Buckbean Brewing Company is the first production and distribution brewery in Northern Nevada. They’ll have you convinced that anything a bottle can do, a can can do better.
Reno, NV 89502
Doug Booth and Dan Kahn have a simple, beautiful dream: to put beer in the mouths of the people. In April, they began chipping away at their noble goal, opening Buckbean Brewing Company, Northern Nevada’s first production and distribution brewery. Before long, Booth and Kahn hope their brand becomes Reno’s local beer, and if this town is any kind of beer meritocracy, there is nothing standing in their way.
Buckbean’s genesis began in the 1980s when Booth, a Reno native, happened upon an Oregon craft brewing festival. Having assumed that imports were the only alternative to cheap American brands, Booth was awestruck when he discovered actual good-tasting beer. As a grad student in Montana, he came to love local breweries and eventually decided that if Missoula could support three of them, surely the Biggest Little City could handle one.
A scientist by trade, Booth was too smart to go headlong into business by himself. He’d seen breweries open with great beer and then lose their brewmasters to greener pastures, resulting in quality drop-off. Thus, merely hiring a brewmaster would not do. Booth needed someone for whom beermaking was going to be more than a paycheck, so he scoured the country for a brewmaster/co-founder. Enter Dan Kahn.
Kahn doesn’t have Reno running in his veins, but he does boast a master’s degree in brewing science from U.C. Davis and five medals from the Great American Beer Festival. In other words, he’s that rare thing: the transplant you should be happy to see. Tasting Kahn’s creations proves he has the science down, and hearing him talk reveals an artist’s sensibility. Kahn’s musing about flavors is reminiscent of a vintner, and as he discusses pairing his Black Noddy Lager with desserts or grilled food, the perceived class gap between beer and wine narrows.
Though beer and wine have much in common, the two beverages have come to occupy distinctly different cultural spaces, which is a shame. It’s a gulf that Kahn is working to close. The great thing about wine culture, if you can tolerate it, is that you can visit wineries, see where wine is made, enjoy each vintage’s unique characteristics and even meet the people who made it. In a country where most people don’t know where their food started out the day, being that in touch with something you consume is a rare opportunity. Now, thanks to Booth and Kahn, the same experience is locally available for beer enthusiasts.
The can can
Reno has its share of brewpubs, so what’s the big deal about Buckbean being the region’s first package brewery and only the second in the entire Silver State? Booth explains that while he loves brewpubs, if you want Great Basin beer or Silver Peak beer, you usually have to go to Great Basin or Silver Peak or one of the few other locations that serve their products. Lots of times, that’s great. Other times, when heading to one of a handful of destinations isn’t feasible, it’s not so great, and you have to settle for something that came on a truck from another state.
Booth and Kahn are excited about their new canning contraption that will allow them to make their magical elixir widely accessible. Already available on draft at over 30 different local restaurants and bars, as well as in kegs at Ben’s Liquor Stores, Buckbean beer will be available at Scolari’s supermarkets in time for you to tell Dad you love him with a four-pack of homegrown cold ones.
In what some may decry as mere gimmickry, Buckbean has eschewed the bottle route, opting instead for 16-ounce cans. While any fondness most beer drinkers have for canned beer is rooted in cherished memories of shotgunning Old Milwaukee in the garages of suburbia, Booth articulates a host of reasons that aluminum is preferable to glass. Cans are lighter than bottles and take fewer resources to ship. Cans also require no paper labels or glue, and they are more easily recyclable. These are valid justifications but perhaps secondary to Booth’s real concern.
“Light is bad for beer,” he says, sounding like a parent whose toddler has just been offered a cigarette. “The two worst things for beer are light and air.”
Glass admits light, and the rubber seal in a bottle cap will eventually let in air, causing skunkification. Cans, on the other hand, are totally impervious.
Booth adds that canned beer is perfect for a community that prides itself on being America’s Adventure Place.
“How often do you see people on a raft with a 12-pack of bottles?” he asks rhetorically. It’s a fair point. Empty cans can be crushed and carried around until disposal is convenient. Not to mention they are welcome where bottles aren’t, such as golf courses and outdoor concerts.
The beer itself
Looking at their beer in terms of its relationship to the community is a cornerstone of Booth and Kahn’s business. They don’t spend a lot of money on advertising, but they believe in the power of goodwill. Being part of the community, however, isn’t just some newfangled marketing mechanism. Kahn points out that if you go back in European history, a village’s local brewery was always as integral to its community as was the church or the mercantile. Buckbean favors this tradition as opposed to a more contemporary marketing approach. While you won’t see Buckbean billboards featuring bikini-clad babes, you will hear cool things, like how the brewery donates its spent grain to the University of Nevada, Reno to be used as livestock feed. The idea is to do right by the community while never losing sight of priority number one: to do beer right.
“Our best promotional material is the beer itself,” Booth says. Community involvement is nice and all, but who cares if the beer’s no good? Fortunately for the community, this beer is very good.
The two flavors hitting store shelves are Black Noddy Lager and Original Orange Blossom Ale. The former is a traditional Bavarian Schwarzbier with a wonderful toasty flavor that somehow finishes light and crisp without the heaviness people associate with dark beers. Kahn takes pride in people’s surprise upon tasting it, especially those who profess to dislike dark beer. His goal is beer that is “smooth, but not bland.” For this reason, he thinks Buckbean can also narrow the beer gender gap.
To this lofty goal, the Original Orange Blossom Ale is testament. One woman enjoying a free tasting at the brewery says unequivocally, “This is the best beer I have ever tasted.” It’s a strong statement, but not surprising. The OOBA, as it is known, is one-of-a-kind. Don’t let its fruity name scare you off; Kahn uses orange flower water, not oranges. As far as he knows, he was the first and only brewer in America to try it, and the result is eye-opening. It has a floral finish and a bouquet that makes smelling it almost as much fun as drinking it—and yet somehow every drop disappears anyway.
In addition to its two permanent beer styles, Buckbean will always offer one or two seasonal styles. This spring’s was the Tule Duck Red Ale, which will be gone by the time you read this. If you missed it, the best consolation is that you have no idea how much you missed it. Next up is a Vienna Lager, which will also be the official beer of this year’s Artown festival. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit. Kahn and Booth are eager to try their hands at pilsners, porters, IPAs and anything else they dream up.
They’re currently a small operation, but they have a lot of room to grow, and they promise to put out the beer literally as fast as they can get it into cans. The rest is up to the public to get out there and get drinking.