Boca Ghost: Good Wolf Brewing brings back California’s original lager
As the first snow on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada begins to melt, precious water starts its journey down into creeks leading to the Carson River, eventually making its way into the Lahontan Reservoir.
From there, water is directed into a field in Fallon, providing nourishment for the small barley plants that have just pushed through the ground at 40 Mile Malt.
Once mature, that barley is turned into malt and sent to Truckee, where a local brewer, Matt Petyo, of Good Wolf Brewing Company, is resurrecting a ghost from more than a century ago.
Boca Beer: California’s first lager
In 1876, the Boca Brewing Company produced California’s first lager.
Making use of barley grown in the Sacramento Valley and hops from California’s Central Valley, the brew, according to a 2019 article in the Sierra Sun, became such a success that production soon rose to 25 to 30 thousand barrels of beer per year.
After years of operating, the brewery was destroyed by fire during the winter of 1893, taking with it the recipe for its famed lager. The blaze was reportedly made worse because much of the fire fighting equipment being frozen due to cold weather.
While the brewery was never rebuilt, brewers like Anchor Steam have attempted to recreate the recipe in past years.
Today, Truckee’s newest brewery, Good Wolf, is bringing the more than 100-year old brew back to life.
The process of recreating California’s first lager begins with the water used to grow barley.
In Fallon, 40 Mile Malt makes use of irrigation from the Lahontan Reservoir to flood its fields.
According to 40 Mile Malt owner Arne Martin, Fallon’s high desert climate, temperature, and ability to make use of irrigation make it one of a few places suitable to grow winter barley. The barley will germinate and sprout during the winter months before going dormant, and then reemerging in the spring.
Martin’s farm is part of a growing wave of craft-maltsters, and the only one currently operating in Nevada.
“Since I’m the only game in town in Nevada for locally grown and locally malted barley, it’s a pretty natural fit,” said Martin on collaborating with Good Wolf.
“What’s happened with malt is it’s been industrialized so bad. Traditionally, barley was grown, malted, brewed, and consumed within a 10-mile radius. All of the craft maltsters, small breweries, and all of that disappeared with the advent of refrigeration and transportation.”
Now, much like the popularity of craft brewing, the malting industry, said Martin, is experiencing its own renaissance as smaller farmers grow different varieties of barley, in turn giving brewers more options when it comes to creating ales, lagers, and other beer types.
“Let’s call it the craft-malt revolution,” added Martin. “It’s probably where the craft-beer revolution was three years ago. The interest is being renewed, which is pretty cool. It’s like a farmers market or anything else, being able to use stuff that’s locally grown and have a connection with the people that are doing it.”
The 2-row Copeland barley grown by Martin is later malted, and picked up by Good Wolf Brewing’s Petyo, where the process of creating the 19th century lager truly begins.
A taste of history
At Good Wolf’s location at 10990 Industrial Way in Truckee, Petyo and his team have re-created the long lost Boca lager recipe, working off of historical info, marketing materials, and their own expertise in old brewing techniques.
“(The recipe) doesn’t exist. Typically, historical beers, nobody has the recipes,” said Petyo on the process of re-creating the lager.
Petyo said he believes the original lager likely had smoky flavors due to wood fires being used in the malting process, and also was sour because of bacteria left over in barrels.
In order to recreate the recipe, Petyo said he visited the old Boca Brewery site where he found hops that were still growing at the location. The hops, however, weren’t usable for the beer, and instead, Petyo was able use local hops that have been growing behind New Moon Natural Foods.
“Part of it was just capturing the spirit of the beer. We knew we weren’t going to be able to exactly replicate the lager,” said Petyo. “We tried to replicate the ingredients and process as much as possible, but also what we thought that beer might have tasted like. A large part of that was just piecing together stuff from Truckee-Donner Historical Society, looking at marketing materials from Boca lager, and then just using our knowledge of historical brewing techniques. Between all three of those we patched together a recipe.”
Boca Ghost, according to Petyo, will be available the first week of November. The lager is part of the brewery’s larger Forest Beer series. Other beers include the 6.3% alcohol by volume Needle & Resin, which is on tap now and is made from two different types of pine tips. The brewery will also soon have a campfire stout available, which includes charred oak and pine bark with flavors similar to a s’more.
“It’s something that I’m super excited about,” said Petyo on the Forest Beer series. “They’re forest ingredients, locally produced malts, and flavors that are inspired by a hike through the Tahoe forest. The idea, being that you can come into the brewery and have a flight of beers and have sort of a hike or tour through different areas of the forest. With Boca Ghost it’s like going to the Boca brewing site and hanging out by the Truckee River and having a taste of that history.”
For more information, visit http://www.thegoodwolfbrewing.com.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at email@example.com or 530-550-2643.
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