Tahoe Brew: Winning friends and influencing people with beer
February 17, 2017
According to the Bible, one of Jesus' first miracles was to turn water into wine. According to me, it must have really been beer.
In the story, this was at the prompting of his mother, and was during a very social event: a wedding. The Bible also makes sure to mention that the wine Jesus made was the best that was served during the entire event, and, in case you wondered, wedding feasts in those days could involve entire villages and last for days.
Jesus must have had quite the reputation after that party. I mean, given the choice, what would you rather be able to do: walk on water, or start a party with a few Sparkletts bottles?
Despite science explaining some of the mystery of fermentation, alcohol still is intertwined with social events in our society. Evolving from the Latin tabernae in the Roman-British kingdoms of the first through fifth centuries BCE where travelers would stop to obtain refreshments and get the lay of the land, the pubs, alehouses and taprooms of today still serve up two great tastes that taste great together: beer and conversation.
I decided to investigate one example of the social catalyst that beer can be. For that, I looked to Eliot Landrum, and South Lake Tahoe Craft Beer Meetup, an informal organization that he created to enjoy the quality beer bars, and quality people who make Tahoe their home. While he wasn't busy preparing for the latest flood, Eliot was kind enough to answer some questions about himself and the events that he organizes. What follows is my interview.
Nathan Bergner: What brought you to Tahoe, and where are you from (if not here)? Besides beer, what other hobbies do you have?
Eliot Landrum: I moved from Dallas, Texas, a little over two years ago. I work remotely and wanted to live in a mountain town with skiing, and Tahoe met a lot of my wishes. At the time, I worked for a manufacturing automation company in St. Louis, but now I work for a startup in Reno. I've always loved road biking, but since I've moved here, I have really enjoyed mountain biking. Last summer I also got really good at hanging out at the beach!
NB: How do you define craft beer? How is it different from other beer?
EL: The Brewers Association has an official designation for what makes a craft brewer that focuses on brewery size, independence, and traditional beer ingredients. I agree with their definition and like that they continue to update it to keep the spirit of an independent, small brewer. With a lot of mergers and acquisitions from the big mass producers, it's getting harder for the average beer drinker to know what is actually a craft beer anymore (which is an intentional market move by the big conglomerates to push independent brewers off the tap handles). The official definition can be found here: http://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/craft-brewer-defined/.
NB: What got you interested in craft beer? What is your go to "gateway" beer for the uninitiated?
EL: I've always really liked that craft beer drinkers were typically focused on enjoying a flavorful, well-made beverage instead of simply getting drunk. I also love that there's so much history and passion behind the creation of this drink, yet at the same time, craft brewers are stretching the limits and experimenting with it all the time. Watching so many entrepreneurs succeed with craft beer is exciting as well.
For people who haven't had a lot of craft beers, I suggest a session IPA as a good starter craft beer. Session IPAs have good flavor, while keeping the alcohol content (ABV) and bitterness low. Stone's Go to IPA and Firestone Easy Jack are two that I like. For people who like ciders, I like to challenge them a bit and see if they might like a sour beer like New Belgium's annual La Folie release or one from Anderson Valley's gose series.
NB: What is your favorite place in Tahoe to drink a beer? Why?
EL: Alibi Ale Works in Incline is my favorite spot by far. Kevin and Rich, the owners, have turned an old auto parts store into a beautiful, communal space with a modern Nordic feel. They've always got a big list of new beers rotating around, and everyone there is focused on the beer and conversations and games with their friends — not TVs.
NB: What is your favorite Tahoe crafted beer for winter time?
EL: Winter time always calls for porters and stouts, and Sidellis does a really nice porter called Petey's Porter. Whenever they have Sticky Fingers Imperial Stout on, I make sure to grab a pour of that one too.
NB: What beer related thing are you most looking forward to in Tahoe this year?
EL: There's a lot of great things happening this year! It's so exciting to see more people invest in the Tahoe craft beer scene after many years of stagnation. I'm really looking forward to spending a lot of time at South Lake Brewing Company that is coming in past the Y. They're really hitting a lot of things right, and I'm excited for their opening. Alibi Ale is opening up a new space in Truckee with food, a stage for live music, and even more room for them to experiment with brews. I've been surprised at the lack of decent tap houses in the area, so I'm excited to be seeing Lake Tahoe AleWorX (SLT) and Brewforia (Incline) opening within the next few months.
NB: What is South Lake Tahoe Craft Beer Meetup? Who started it? When? Why?
EL: The South Lake Tahoe Craft Beer Meetup is a way for people to connect over a pint of good beer! I started the Meetup not long after I moved here because I found it hard to meet people. I figured it'd be fun just to see if anyone wants to hang out and have a beer. The first few Meetups were a bit nerve-racking because I would sit with a little sign having a beer by myself until someone came out. It didn't take long, though, to gather a crew of regulars, and now we have over 350 members and every Meetup has about 30-40 people showing up.
This last December, we partnered with The Coachman Hotel to have a second anniversary party for the Meetup. We packed the place out, drank 30 gallons of beer, raffled off 32 sweet prizes from local businesses, and raised $2,400 for Bread & Broth, a local nonprofit soup kitchen. It was incredible to see local businesses and our Meetup come together to raise tangible support for such a good cause.
NB: How often are Meetups?
EL: Depending on my schedule, I try to do them about every other week. I usually schedule them on weekdays when bars and restaurants have less people.
NB: How many people attend the Meetups? Is it strictly locals? What type of people usually attend?
EL: Every time we have a Meetup there are people new to town that are looking for community. We have singles and couples come, and occasionally some families. The age range is all over the map, with people from 22 to 60. I love how good beer can bring people together from so many backgrounds!
NB: What events do you have scheduled for this month?
EL: This month is a little bit unusual as I wanted to branch out of our normal a bit. We'll be hitting up Basecamp Beer Garden for their Wednesday trivia, and we're also doing a "Paint & Sip" party at the studio at the Ski Run Marina. We usually have Meetups at Chimayo, Sidellis, and The Coachman Hotel.
NB: How do people sign up for the Meetups or get involved?
EL: The best way is to join us is on http://www.meetup.com/SLT-Craft-Beer/. Meetup.com is great about emailing you when a new event is posted and reminding you when it is coming up. We also have a Facebook group where I cross-post the events as well: http://www.facebook.com/groups/SLTCraftBeer/. Whichever way is easiest. We are 100 percent free to join and attend. Just tip the bartenders well!
NB: Is there a beer education component of the Meetups or is it just social?
EL: We occasionally do bottle shares at The Tahoe Mountain Lab where I'll focus on a style or type of beer. Those are pretty fun, but a little more time intensive for me to organize. For our regular events, it's really about the social aspect and connecting people. I'm always amazed at the conversations that get started at each Meetup — people plan hiking trips, backcountry skiing, kayaking, or just some runs at Heavenly.
Thank you, Eliot, for continuing the storied tradition of craft beer in our sometimes closed town. And for all you readers out there, the next time you want to go drink a craft beer and talk to some interesting people, give South Tahoe Craft Beer Meetup a chance. They might not be able to do it instantaneously, but I bet you'll find someone there who can turn water into beer.
Nathan Bergner is a South Lake Tahoe resident, local business owner and fan of beer.