I recently found myself doing some skiing out in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Surrounded by mountains, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and is known for its awesome skiing, hiking and water sports. There’s also quite a lot of local beer. I went searching for some, and came across High Sierra Brewing Co.’s Black Pussykat Imperial Stout.
High Sierra Brewing Co. is located 10 miles east of Lake Tahoe in Carson City, Nev., the sleepy capital of our nation’s 35th-most populous state. High Sierra is Carson City’s only brewery, and as a consequence of being located in a relatively arid, barren region of the U.S., the brewery cannot exactly source its ingredients locally. The brewery does, however, take advantage of a large diatomaceous earth mine in nearby Lovelock, Nev. for its filtration system. Proximity to a large surface mining operation may be the only advantage to running a brewery in the middle of the Nevada desert.
The brewing equipment that now resides at High Sierra has changed hands five times in the past 20 years. Starting in a casino brewpub in South Lake Tahoe, the equipment moved to a brewery in the nearby town of Minden. In December 2004, the brewery finally moved to its current resting place 15 miles north in Carson City. High Sierra is currently housed in a building constructed in the 1860s that had been an abandoned casino until the brewery arrived.
The beer style known today as stout is loosely characterized by its dark color and moderate-to-high alcohol content. Stouts are ales most often brewed with barley that is roasted. Much like the roasting of coffee beans, roasting barley produces a deep, complex character that includes burnt, caramel-like and nutty flavors, to name a few. A successful stout embraces the complexity of the dark malts while balancing their natural bitterness with other flavors in the beer. Brewers sometimes slap the term “imperial” in front of “stout” to indicate that they used a lot more malt and hops, resulting in a darker, stronger beer.
I drew a pint from a 22-ounce bottle and immediately noticed the beer’s deep, reddish-black appearance. Toasty dark malts dominate the aroma, with some crisp floral hop notes on the side. The taste follows from the aroma, with mellow burnt flavors and coffee notes giving way to a dry, bitter finish. Sweetness, usually used to balance out the roasty bitterness from the dark malts, is missing a bit in this brew. Overall, this is not my favorite imperial stout, but it is a flavorful and complex beer from an interesting brewery with a storied history. Cheers!