Thursday, October 27, 2011

Drinking Local on the High Sierras: Mammoth Brewing

Inside Mammath Brewing's Tap Room (photo from Sean Turner)
Hearing the words "head for the mountains" brings back awkward college memories of swilling cheap Busch beer in college back in the 80's. Thankfully in our more enlightened times, heading for California's Sierra Mountains won't lead you to a skunky brew, but the fine beers of Mammoth Brewing.

Located in Mammoth Lakes on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Forest, the brewery was founded by Sam Walker in 1995, who sold it to current owner Sean Turner in 2006. Turner explains that what makes his beer unique is that at 8,000 feet, water boils at 198 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 212 degrees at sea level, resulting in a softer flavor profile in the brewing process.    He also adds that a 8,000 feet, the mountain water they use is the purest being furthest upstream.  Mammoth is known for their Golden Trout Pilsner, Epic IPA, IPA 395,  Double Nut Brown, and Hair of the Bear Doppelbck among their more popular beers.  They've won a slew of awards at the California State Fair and other beer competitions, so they must be doing a lot right.

I can personally vouch for IPA 395, named after the main highway through the Eastern Sierras. Mammoth Brewing uses locally grown hops with dessert sage and mountain juniper to create one of the more unique and memorable California IPA's you'll find.  If hoppy beers aren't your thing, then give Mammoth's Hair of the Bear Doppelbock a try.   It tastes like liquid banana bread with it's banana-like fruity esters melding seamlessly with the highly roasted malts.  

In addition to innovative brewing, Mammoth Brewing was one of the first craft breweries to distribute beer in cans. "Putting in a canning line was one of the first things I did at Mammoth, before the sale was even completed," recalls Turner. "We sell most of our beer around Yosemite and putting beer into cans made it much easier for hikers to carry into the forest. We've increased our output by a factor of three since 2006, and going to cans was a big part of that." The second largest region for Mammoth is the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, as the beer is also popular with skiers.

Mammoth Lakes is also the home of the mighty Mammoth Track Club which includes many of  elite runners, including United States Olympic Marathoners Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi. These athletes are seen all over town but apparently are focused more on running fast and winning races than drinking beer, as they rarely venture into Mammoth Brewing's tap room.  Turner remembers his first encounter with Meb Keflezighi when "Meb approached me about a deal to wear a cap with our logo on it for a couple hundred dollars. I barely knew who he was and I had just started running the brewery to get the brewery, so decided to pass on the idea.    Next thing you know, he wins the New York Marathon and becomes famous."

In early November, Mammoth will release its Owen's Valley Wet Harvest Ale, brewed using organically grown hops from a local hop farmer transported straight from the hop fields into the brew kettle.  Mammoth Brewing purchases these hops to support agriculture in Owen's Valley, a battle ground of California water rights where much of the local water has been diverted to Los Angeles.

To find Mammoth Beers, you literally need to head for the mountains as Mammoth Brewing distributes only from Truckee down to Kern County along the High Sierras.  You can also stop by Mammoth's Tap room open daily from 10am-6pm at 94 Berner Street in Mammoth Lakes. Two ounce tasting samples are free.

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