, as I was grooving on a great view of an approaching summer storm over Peavine, the server explained that, technically, the current seasonal release is the Blueberry Berliner, a sour, and added that the Sunset Raspberry, a lager, is longstanding summer seller. I tried both.
Online reviewers gave the Berliner an average of three out of five stars, and one rated its tartness “edgy.” I found it a chaotic mesh of flavors and an awkward color that I tried to appreciate but couldn’t.
As for the raspberry—there are a lot of raspberry beers out there, and they can be sweet, dry, tart, yeasty, hoppy or any combination of the above. Some are beautifully balanced. Some taste like gross, gimmicky sodas. Silver Peak’s Sunset Raspberry has a deep, gorgeous berry hue, a distinct raspberry flavor without much sweetness, and a tartness that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the flavors. To my taste, it was just about perfect.
The Brew Brothers
Eldorado Resort Casino
345 N. Virginia St.
“In beer judging, you always need to take two sips of beer,” said Greg Hinge, brewmaster at The Brew Brothers in the Eldorado. The first sip and the second can taste completely different—and that’s exactly the case with his Blood Orange Wheat. At first, it registers as having two separate flavors—a sharp, bitter bite redolent of citrus rind and a distinct ester taste. (That’s the flavor in a lot of wheat beers and hefeweizens that can be fruity, almost banana-like, though it doesn’t come from fruit. It comes from a chemical process undergone by the ethanol.)
Those two flavors were such an awkward match they practically quarreled on my palate. But by the second sip, they’d reconciled their differences entirely. The bitterness was blunted. The taste of citrus peel softened and began to taste like the flesh of a blood orange—though it never got extremely sweet—and the esters harmonized with the rest of the sensations.
Hinge said he likes to play with new flavors, including fruit beers. He devised this one for the The Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival in June.
“One of the bars [in the Eldorado] uses blood oranges as a garnish,” Hinge said. He got a case of them and started brewing.
Drinking a Blood Orange Wheat at The Brew Brothers, where it’s made, is a mixed experience. On a recent, somewhat busy afternoon, the service was top-notch, professional and precisely timed, but the faux patio in a sunless, overstimulating casino environment made me crave a real patio.
Brew Brothers doesn’t bottle or distribute its beers—but there are some options for enjoying them outdoors on occasion. Hinge is likely to develop new beers for local festivals like Freeze Your Pints Off in the winter and Strange Brew in spring. For now, the remainder of the Blood Orange Wheat will be on tap only in the casino, but if you’re hankering for something innovative, check the Eldorado’s calendar of outdoor festivals. For each one, Hinge will probably dream up something new.
Czech it out
325 E. Fourth St., 737-4330
So far, the unofficial theme of this summer beer tour has turned out to be fruit. And while the list of local fruit sours, ales, ciders, porters and other styles is long, local brewers have not forgotten their roots—as I learned at The Depot.
The top four national best-selling beers in the U.S. are Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite and Budweiser. Since I usually opt for a craft beer, these four giants are barely on my radar. But every once in a while, a Bud lands in my hand, and each time, I think, “I almost like this.”
And once in a great while, I come across a craft pilsner and think, “This is what I wish Budweiser tasted like.” The Burner from the Depot is one of those craft pilsners.
Again, I’m glad I asked the bartender to recommend “the summer beer.” Otherwise, I might have defaulted to the Ranch Hand, a light golden American Ale and Depot standard that I’m fond of, and that practically shouts “summer session beer.” But I’ve added this malty Bohemian Pilsner to my list of local favorites.
The Burner, though it tastes like something you might find in a Czech or German café, is named for folks who hold tickets to that nearby, week-long party out in the Black Rock.
Love at first sip
Under the Rose
559 E. Fourth St.
1041 S. Virginia St.
Under The Rose’s newish midtown location—with its wide-open garage door, small front patio, breezy, urban-rustic interior and neighboring bars and eateries—is the kind of place that’s just right as a stop on an afternoon summer bar crawl.
The menu boasted a few fruit beers, including 8260 Grapefruit, a “grapefruit infused blonde ale;” Beauregard, a “pomegranate and blueberry infused porter;” and Pineapple Wit.
I’m not opposed to fruit beers. I like them more often than I think I will, but Under the Rose’s flavor profiles sounded like they could possible lean over into being too complex for their own good. I stuck to my rule though, and asked the bartender to serve up whichever beer he deemed most quintessentially summery.
He poured some Pineapple Wit into a stemmed pint glass and said, “This beer has summer written all over it.”
I’m glad I asked. This well-crafted wit was the highlight of my tour. It’s infused with pineapple and Meyer lemon, which I might have passed up as sounding too showy. But the fruit flavors were so subdued that my drinking buddy—who’s really good at identifying flavors—couldn’t identify the Pineapple Wit’s flavors, other than pointing out that the beer strikes an amazingly well calibrated balancing act. The aroma has the kind of yeasty, Belgian waft that some love. I tend to shy away from it as an IPA-loving hop nerd—but in this beer, it’s almost undetectable on the tongue. The overall flavor is not too sweet, not too tart, and subtly fruity. It drinks like a toned-down sour—toned down enough to attract drinkers who don’t even favor sours. I awarded it the blue ribbon for “Best Local Beer to Sample if You Want to Sample Something Outside Your Comfort Zone and Love It.” Ω