As part of our Spring Break trip to Lake Tahoe, we rented a condo that was right on the Lake (it was a big family trip, so all of us together were able to afford it), and just happened to be across the street from The Brewery at Lake Tahoe. And when I say across the street, I mean literally just across the street from the condo complex: we couldn’t have stayed any closer.
Naturally enough, we ate there several times, and the first night bought a growler than we subsequently had filled a few more times during the trip. Overall, The Brewery has decent beers and great food, and I highly recommend it if you’re in South Lake Tahoe. Now that I’ve spoiled it, let’s get into the review.
The Brewery was established in 1992 in what was formerly a house and garage, and still retains that sort of feel: the dining area is has that kind of “converted cottage” atmosphere while being open and airy, and the bar (and brewing area) is just small enough to border on “cramped” but is comfortable enough to call “intimate” instead.
For as small as I’m making it seem, we had no problems any of the times we visited getting seats and ordering food and drink; perhaps during the “on-season” (and weekends) there will be a wait, but for us it worked out well.
The beer: the first night my wife and I sat in the bar and chatted up the bartender, who had a lot of really good information about the brewery itself. If you visit the bar, you’ll notice that there is a big kettle and two fermenting tanks right behind the bar, out in the open—not behind glass as you’ll encounter at many other places. Remember, space is at a premium, and The Brewery has made the most of their space: during the evenings after the last shift is when brewing starts, and the kettle behind the bar is actually a combination mash tun/kettle.
The Brewery has a five-barrel capacity, and I inquired about the process since the mash tun and kettle are one and the same (there’s nowhere to sparge!): they use grain bags for the mash, and when mashing is complete, have to lift (and drain) them out of the tank through that small opening you see in the picture above.
Of course, since they can’t sparge the grains and claim a full mashing’s worth of wort, they need to supplement, which they do with malt extracts: one of the first commercial brewers I’ve encountered to do so. Nothing wrong with that at all, though I suspect their cost to produce a beer (having to purchase grain and extract) is higher than your average all-grain brewer’s.
The fermenters themselves also caught my eye: they were active and bubbling away via blowoff tube right into a bucket behind the bar.
I will admit, as a homebrewer, I eat this kind of stuff up, and especially when the staff is so open about their process I’m more enthused about trying the beers. So let’s take a look at what The Brewery offers (their Washoe Wheat Ale and IPA were both out, so I didn’t get to try those):
- Palisades Pilsner: Crisp with a touch of fruity notes, but more grainy with raw wheat. Not bad actually, with floral notes in the hops. A little rough around the edges, but nicely drinkable. (Far right, bottom row.)
- White-Out Wit: Seasonal: Served with an orange wedge, and nicely orange color to match. Big coriander nose, and very drinkable—sweet orange (rather than bitter peel) and coriander. Smooth and tasty. (Right, top row.)
- Needle Peak Ale: Drinkable and a bit hoppy without overdoing it; I’d call it solid but average. Cleanly bitter, nice pale malt base; works well as a session ale. (Second from right, bottom row.)
- Alpine Amber Ale: Fairly standard amber but has a noticeable burnt sugar aftertaste—burnt marshmallow. For me it works, but as a style marker it’s going to be a problem for some people. I personally like it. (Second from left, bottom row.)
- Paramount Porter: Thin. Roasty but sweet. More “brown” to my taste what what a Porter should be—but there are some coffee notes which work. (Far left, bottom row.)
- Bad Ass Ale: The Brewery’s flagship, this version is 9% alcohol by volume. The big strong “Arrogant Bastard” of The Brewery; strong and malty and a bit of hops but not as (relatively) hoppy as AB. It strikes me as an “Imperial Brown”—with a bit of extra hops. (Center, bottom row.)
- Star Lake Stout: Seasonal: Unfortunately, this beer was infected or similar: Medicinal, band-aid flavors. There’s some notes of a sweet stout here, but unfortunately I get the plastic-y notes and have a problem getting past it. Nice dry character in the back, even so—so it could be good. (Left, top row.)
When we filled the growler, the first night we got Bad Ass Ale, and then two subsequent fillings were the Needle Peak Ale. I liked the White-Out Wit enough to have another pint of that when we picked up pizza there one night, and if I had the opportunity to try the Alpine Amber again I would—I actually enjoyed the burnt marshmallow aftertaste (reminds me of roasting marshmallows while camping).
This line-up, plus the Washoe Wheat and IPA I mentioned, are the standard beers you’ll find there. (There is also a seasonal brown that is brewed at other times.) However, the bartender did tell me that they were talking about brewing both a barleywine and a barrel-aged stout in the near future—something to look forward to!
There are some tanks behind glass (not everything is behind the bar, in other words):
These are the conditioning and serving tanks, naturally (and there are apparently more in a basement area), and thus are kept cool. One of those actually did have the IPA conditioning in them, but it wasn’t going to be ready until at least Friday (the day we left). Maybe next time.
The food: No pictures here, unfortunately, but I will say all The Brewery’s food that we had was really good. The first night I had the Chicken Ranchero Wrap, grilled, which was tangy and spicy and filling, and I’d definitely order again; the chicken curry soup my wife ordered as a side (I don’t remember her main dish, but that was good, too) was excellent.
Another night we ordered pizzas to take back to the condo; they were great, particularly the Philly cheesesteak pizza. Their websites claims it’s the “best pizza on the Lake,” and based on what we had, who am I to argue? Seriously, it was top-notch.
We also had the Bruschetta appetizer, and while the sourdough bread was good, it was the tomato and basil dip which really made the dish. Zesty, refreshing, light, and perfect on the crisp bread.
My sister-in-law also had and raved about their “Portabella stack” which I gather is a loaded veggie-friendly sandwich using grilled Portabella mushroom slices as the “bread.”
Bottom line: The food is well worth the trip, even if beer isn’t your thing. The beer itself is average and drinkable; you could do a lot worse and for the setup they have, they’re doing all right. The staff was friendly and helpful and we had a good time; what more could you ask for?
The Brewery at Lake Tahoe
3542 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150