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Nevada's semi-hidden & decent brew

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The atmosphere’s cozy, the beer world-class at Brasserie Saint James.
  • The atmosphere’s cozy, the beer world-class at Brasserie Saint James.

Any Bendite who's ever gone on a cruise or stayed at a fancy Nevada casino resort knows that good craft beer just isn't part of the package there, most of the time.

This much is clear upon stepping through the doors of the Grand Sierra Resort, a complex about three miles east of downtown Reno—a popular weekend getaway from Oregon. It's got nearly two thousand hotel rooms, the largest casino floor in the city, a convention center, a driving range, three go-kart tracks...and very little decent beer. In fact, the tap walls on most of the on-floor bars—there are four or five of them—are 100-percent devoted to the big macros, and the only thing identifiable as "craft" is the IPA from Saint Archer Brewery in San Diego, owned by MillerCoors. It's like going back in time, and not in a fun way.

But given that Reno has nearly a quarter-million people (and boasts a lot of the outdoor attractions that Bend has), there has to be something better. And there is. The local ale-trail map lists a dozen around Reno and the surrounding Lake Tahoe area, with five more currently in the planning stages. If beer fans in Oregon have heard of any of them, it's likely FiftyFifty Brewing in nearby Truckee, CA, whose bottles occasionally make it up to the shops here. They're known for Eclipse, their line of barrel-aged imperial stouts, and eight variations of it have been released for 2017, including one aged in apple-brandy casks.

The first brewery in the region was Great Basin Brewery in 1993, which now has locations in southern Reno and the neighboring town of Sparks. Its flagship is Ichthyosaurus, an IPA named after the official state fossil of Nevada (just "Icky" is fine), and it's brimming with Cascade hops and general good cheer.

To see where craft is going in the region, however, it's best to head over to Midtown, a formerly derelict area currently in the throes of a Pearl District-style makeover. The place to go here is Brasserie Saint James, a brewpub in a comfortable old red brick building lined with trophy deer heads and other old-Nevada memorabilia. It's won some serious awards at brew conventions, including Best Mid-Size Brewpub at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival, and it's clear why upon trying out their black lager and German-style altbier—both instant classics.

From the Brasserie, it's a quick walk over to SixFour, a growler and crowler-fill joint that's a quick go-to for studying all of northern Nevada's breweries, including IMBIB, Pigeon Head, and Under the Rose. Just a bit further is The Brewer's Cabinet, a friendly neighborhood-style outfit whose selection of house brews runs the gamut of styles. For fans of darker beers, the Dirty Wookie—an imperial brown ale that packs a lot of chocolate and raisin flavor inside—is a must.


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