It was the summer of 1903. Industries such as a wool warehouse, a lumber mill and a slaughterhouse populated the east side of Reno along Fourth Street, well before it became the Lincoln Highway. That was also when three men of German descent opened Reno Brewing Company, just east of the current Wells Avenue.
For more than 50 years, Reno Brewing Company produced fine lagers—the famous Sierra Beer known throughout the state. After surviving Prohibition, by 1950, it was the only remaining brewery in Nevada, but in 1957, it halted production forever. All that remains of it today is the shuttered bottling plant, built in 1940, and a historical legacy that lives on in the neighborhood, now known as the Brewery District.
Fast forward to the 2010s, when Reno was exploding with growth—and struggling with an identity crisis. Districts like Midtown and the Riverwalk worked to develop their brands and attract visitors and locals with commerce, art and entertainment. Along East Fourth Street, a combination of the central location and reasonable rents drew local craft brewers to set up shop, hoping to capitalize on the rich history, location and thriving popularity of local craft beer.
Under the Rose was the first to put “brewery” in the then-unnamed Brewery District, opening in 2013 in a 1930s welding shop. Pigeon Head Brewery, specializing in lager beers, opened the following year in a former SPCA shelter. Owners of The Depot, Nevada’s first combined brewery and distillery, spent more than a year revitalizing their 1910 N-C-O railroad depot building, beautifully balancing modern use with its century-old former glory, before opening at the end of 2014. Co-founder and brewer/distiller Brandon Wright is proud when he talks about the “gem of the community” they occupy; instead of ownership, he talks of being “the caretakers of this asset—history gives a sense of community.”
In 2017, Lead Dog Brewing opened just east of The Depot. Lead Dog’s success with hazy IPAs, sours and a signature peanut butter stout led to a much larger brewery in Sparks two years later, leaving the original facility as a taproom. The brand was acquired by Mammoth Brewing in 2021.
As the district evolved, it reflected the ups and downs of the greater region and beyond: Businesses rise and fall; tastes change; trends vary. A startup, Lake Tahoe Brewing, announced plans to open nearby, only to fail quickly amid legal troubles. Under the Rose shut down unexpectedly in 2018. Record Street Brewing faced years of challenges renovating their historic building (dating back to 1929, with a 1954 addition) while brewing elsewhere, before opening at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020—only to close suddenly last year.
But as they say, when one door closes, another door opens. The most recent addition to the neighborhood, Slieve Brewing, opened in an old firehouse next to Pigeon Head last year.
The revitalization isn’t all about beer; much of the district’s character lies in its diversity. In 2019, the first meadery in Nevada, Black Rabbit Mead, opened its doors. Co-founder Will Truce, a former teacher, saw the potential in the district and got to work growing a community. He rallied the neighborhood’s fellow entrepreneurs, property owners and stakeholders to solidify the Brewery District name and create a coalition to bring the concept to life. Although not a brewer, he sees breweries as “sources of local pride, where people come together,” and embraces the spirit of breweries as community gathering places. After pandemic setbacks, the vision of Black Rabbit as a simple tasting room was abandoned, and the space is now established as a neighborhood center for live entertainment, tasty hand pies—and, of course, a varying selection of their lovely sparkling meads. Fittingly, another beer-related business, the Reno Brew Bike, shares the building to house their multi-rider “brew bikes,” upon which people can enjoy brewery-hopping journeys.
Transforming the neighborhood further, the Brewery District now includes three wineries sharing a tasting room next door to Lead Dog; Ferino Distillery, producing Italian-inspired spirits; and, rounding out the beer-related portfolio, the Reno Homebrewer, in a 1946 brick grocery building. Of course, many industrial and other alcohol-unrelated businesses call the district home as well.
As Reno continues to grow and evolve, so will the Brewery District. These days, the various business owners—Wright describes them as “a loose group of professional friends”—are like friendly neighbors. Someone, often Truce, will suggest a block party, or perhaps another “Tour de Brews” event, and everyone will join in. These small business owners work long, hard hours and can’t dedicate endless hours to organizing, so casual events tend to happen. Both Truce and Pigeon Head brewer/owner Bryan Holloway echoed a goal of getting past the area’s negative reputation (which still persists) and growing the historic, walkable neighborhood, where locals and visitors can spend an afternoon and evening enjoying food, drink and entertainment.
The old Reno Brewing Company bottling plant was sold in 2021 to an investor with a plan to revitalize the historic brick structure into an open marketplace—think small retail, eateries and coffee shops, a possible eastern anchor for businesses like Pigeon Head, slightly isolated in their spot furthest from downtown. When another business opens, it’s seen as growing the district—and making progressing toward their collective success more than competition.