Over the past year, there’s been an explosion of breweries opening in South Lake Tahoe. From Sidellis to Cold Water Brewery and Tahoe Ale Worx, the newest on our radar is South Lake Brewing Company. For a city of 20,000 people (yet quite popular as a destination spot), is that too many? Heck no! Each one offers something a bit different and South Lake Brewing is now one of our favorites. On a recent warm spring day, I got the chance to sit down with Nicole, co-owner of the brewery, and get the scoop of how South Lake Brewing came to be.
South Lake Brewing – A Definite Upgrade to South Lake Tahoe
For those that have previously visited the brewery’s building, the transformation is nothing short of amazing! A fresh coat of paint, a beautiful sign reading South Lake Brewing and large windows allowing all the gorgeous Tahoe sunlight in, everyone will take notice. Walking through the doors, the space feels inviting and open. To the left is a massive topographic mural of the Lake Tahoe basin. But front and center, right where they should be, sits the bar and the taps. Each handle is an old ski pole, serving up their amazing brews. To the right of the bar stood Nicole, giving me a big smile and waving me over. Sitting down at the bar, she pours me a nice cold brew and delves right into her and Chris’ saga – the owners and visionaries of South Lake Brewing Company.
A Dream is born… in Southern California
Like any great venture, it isn’t a sprint but rather a marathon to get to where they are today. Nearly five years ago, Nicole and Chris got married and while Nicole had finished college and was working in the corporate world, Chris was still finishing up his degree. Living in Southern California, they frequented a bar called Spike’s, which really gave them a sense of community centered around beer. Each week they’d meet up there, try new craft beers and talk about home brewing adventures. Chris had also joined a home brewing club, called the O.C. Mashups, to expand his own art of crafting beer. Like any recent college graduates, the thoughts of “What should I do next in life?” starting to echo loud and clear. Do you go the corporate route or follow your dreams and jump off the entrepreneurial cliff? It was at one of the craft beer community events that Nicole and Chris first expressed their dream of starting up a brewery. The big question wasn’t how but where? Since they both grew up in South Lake Tahoe, they wanted to come back and invest in their hometown. With enthusiastic support from their friends, they began the long journey to opening day.
How to start a Brewery
While holding down day jobs, they started researching what it takes to open a brewery. The most useful book they found is “How to Start a Brewery” by Dick Cantwell. It’s great to have a dream and go for it but at the same time, those pesky bills get in the way. During the two and a half years of creating a business plan, both Chris and Nicole kept their jobs to cover living expenses. The only problem was their schedules were so different that the generation of the plan was slow going consequently. In the spring of 2014, they finally got in sync on their work schedules and that’s when everything began to click. Their dedication and determination was apparent, but if it wasn’t for the guidance from a few special people like Derek, Sam and Harrison, this dream would never have become a reality.
- Derek Testerman – Lead Brewer at Gunwhale Ales
- Sam O’Shea – Operations Manager at Barley Forge Brewery
- Harrison McCabe – Brewer at Beechwood Brewery
Three months of crickets… and then Success!
Starting a brewery can be pricey! For Nicole and Chris, it was $500K to be exact and from June 2015 to June 2016, all they did was fundraise. In January 2016, they were given the opportunity to present to the local community with the help from the South Lake Tahoe Chamber. They received great feedback but didn’t land any big investors. They left the meeting with only $10,000 in committed funding and for nearly three months, it was total silence. A little deflated but still determined, they needed to step back and come up with a new game plan. They created and sent out a revised business plan and then went on a well-deserved vacation. Suddenly, the dam broke and endorsements started coming in all at once! They reached 100% of their funding in only two months! With a few bumps and bruises along the way, South Lake Brewing opened its doors on Monday April 17th to HUGE fanfare. Nearly 500 people showed up from the community to welcome them to town. Talk about exciting!
What a great story but what about the beer?
Sipping on Chris’ latest concoction, it was time to sample their beers. Like any new brewery, their list of beers will continue to grow and here are their latest brews on tap:
Barrett Brown Ale
Inspired by nature, this ale is named after a Desolation Wilderness lake known for its amazing wildflowers, awesome fishing, and great camping. You’ll imagine yourself toasting this beer in one hand and your fishing pole in the other. A full-flavored brown ale that is perfect even on a hot summer’s day. Not heavy like most brown ales, this one would go well with a pairing of dark chocolate. Fantastic!
Marlette Lake, just beyond Lake Tahoe, was created to feed water to the Comstock Lode in Virginia City. Out of all their beers, it’s our personal favorite. A beer that’s a bit of hoppy for a refreshing taste but finishes sweet without any bitter flavor that most hoppy beers have. Notes of pear, honey and tangerine complete the flavor profile of this amazing beer.
The Emigrant trail was a major land route for immigration into California and like the beer, it’s a great way to travel into the world of South Lake Brewing’s beers. A truly creative interpretation of a Saison! Instead of being overly sweet (as some Saisons can be), they’ve made it a bit tart yet soft on the palate. Not what you’d expect in just reading the name of this brew. One word… complex.
Angora Ridge is home to one of the worst wildfires in Lake Tahoe history. Nearly 1 billion dollars of destruction to the beautiful landscape because of a human caused tragedy. Luckily, this area is being reborn and is home to same AMAZING backcountry skiing. An unfiltered East Coast Style IPA, this beer isn’t too hoppy and is filled with notes of pine and ripe tropical fruits. A great option for any IPA drinker.
At South Lake Brewing, their specialty is of course their beer but what about food? They came up with a collaborative approach instead of just creating a kitchen of their own. Restaurant pop-ups from across the region are coming to their brewery to serve food! From Artemis to Simple Bliss, the food served is just as creative as their brews. Be sure to check their events calendar to see who will be there and when.
So, what’s next for South Lake Brewing?
They want to become the answer to the question, “What’s your local beer on tap?” Their goal is to ramp up production and begin distributing all throughout South Lake Tahoe. Currently, they’re on tap at the new Lake Tahoe Ale Worx, Lake Tahoe Pizza Company, and the Coachman Hotel but will be expanding in the next few months. Regardless of where in South Lake you enjoy your time, you’ll be able to enjoy a South Lake Brewing beer! Sounds like a great idea to us. So, the next time you come to Tahoe, visit the brewery or be sure to ask for a brew by them. You’ll be glad you did.
Grand Opening on Memorial Day!
Until then, get ready for the grand opening happening over Memorial Day Weekend. With a twinkle in her eye, Nicole she just grins and tells me they have something big in store for the celebration. We can’t wait to see what it is!