Old reliable: Sip on a staple from one of Big Blue’s breweries 

Claire McArthur
At Donner Creek Brewing, the Vitkus Farmhouse, a Lithuanian-style farmhouse ale, is a little different every batch with the addition of seasonal ingredients, but the backbone of the funky beer remains the same.
Provided/Donner Creek Brewing

We’re all for sampling the latest barrel-aged sour or quad IPA, but there’s something to be said about posting up at a brewery on a winter’s day with a tried-and-true favorite. The brewery scene in Tahoe-Truckee is ever-evolving, but there are some beers that will always be on tap. Cheers to that. 

Bear Belly Brewing Company 

Bear Belly Brewing Company has over 50 beers in rotation throughout the year with five on tap at any given time, so you never know what you might find at the Kings Beach nano-brewery. But one thing is for sure — come Nov. 22 every year, Coya the Destroya Imperial Stout is released. Named after owner-brewer Adam Latham’s pup and brewery greeter, Coya, the beer is released each year on her birthday. The heavy-hitting stout comes in at 9.75% ABV thanks to a 6-month stint in Templeton Rye Whiskey barrels. 

“[It’s] very roasty with notes of coffee and chocolate up front and quite a nice touch of caramel, vanilla, and coconut from the whiskey barrel on the finish,” says Latham. “Great on a cold day paired with s’mores roasted on the firepit.” 

Donner Creek Brewing 

Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and small-batch beers find common ground at Donner Creek Brewing Co. in Truckee. Owner-brewer Greg Speicher signed the lease on the pico-brewery (smaller than a nano-brewery) just one month before the pandemic hit in 2020. Today, the brewery produces roughly three kegs at a time and leaves ample room for creativity. 

A consistent — not to mention unique — favorite at Donner Creek is the Vitkus Farmhouse, a Lithuanian-style farmhouse ale named after Speicher’s maternal grandfather, a first generation immigrant from Lithuania. 

Using yeast from the famed Jovaru Brewery in Lithuania, Speicher adds in the leftover heels of the Truckee Sourdough Bread from the sandwiches as the primary fermentable. 

“It’s got a unique taste, especially with the sourdough. We get a little bit of sourness and saltiness from the bread. The yeast kicks off some lemony, peppery flavors, and it’s really ester-driven. We’ll also add a special seasonal ingredient. We’ve had customers bring in lavender, I’ve harvested mint, or I’ve added a traditional ingredient like raisins,” explains Speicher. “It’s always evolving, but there’s an underlying thread to it.” 

Truckee Brewing Company

The Truckee IPA is a staple at Truckee Brewing Co. where the 6.7% ABV and 41 IBU West Coast-style IPA is dry hopped with the classic trio of Comet, Columbus and Chinook hops.

“Our West Coast-style IPA is not as malty and bitter as some other standard ones. We have a more well-balanced malt-to-hop profile, but it does have a bitter clean finish on the end,” notes owner Dustin Hurley. 

The bright beer pairs well with the brewery’s pork BBQ sando, according to Hurley. The pork is braised for 12 hours in beer before getting shredded and doused in a blueberry BBQ sauce and sandwiches between a brioche bun with vinegar slaw and butter pickles. 

Pair South of North Brewing’s crisp American West Kolsch with a sweet-and-salty bowl of brussel sprouts.
Provided/South of North Brewing

South of North Brewing 

Once just a seasonal brew, the American West Kolsch has become a year-round regular at South of North Brewing in South Lake Tahoe. At 5.8% ABV, the kolsch is brewed with a German-style yeast but given a hoppy twist. 

“We give it a little American flair by hopping it with Mosaic hops, which are nice, fruity, citrusy hops, and it balances it out really well,” says head brewer Brian Cicero. “It’s light and crisp like a normal lager or pilsner would be, but it’s got a little more body to it, more like a blonde ale. You get a good punch of floral aroma right up front and a little bit of the malty sweetness from it that’s not overpowering.”

Cicero likes to pair the brew with a batch of the brewery’s roasted brussel sprouts drizzled with hot honey and aioli.  

The highly crushable Fog Nozzle IPA from South Lake Brewing Co. is the perfect mix of fruity, oaty and piney flavors.
Provided/South Lake Brewing Co.

South Lake Brewing Company

South Lake Brewing Co. is known for its huge selection of craft beer, and among the sudsy lineup, certain brews have emerged as fan favorites, including, most notably, the Fog Nozzle. Clocking in at 6.8% ABV and 35 IBU, the hazy New England-style IPA is fermented with an expressive yeast and hopped up with Mosaic, Ekuanot, Simcoe and Azacca. Originally brewed in support of local firefighters, the beer is named after the misting nozzle on a firefighting hose. The Fog Nozzle has notes of oatmeal with apricot preserves, pineapple, mango-orange juice, and a whiff of the coniferous forests surrounding Lake Tahoe.

South Lake Brewing Co. is preparing to open its second location, The Libation Lodge, in the Tahoe Village Center adjacent to Heavenly Village in early 2023. In addition to beer, customers can enjoy elevated pub food and a selection of seltzers, cider and wine.

Editor’s note: This story appears in the 2022-23 winter edition of Tahoe Magazine.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.