True blue

Battle Born Beer is “contract brewed” and distributed in stores.

Battle Born Beer is “contract brewed” and distributed in stores.

Photo/Eric Marks

If you want to stir a discussion, get a bunch of beer geeks, get a few beers in them, and ask what everyone thinks about contract brewing. For those unfamiliar, this is where “brewer” A—who may never actually do any brewing—pays brewery B to make A’s beer at B’s facility when B isn’t brewing their own products. It’s a symbiotic arrangement where B can increase revenue, maximizing use of their facility, and A can avoid a sizable investment in infrastructure to start selling beer. Opinions on contract brewing tend to fall into two camps. Some think it’s cheating, that having someone else make your product isn’t “real” brewing. Others think it’s fine, that the real product creation comes in recipe formulation, and it doesn’t really matter who is operating the equipment.

Personally, I mostly align with the latter—lots of good breweries get started with contract brewing’s lower cost of entry, and as long as the brewer oversees recipes, ingredient selection and other production details, I don’t care who pushes the buttons.

In the contract brewing discussion and beyond, the question of authenticity comes up. We live in a world where so much is just image. Brands are created with a backstory or mythology that doesn’t exist, drafted at a marketing department’s conference table.

So why am I yammering about these industry practices in the Drink column? Because I came into this week with a bias against Battle Born Beer. It was born as a brand, little more. To me, the beer comes first. Slick marketing with no soul or passion behind the product is for bland macrobrews, not my beloved craft beer. In the case of Battle Born, founder and CEO Jeff Pickett had a vision of two things: a quality, simple beer, unpretentious and appealing to the everyday Nevada beer drinker, and that Nevada should have a “state beer,” like Texas’ Lone Star.

Pickett planted the seed in 2009 with brewmaster Trent Schmidt and brewer Brandon Wright, then at Silver Peak. Pickett’s love of clean, crisp German pilsners provided the model for what it should taste like. Getting the name into use was the first step in building the brand. Since then, Battle Born has grown in the most circuitous way—brewed from Carson City to San Jose (!), almost in Tonopah. The brand’s availability and visibility rose, fell and never died. In the most recent and fitting chapter, Battle Born has again found a home in Reno with brewmaster Wright, now brewed and canned at the Depot Brewery and Distillery.

Besides the award-winning, beautiful Nevada blue cans found on store shelves, the most visible part of Battle Born is its vintage milk truck. Pickett envisions the day that truck returns to duty, delivering to homes, picking up empty bottles like in the good old days, made better because it’s beer. In the meantime, a permanent production facility is the next goal to firmly establish Battle Born as the “national beer of Nevada.”

In the end, I’ve come around to Battle Born. I generally like hoppier, complicated, more flavorful beers. But I’ve been grudgingly seduced by the idea, and—I hate to admit—the brand. I like the can, the name, and even the motto, which reminds me not to take my obsession too seriously: “It’s just beer.” Brewers will tell you a good pilsner is the hardest to brew—so clean and delicate, there’s nothing to hide flaws or mistakes. Seems fitting for the state beer—challenging, humble, and perfect for the hot, dry desert in summer.