Beer lovers brewing craft-beer designation

Tom Young, founder of Great Basin Brewing Company in Reno and Sparks, has enjoyed the rise in popularity of craft beers.

Tom Young, founder of Great Basin Brewing Company in Reno and Sparks, has enjoyed the rise in popularity of craft beers.

Expect to see Reno-Sparks join the ranks of craft-brew destinations like Portland, Denver and San Diego if brew makers and brew fans have their way.

Adam Cooper, beer specialist at Southern Wine and Spirits distributors, says the craft beer market is booming.

“Large companies like Anhaueser-Busch are losing market share to microbrews,” he says. Northern Nevada is sprouting up all the time with quality microbrews. Eventually we’ll reach a saturation point. Right now it’s a great time to be passionate about beer in Northern Nevada.”

James Mann, co-owner of Pigeon Head Brewery, which opened in May, agrees the region is an up-and-coming craft brewing area. A Reno native, Mann sees the growth in craft breweries as healthy for the market.

“We’re working together to create an image,” he says. “There’s a sense of collaboration among breweries. We do events together. The more the merrier.”

The craft brew business has been merry for the owners of Pigeon Head, which won the People’s Choice Award at the South Reno Rotary Oktoberfest. The brewery also is already expanding.

“We just ordered more tanks to get to more people faster,” Mann says. “It’s just an exciting time in Reno. People approach us all the time about doing beer tours, cycle tours.”

Another newcomer to the brew-scene is The Depot Brewery Distillery. The combination restaurant, brewery and distillery opened its doors New Year’s Eve in an old train depot in downtown Reno.

“The craft brew culture is really taking root,” Depot co-owner Brandon Wright says.

Wright has been working in the industry for a number of years and welcomed the opportunity to return to his hometown.

“We purchased a great building,” Wright said of the train depot that was built in 1910 and is a Nevada State Historic Landmark.

With so many new craft breweries opening up, the Nevada Craft Brewers Association began recently to help grow the industry in the state.

The Reno-Sparks market has 11 craft breweries, according to association spokesman Don Vetter. Two medaled in the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, considered the Super Bowl of commercial craft brewing.

Brasserie St. James brought home gold for Saison beers with its Daily Wages brew and was named mid-sized brewpub of the year. Great Basin Brewing Co. earned a bronze medal in the sweet stout category with its Outlaw Milk Stout.

The Brewery Association, a national trade organization, in its 2013 report (the last year complete numbers are available), said Nevada has 22 craft breweries and ranks 33rd in the United States in numbers. It has 1.1 breweries per capita, ranking 28th. However, the economic impact per capita at $181, or 15th, is better than California. The nation’s most populous state has the most craft breweries but they have an economic impact of only $173 per capita.

Nevada is still far behind Oregon, which is first in most categories. With 181 breweries (third ranked), Oregon has 6.3 breweries per capita with an economic impact of $449 per capita.

But Nevada is making headway in the industry. The growth in Reno-Sparks craft brew industry reflects national trends. Nationally, the market for craft beers increased 17.2 percent in 2013 even as beer consumption overall declined by 1.9 percent.

As people drink fewer beers overall, those drinks are more likely to be craft brews.

Flavor profiles have changed, says Tom Young, owner of Great Basin, which opened in 1993 and is the oldest brewery in the state. Great Basin did get its startup loan and has grown every year for 21 years, Young says. Young also has watched the shelf space at grocery stores shift from a very small craft beer section to a huge space dedicated to the variety of craft beers.

Trent Schmidt of Silver Peak Brewery, another established Reno/Sparks craft brewery that opened in 1999, also watched the changes in beer preferences. For younger beer drinkers, porters, stouts and IPAs are now standard, Schmidt says.

“They are used to having 70, 80 to 90 styles of beer to choose from,” he says.

Craft breweries also come in a number of different styles. Tap rooms, such as Pigeon Head, have minimal food offerings and often rely on food trucks and other food vendors to provide variety. On the other hand, Silver Peak’s Schmidt and his partner, Dave Silverman, never questioned including a restaurant. The duo had been talking about doing business together since high school. When Silverman returned to Reno with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and Schmidt completed a business degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, it was time to act.

Schmidt says having the restaurant and brewery was critical to the success of Silver Peak, which now has three locations. Distribution to other restaurants also helps grow the business.

The rapid growth in breweries around town could be both a problem and a solution, Schmidt adds. “In the short term, it’s one more hand in an established pie. In the long term, they create a critical mass that grows the pie.”

Before the pie can grow too big, regulatory changes need to take place, Young notes. “The (brewing) laws in Nevada are some of the most restrictive in the nation,” he says.

Young adds that big-business breweries have had a lot to do with crafting the original laws.

For instance, Great Basin had to separate its production brewery from the locations that serve the public. Breweries that serve the public, be it a restaurant or tap room, have to limit onsite production. And small breweries can’t sell directly to restaurants; they have to go through distribution companies.

“If you put production restrictions on an industry, it doesn’t encourage growth,” Young says.


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