Beer Travels – South Lake Tahoe

The last three year’s I’ve set a goal of hitting 100 different breweries. So to continue with that annual ritual, it was time to venture out again. What better than a weekend beer crawl through beautiful South Lake Tahoe! It’s been a bunch of years since I visited and it’s never been known as a beer destination. My wife took it upon herself to find the breweries and book the weekend getaway. She found a local blog that provided some excellent information.

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Not Sure What To Expect

While South Lake Tahoe has a lot to offer, I wasn’t sure beer was one of them. Sking, mountain biking, boating, and gambling. With a captive vacationing audience, why would the beer need to be a standout?

Food?

All but one of the breweries had some sort of food. Two being full on brewpubs and one offer food as a side thing. Maybe there’s a shortage of food trucks in the area.

First stop, breakfast in the town of El Dorado. We stopped at the aptly named Cafe El Dorado. A basic little cabin/house that is a true locals spot. Killer breakfast and a great place to stop before hitting the mountain breweries.

From my research, there are 5 active breweries and 1 in planning.  We picked 4 to hit. All but one was relatively new.  The Brewery at Lake Tahoe has been around since 1992.

South Lake Brewing Company

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First Impressions: Big, open tasting room that would a great spot to meet up with some friends.

Staff: Friendly staff, although I thought it was interesting that they didn’t ask me if  I wanted to keep my tab open.

Beer List: I didn’t count the beers on the list, but they had about 10 to choose from.  They covered the key styles from IPA, Pale, Stouts and even a Berliner Weisse.

Brewery Highlights: The two beers that really stood out for me were their 3.3 ABV English Mild “Land Otter”. You are hard-pressed to find an English Mild on a tap list, and this one was very well made.  My favorite from the stop Burnside Stout. This beer had a nice bittersweet chocolate flavor with a good level of roast.  I didn’t get much coffee on it, but that might be a good addition to this 7% Stout.

Overall Impression: Great space (no food).  I think with a little more time, they have the capability of being a local favorite.

Cold Water Brewing

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First Impressions: A restaurant, a busy restaurant! There was a bar, but the setup was a traditional restaurant.  Not sure how comfortable this place would be if you weren’t eating.  We ate.

Staff: Hectic pace, but very friendly.

Beer List: I tried them all! Seven, and they were all really good.  Lager, Rye Ale, two IPAs, pale, Stout and even an Alt beer (which was my favorite).

Brewery Highlights: This place is good. The chicken wings were excellent and the beer is solid.

Overall Impressions: Not sure this is the place I would really want to hang and have a few beers with friends. However, this place might just be perfect for the vacationing masses.

Sidellis Lake Tahoe

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First Impressions: A nice bar area, and wide open.  Even though this is a restaurant, It didn’t seem that formal of a place.  Basically, walk in a grab a seat.

Staff: Really friendly staff and that transferred to the customers who we shared the bar with.  We had a great time talking at the bar.

Beer List: Ten of their own beers on tap, plus a couple of guest taps.  Three IPAs, a Porter, Brown, Amber, two Whites (one with Habaneros), Saison and ever a Kettle Sour.

Brewery Highlights: More than anywhere else we tried, these guys are brewing up some more adventurous beers.  Not everyone was for me, but I really like the directing they are going.

Overall Impression: I think this a great stop to grab some solid beers and a little food. Although not to crowed when we were there, this the place people are talking about.

The Brewery at Lake Tahoe

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First Impressions: Bar…restaurant…bar. Old school brewpub (literally, established in 1992). Beer might an afterthought.

Staff: A friendly bartender that knew how to work a busy bar.

Beer List: They run the full spectrum of beers, Pilsner, Wit, Pale, IPA, Amber, Porter, and a few seasonals. Being the last stop on the day and seeing the bar was packed, I opted for a pint of their Needle Peak Pale Ale. A good beer, and I’m sure it works perfectly with the crowd.

Brewery Highlights: There weren’t any lowlights, but also nothing too memorable. This is actually a brewery  I visited many years ago.  I really good place to grab lunch and a beer.

Overall Impressions: While sitting at the bar, I saw more cocktails, shots, and wine get served than beer. The beer is good.

So, South Lake Tahoe

This place is awesome. One of the most beautiful areas in the State of California. As for beer, not quite a destination…yet. Give these new breweries a little more time and I think you might see beer added to the local tourist guides. Just like Vegas, this place is a vacation resort that needs the tourist dollars. The clientele will be ever-changing, so it’s going to be difficult to appeal to the masses while also branching out.

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And on the way home, we stopped at Jack Russell Brewing in Placerville for a pint of their All American Ale. A solid lightly hopped pale ale. We also found a new brewery, Solid Ground. Very impressed. More about them in a future post.

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If You Homebrew, You Need A Post Brew Day Beer!

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Did someone say IPA!

I don’t always need a reason to hit up a local brewery, but I had a homebrew session planned and wanted to pick up a “To Go” can of a beer to end my brew day.

Kings Brewing in Rancho Cucamonga was my choice.

Southern California is a hot bed for new breweries, and the IE is no exception. No brewery I have found of late is doing as much with IPAs and hop forward beers as Kings Brewing in Rancho Cucamonga.

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Kings Brewing is located in a generic business park, like so many new breweries. They brew on a 6 bbl system and had an impressive 24 beers on tap on my last visit, with a promise of 2 more in the coming days. From of the 24 beers, 10 were either IPAs or DIPAs. The 6 beers I sampled this day covered the IPA style guidelines. From the P-Town Prince IPA, a West Coast IPA true to form. Major bitterness, crisp and finished extremely dry. A great example of what defines the West Coast IPA. To Juice Bomb a 6.7 ABV Vermont style IPA that was both juicy (by name) and cloudy. From my experience, Kings Juice Bomb was just a tad more bitter than it’s North/Eastern US counterparts.

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Whatever your go-to IPA style is, Kings brews it; hop forward – malt forward – big bitterness – heavy dry hopping. They even have a green tinged IPA named Game Changer, they choose not to share their secret ingredient.

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With the heavy IPA tap list you might think these guys were a one beer style brewery, but this is far from correct. One of the of the best beers I sampled was their Kings Brunch Stout. A 6% ABV Oatmeal Stout that had a massive chocolate milk in both flavor and aroma, but not overly sweet, very well done.

Over the past few months I’ve visited Kings Brewing 3 times, and each time impressed with the selection and quality of the beer.  The staff behind the bar is also great, friendly and provides quick service.

While Kings tap list is impressive right now, they got barrels. I don’t know the details, but from what I understand Kings will be rolling out barrel aged beers, both sour and bourbon.  Something to look forward to for sure.

Kings Brewing
8560 Vineyard Ave. #301
Rancho Cucamonga, CA

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What makes a great beer event?

  • How much beer you down? ccba_logorefresh_011916_001
  • How much is costs?
  • How many friends go?
  • The cool factor?

What if you could go to a 3-day event that culminated with a beer festival that included over 150 breweries, serving over 450 beers by brewery staff.  And by staff this includes owners & brewers.

The 2016 California Craft Beer Summit!

I might have a bias because it’s California, but California Craft Brewers Association knows how to put on an event.

The 3-day event had tickets that range from just the festival @ $60 to a full VIP ticket that gets you all access (just about) @ $289 with a total of 5 ticketing options.

3 days might sound like a lot of beer (it is, pacing people, pacing), but it’s not all about drinking.  There was 9-hours of trade show, broken up over 2-days.  This incuded vendors that supply homebrewers all the way to lawyers to help keep the breweries in line. During the tradeshow you get a chance to try beers being poured from the various brewers guilds located around the state.  Also pouring: Firestone Walker, Stone, Sierra Nevada and Laugunitas.

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One of my favorite parts of the event are the educational sessions, they make my inner beer geek a bit giddy.  There are mulitible tracks going, so picking one is often the hardest decision.

My Picks:

  • Yeast: The key to great beer. Karen Fortmann, Ph.D of White Labs gave a great talk on yeast. The session ended with a tasting of wheat beers, fermented with different yeast strains.
  • Alesmith: Charting growth over 21 years with Peter Zien the owner and CEO. Speedway Stout!!!
  • Dr. Charlie Bamforth, UC Davis gave a great presentation on the only thing that really matters, QUALITY.
  • Past, Present & Future: A talk with David Walker. Starting a brewery 20 years ago, not that easy. A trail blazing brewery for certain.
  • Master Pairings with “Dr.” Bill Sysak – Chocolate and Beer.  Bill is a wealth of knowledge and humor. Always fun to hear him talk. img_4562
  • Sip & Judge with Michael Moore “Big Mike” Fun to judge and discuss classic beer styles and flavor interpretation.
  • Closing Session: with Vinnie & Natalie Cilurzo and Tomme Arthur. What a way to end the summit. Honest, upfront and informative.  Anyone thinking about opening a new brewery in California should have been there. In short, saturation! It’s a big issue and depending on your goals, it can be a tough go in California for a new brewery.  They also agreed, they might not be brewers if they were starting out today.

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And if none of those thrill you, they had sessions that included careers, hospitality, homebrewing, beer trends, building a brand, malting, barrels, advanced tasting and additional food pairings.

Ok, so the educational sessions might not be for everyone. I get that. But the opportunity to sit in on a conference where some of the biggest names in California beer are both presenting and listening is pretty damn special.

If you want an audio taste of the happenings at the 2016 California Beer Summit, check out my friends at Four Brewers, they put together a fantastic group of interviews from the floor.

This the 2nd annual summit, and I have been lucky to attended both. No joke, if you love beer and brewing, you need to attend. This is really one of the best beer events I’ve attended…Ever!

~Cheers!