Local beer brewing's history started in 1860.
WRITTEN BY JEN A. HUNTLEY
PHOTO COURTESY OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO
If "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy," as Ben Franklin famously declared, then the first 70 years of Euro-American settlement in the Truckee Meadows and Eastern Sierra were truly a blessed era. While the region has enjoyed a zymological renaissance in the last two decades, the history of local brews extends back over a century.
Thirsty miners on the Comstock, of course, wanted beer and Jacob Klein established the Carson City Brewery in 1860 to meet that demand. The western Nevada brewing industry was largely monopolized by German immigrants, including Frederick Hertlein, who opened Reno Brewery, the community's first, on Commercial Row in 1868. It was soon followed by the Washoe Brewery in 1870. The Pacific Brewery came 11 years later.
The high point of regional brewing in the 19th century emerged in 1875 when the Boca Brewing Company began producing a fine lager. Located at the mouth of the Little Truckee River between Truckee and Reno, Boca took advantage of the availability of Sierra water and ice to cold-ferment its beer, brewed with California barley and Cluster hops. The quality of Boca beer was said to be the finest on the West Coast, and was exported as far as Mexico and Hawaii before the brewery was destroyed by fire in 1893.
World War I, Prohibition, and the midcentury consolidation of national beer companies spelled the 20th-century demise of the region's local brews. Only the Reno Brewing Company and Carson Brewery survived both Prohibition and the Depression, but ultimately could not compete with the mass-produced, cheap beers increasingly imported into the state. The Carson Brewery produced its last Tahoe Beer (with its tagline Famous as the Lake) in 1948, and the Reno Brewing Company's renowned Sierra Beer disappeared in 1957.
The late-20th-century renaissance in local brewing began 30 years later when the state legislature began modifying state laws to allow microbreweries and brew pubs to compete with wholesale distributors. Since Tom Young opened the Great Basin Brewing Co., a brewpub, in 1993, locally brewed beers have gained loyal local fans and a national reputation for quality.
Jen A. Huntley is an independent scholar, writer, and consultant on educational excellence and sustainable communities. She is the author of The Making of Yosemite, published in November 2011. The book, which details the origin of America's most popular national park, is available at Sundance Books and Music in Reno, among other retailers.