Nestled deep in the snowy town of Truckee, California, beer is a total Eclipse. We’re talking Fifty Fifty. No, not BMW’s touted fifty fifty weight distribution, not your snowboarding survival rate on a tripple black diamond, and definitely not your imaginary odds at High & Low at the tables in the nearby city of Reno. We are talking Fifty Fifty Brewing Co. which, up until recently, you may only have known about if you’ve either A) been there or B) know a beer geek that can get a hold of a coveted bottle of Eclipse Imperial Stout.
Beer geeks and Imperial Stout fans alike should be familiar with Fifty Fifty’s most notorious beer, Eclipse. This rich and beefy stout, designed by Brewmaster Todd Ashman, is an alternate version of the pub favorite, Totality Imperial Stout. Totality is rich, viscous, hoppy, and jet black. It’s a beer that’ll go with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and is strong enough to comfort those suffering from post-slope-trauma. Eclipse however takes this beer to the next level in both complexity, flavor, and price. Each bottle of Eclipse spends an extended aging session in a whiskey barrel. This year there are 9 different varieties, each hand bottled, numbered, and dipped in color coded wax. The price you pay depends on the rareness and cost of the whiskey barrels the beer was aged in, ranging from Blue Corn Whiskey, to Bernheim Wheat, to Elijah Craig 20-year. Check out the variety list here. Get ready to shell out some serious dough; Elijah Craig 20-year is upwards of $40 per bottle. If you want to collect them all, you’ll need to make a trip to the pub, some are sold on location only. You can also grab a taster of the version they are pouring that day.
Bierkast was able to sit down with owner Andy Barr for a friendly QA over a pint.
Building a Brew Pub
Andy, like many home brewers out there, comes from an engineering background. Both he and his wife, Alicia, had been working at Hewlett-Packard and felt that they needed a change. A work-for-yourself sort of change. They knew that they wanted to open a brewery, but also decided that food was a key factor. They wanted to open a place that showcased not only top notch beer, but also a high quality menu and a focus on in-person interaction with all their customers. In May of 2007, Fifty-Fifty Brewing Co. was born. “We didn’t know what we were doing starting out,” said Andy. Big bills, financial burden, managing a large number of employees, and maintaining a business budget. Unfamiliar territory that became necessary to master. Now with over 48 employees, distribution, and plans for a brewery expansion in a building nearby, Fifty-Fifty Brewing is booming. Andy and Alicia’s now developed restaurant management skills have even allowed them to opened up a sushi restaurant next door.
The name “Fifty-Fifty” has, as Andy admitted, many different meanings. They had to name the brewery and threw around a number of different ideas, but nothing stuck. That is until their Graphic Designer came up with a prototype logo and name. Fifty-Fifty, a balance of work & play, food & beer, quality & choice, art & science, this new name fit perfectly with Andy and Alicia’s plans for the brewery to be. Leaving Fifty-Fifty’s meaning open for interpretation helped to bring strength to their brand identity.
Fifty-Fifty Brewing Co. has done very well. Andy and Alicia have managed to create a successful brewing establishment in a moderately remote area located in the Sierras. This can be difficult when you think about most of their clientele being seasonal skiers/snowboarders. It turns out they did everything right. Business is booming, and they are primed for expansions. Their current 10 hectoliter brewhouse (~8.5 bbls), acquired from a Russian theme park in Japan, is at capacity. The Brewermaster, Todd Ashman, and both assistant brewers, Alyssa Shook and Gene Curtin, are working around the clock with limited fermentation capacity. To keep up with demand, as well as their recent distribution deal with California Craft Distributors, Andy is currently working on moving the manufacturing brewery to a neighboring building where they will have a 30 BBL Brewhouse and increased fermentation space. The current brewhouse will stay in the pub and will be used primarily for pilot releases and pub-only beers. They’ll also expand their bottling line and packaged offerings. Andy wanted to emphasize that he doesn’t have any desire to brew high volume. The 30 BBL brewhouse is still small enough that they will be able to maintain the quality that people come to expect from Fifty Fifty.
Andy has done collaborations in the past, such as Collaborative Evil, based on their successful Concentrated Evil beer, and is up for doing something with neighboring breweries in the future. “I like the idea, but it really has to be done well,” said Andy. Many breweries have jumped on the collaboration band wagon recently, but there really needs to be a firm plan in place. Now, he’s more concerned with growing the beer community in Truckee. As it stands, there is only one other brewery in Truckee, Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co.
The Beer & Food
Fifty Fifty Brewing has a lot to offer in terms of beer ranging from straight ahead to obscure. We’ve already talked about Eclipse and Totality, which should be re-mentioned because they are just that good. Also of note at the tap-room was the Lipstick Belgian, a Belgian golden spiced with dark sour cherries. The beer was tart, but not from the yeast or a lambic culture. No, this was purely from the cherries, and it was delicious. There is also the Charles “Don’t call me Charlie” Brown ale, which came about from a happy accident when Rye was mistakenly added to the grain bill. The result is a delightfully complex brown ale with assertive rye notes.
Food goes from classic bar options like wings, nachos, pizza, and burgers to gourmet and BBQ. This is precisely the place you want to visit after a hard day of skiing. Both the chicken wings, nachos, and Lipstick Belgian pair particularly well with a long drive up from Los Angeles.
For more information about Fifty Fifty Brewing Co, check out their website!
*Special thanks to Andy Barr for taking time out of his busy schedule to show Bierkast around and answer questions. Special thanks also to the crew at Fifty Fifty Brewing for doing a great job.