Monday, January 27, 2014

Beer #130-153 / Day #24-27: The Biggest Little Beers In The World

My sister-in-law Sarah was celebrating her 40th birthday, and spur of the moment, my wife Camille asked if we could surprise her Sis and show up for her big B-Day bash over the weekend.  The problem is they live 450 miles north of us in Reno, NV.  Then again, Reno has a quickly burgeoning fancy beer scene.  And casinos with $49 rooms.  Oh, and my sis-and-bro-in-law are two of my favorite people in the world, as well.  OK, not much arm-twisting necessary.
Shitty casino with good beer. Who knew?

Friday night we braved a long ass drive, thru 20 degree temps,  near pitch black conditions, and white-knuckled driving, praying not to plow into a stray deer or elk, but we arrived safely in Reno just after midnite, pooped out and ready for booze.  It's a casino town so the libations would be free-flowing & easily accessible at any hour, right?  Especially on a Friday nite!  Um, no.  The first three bars we went to in the casino were closed.  At 12:30am.  WTF?  We finally found the Jade Bar in Harrah's, and I christened my first tap of the weekend with the UINTA BREWING HOP NOTCH IPA - Beer #130, an old favorite, made even more favorable by the fact that it was the first available beer in this shabby casino.  Frankly, I was surprised and impressed that this random bar in a bastion of old school Reno was catering to the craft beer community by offering this brew.  Hmm, maybe this would be promising after all. We headed across the street to the even shabbier Cal-Neva and grabbed an ANCHOR BREWING CALIFORNIA LAGER - Beer #131, a basic but very solid beer, that should raise the bar & represent the new "average" for beers, if there was any justice (or taste) in this world.  We also shared the staple of NorCal hoppiness, the LAGUNITAS BREWING IPA - Beer #132.  In spite of these finds outside of the usual Coors & Bud realm, downtown Reno was freakin' dead!  It's Friday night, yet the only thing missing from this part of town was a cattle skull on the sidewalk, and a stray tumbleweed ambling slowly down the middle of Virginia St. 
Rad beer is a stone's throw from the river

Sarah's party was at 6pm, so we spent the first half of our Saturday exploring downtown Reno on foot.  I'd researched some local breweries in advance, but rather than drive to all of the outlying industrial parks, we opted to hoof it and checkout what Reno hipsters were doing to revitalize this depressed and depressing part of town.  We stumbled upon a fantastic establishment called the Old Granite Street Eatery, with an impressive tap list, and excellent food.  The perfect brunch spot and a great way to kick off our day.  It was 10:30am.  Too early?  Oh hell no.  I started with a sampler of the GREAT BASIN BREWING ICKY IPA - Beer #133, and followed with a full pint of the superb TAHOE MOUNTAIN BREWING LOCAL LAGER - Beer #134, which represents excellence in keeping beer simple.  It's a lager, but there's so much going on in this glass, I spent my time rambling about how tasty it was, rather than chuggin' it for a quick buzz and immediately forgetting it, like 96.8% of lagers on the market.
Breakfast of champions
We walked back towards the river and settled down at the bar of the Wild River Grille.  The bartender was friendly, and willing to accommodate my request to try a few different taps.  I had a sip of Camille's UNDER THE ROSE SAISONBEER - Beer #135, and then went for samples of the RUBY MOUNTAIN BREWING ANGEL CREEK AMBER ALE - Beer #136, BRASSERIE ST. JAMES RED HEADED STRANGER - Beer #137, and the GREAT BASIN BREWING OUTLAW MILK STOUT - Beer #138.  All were great, and the stout was my favorite, but since it wasn't even 12pm, I didn't want anything too heavy to bog me down for the afternoon, so I went for a full pint of the St. James Red... bitter, wheaty, farmy, a real corker... I heart this beer. 
The newest convert.

Next, we crossed the river to check out the Sierra Tap House, a spot run by Sierra Nevada Brewing.  Aside from the picturesque location, I was excited by the kegs available here, several of which are not available in bottles.  There were eight taps, and flights were four glasses, so we got two flights and tried every beer on tap.  Their PALE ALE - Beer #139 has always been so-so in bottles, but I think due to such large production many of their bottles sit in distribution warehouses much longer than they should. When you have a freshly tapped Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it's like night & day.  This is what it's supposed to taste like.  The TORPEDO EXTRA IPA - Beer #140 was also a winner when freshly tapped.  Their BLONDE ALE - Beer #141 was good, but non-descript; my least favorite of the eight.  We're not huge hefeweizen fans overall, but we both loved the KELLERWEIS - Beer #142, a cloudy, complex, and tasty Hef.  When it warmed up closer to room temperature, their FRENCH STYLE SAISON - Beer #143 was a simple but delicious farmhouse ale.  Our favorite of all eight was the NARWHAL STOUT, which I couldn't count in my Big Year because I already claimed it a few nights prior as Beer #129.  Still this inky, lush stout is the crown jewel in not only their seasonal brews, but all of their brews.  Next was an old favorite I haven't enjoyed for a good year or two, the RUTHLESS RYE - Beer #144, a fantastic rye IPA, and as noted in an earlier posting, I'm a freak for anything rye-related. Last on the tasting docket was the KNIGHTRO STOUT - Beer #145, an Irish style stout with a hint of coffee, on nitro.  The bartender accurately described this creamy, malty offering as "Guinness with flavor".  The Wife has never been the biggest fan of Sierra Nevada, but the opportunity to sample the gamut of brews fresh, and not from 6 month old bottles, made an enormous difference, and converted her into a believer.
In the house of pies and pints

We were 15 beers into our day, and it was only 3pm.  Time for some food.  We grabbed some coffee, and then happened upon Z-Pie, a gourmet pot pie shop with its own offering of local taps. Camille went for a pint of the great Great Basin Icky IPA.  I tried a taster of the BRASSERIE ST. JAMES DAILY WAGES SAISON- Beer #146, which is a good 'un, especially when it warms up, but not nearly as good as the pint I settled on:  The BRASSERIE ST. JAMES JAMISON'S STATION PORTER- Beer #147.  Wow, St. James is for sure on my wish list of beer destinations next time I come to town.  These mother effers know what they're doing.

The Birthday Girl and my Birthday Twin
So, the party's comin' up at 6pm, we'd already spent a good 6-7 hours drinking, and Sarah still didn't know we were coming.  Time to nap, make a pathetic attempt to sober up, and head over to see the Sis.  Needless to say, they were surprised to see us, and I was happy to be with this beautiful family once again.  I got to spend quality time with my other Sis-in-law Amy, numerous cousins, and many newfound friends. My drinking mojo had been fully saturated, and I wanted to remain in a condition to drive since we were going out to see a band, so my only drinking for the next few hours consisted of H2O, and a quick sip of my bro-in-law Rick's ROGUE DEAD GUY ALE - Beer #148.  I seriously don't like to be a hater, but effin' Rogue has yet to make a beer that I truly love.
We spent the rest of the evening at the Peppermill casino seeing an awesome, soulful 11-piece band called The Inciters.  I nursed a few neat rye snifters, eventually danced like the mildly toasted 40-something I am, and had the best evening with my family-in-law.  I love these people. The 16 hours on the road there and back were 1000% worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

After a long drive home, The Mrs and I shared a perfect bottle of the STONE / 10 BARREL / BLUEJACKET COLLABORATION SUEDE IMPERIAL PORTER - Beer #150, enhanced only by our zillionth viewing of "The Big Year". 
This was my favorite weekend in recent memory, and my only way to continue the good Reno vibes was to bring back 30 or so bottles of brews from their local Total Wine & More store.  They carry a considerable number of beers I can't find in SoCal.  I wrapped up this evening with some seriously excellent brews:  JOSEPH JAMES BREWING HOP BOX - Beer #151, a truly superior Imperial IPA from this brewer outside of Las Vegas, the GREAT BASIN BREWING WILD HORSE ALE - Beer #152, a well crafted amber ale from one of my new favorite breweries in Reno, and finally the SANTA FE BREWING STATE PEN PORTER - Beer #153, one of the best porters I've had in recent memory (aside from Beer #150), from a Southwestern brewery I haven't visited since 2006... all proof that the Old West can hold its own with the newest of hipsters.  That's it, I'm trading in my flannel for a cowboy hat.
Proof that the Old West is the Best

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