Top brass

Server Hanna Jones and manager/bartender Sarah Russell behind one of the two bars in Brasserie Saint James.

Server Hanna Jones and manager/bartender Sarah Russell behind one of the two bars in Brasserie Saint James.

Photo/Eric Marks

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The final Saturday of 2017 gave me a chance to take my family out to lunch and get some beers at a place that had sort of fallen off my radar lately. I was awed in 2012, seeing the historic Crystal Springs Ice Company building on Center Street transformed into a rustic, old world-style brasserie. (“Brasserie” actually means “brewery” in French.) I was amazed and impressed in 2014 when Brasserie Saint James was awarded Midsize Brewpub of the Year and a gold medal for their saison, Daily Wages, at the Great American Beer Festival. I’ve enjoyed happy hour and shot pool there on a few occasions.

I don’t hear much about Brasserie Saint James these days—no new bottles at local stores, no social media about new beers on draft—and places can easily be forgotten when we’re always looking for something new and exciting. I think I’d started to consider it more restaurant than brewery, and one that’s a little out of my price range. Going occasionally turned into never going.

I dusted those thoughts aside and looked forward to revisiting the place I was once so excited by—a brewery focused on classic European styles of beer with little concern for whatever trend other craft breweries were clamoring to follow.

We found Brasserie Saint James still a charming place—antiques, breweriana, and a sense of old Europe felt inviting before I’d even taken a seat. We were seated promptly in the dining room at one of the slightly uncomfortable wooden booths. A central bar serves this room as well as the opposite, more pub-like side of the main hall. A game room and rooftop deck complete the grand facility. The food appeals to my inner Frenchman, a mix of slightly foreign and universal comfort food like roasted tomato soup or a house burger.

Grumpy, indecisive kids struggled with the food options while I wrestled with beer choices. The eight year-round beers—four of them noted as gold medal winners—were familiar, and I enjoy most of them. All are well made, I just don’t love all of the styles. Turning to the chalkboard of seasonal releases, another seven or eight choices made things challenging. I wish a detailed beer menu was available, as a name on the chalkboard is meaningless sometimes, and I hate to be that guy asking the server about each one to decide on six choices for a flight. My wife went for her easy choice, a Hopalong Cassidy, Brasserie’s only current nod to IPA’s popularity. I chose five unfamiliar seasonals and one style I enjoy, a Belgian style tripel. The first three choices were my favorites of the day—the Fall Saison, the annual holiday release, Noel, and a pineapple version of the funky 1904, fermented with the provocative Brettanomyces yeast strain. I didn’t care for the London Lager, but the Oktoberfest was decent. Overall, it was a nice variety of beers.

Aside from the impressive beer selection, there’s a great wine list and handcrafted house cocktails, but at $11 each (“keg wine” is $9), I’ll happily stick with beer. I imagine pricing doesn’t raise an eyebrow at Brasserie’s San Francisco location, but it remains among the higher end for midtown Reno and my budget.

We enjoyed lunch, and I was reminded of how much I used to enjoy the beers and Brasserie itself. Too many local breweries is a good problem to have, but I need to put Brasserie back into my rotation.