Old Mining Town Gives Up Gold for Hops

Brewmaster Brian Ford / Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Auburn Alehouse is located in, well, Auburn, CA.  An old mining town that has had to re-purpose itself for tourism, Auburn sits so close to I-80 that by the time you get off the exit you’re in the heart of downtown.  The first thing you’ll notice is the town’s strict adherence to the old “mining era” vibe.  The storefronts look like they’re from an old western movie, which made the Hawaiian-themed store all the more silly looking.  Nothing says cold mountain town like Bermuda shorts and t-shirts that a cruise line threw up on.  But enough of that, let’s get to the brewery.

The layout of the Auburn Alehouse is spectacular.  It’s a large building and the owners have been very creative with all the space.  The bar is made from a beautiful piece of wood stretching the length of the restaurant and the brewing area is located behind tall windows at the back of the building.  All the tanks are stacked on steel beams and clean as a whistle.  It’s great when a brewery showcases their tanks. It never feels like a brewery without at least some equipment on display.  Brewers tend to hate being featured like zoo animals in a cage, but it appeals to customers.

After ordering the complete flight of samples I started off with their pilsner and lager.  It’s really hard to find good lagers and pilsners and I didn’t want to blow my taste buds away at first.  Up until then my experience with Auburn Alehouse was limited to their tasty uber-hoppy Gold Digger IPA, so I didn’t expect much from their lagers, but they weren’t just good, they were delicious. Both were crisp, refreshing and so flavorful that after the flight was finished I ordered a pint of each before heading out the door.

Their Gold Digger IPA is a staple of mine, but in all honestly those two beers were my favorite beers of the day.  The Shanghai Stout also stands out as a great beer, but my mind kept wandering back to the lagers whenever I thought about the brewery (the pilsner won Bronze at GABF in 2010).

Brewmaster Brian Ford was there working on his latest batch and took some time out of his day to show me around the brewery and answer questions.  Like many small breweries that produce popular beer, Auburn is running into supply issues and just can’t keep up with demand.  A good problem to have, but also frustrating.  The brewery is nearly maxed out of space and might have to start contract brewing like many popular small breweries.

Altitude also plays a role in the brewing process at Auburn. Higher altitudes means water boils at lower temperatures and it also takes longer to boil (crazy, eh?).  This increases costs a bit. I can’t imagine what breweries in Colorado have to do to make their beer.

Expanding into different styles, Ford just released a barrel-aged version of his Old Prospector Barleywine. He even went the extra mile by wax-sealing the bottles.  He was aiming for that cool Makers Mark drippy wax look to the bottle, but they must use some sort of plastic because I’ve never seen a beer bottle with that drippy look.  By the way, brewers might want to avoid that red appearance since Makers Mark seems to be “sue-happy” about its wax look.  An interesting wax factoid that surprised me, was that dipping bottles in the gooey substance can damage the beer if the heat is too high or it’s exposed for too long. Apparently it’s a very delicate process.

All in all, Auburn Alehouse is a great place to stop and have a pint on your way through town. The beers are fantastic, the vibe is welcoming and if you’re passing through to hit the slopes or are headed to Reno I couldn’t recommend it more.  I just wish they could spare a few more hundred gallons of beer and send it down to the Bay Area.