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Exploring Our Backyard: The Brewing Lair, a brewery in the middle of the forest

The Brewing Lair
A flight of beers at The Brewing Lair. (Chris Murray/NSN)

The 2000s ushered in an explosion of breweries, but there aren't many – if any – quite like The Brewing Lair.

My family went on a three-day, two-night escape to Graeagle last weekend, and when you go to the High Sierra, there's one place you must visit for sure, that being The Brewing Lair, which happens to be in the middle of the forest.

A craft-beer-loving couple by the name of Susan and Rich founded the brewery in 2011, with Rich being a carpenter in search of a new hobby and Susan a brewer/restaurateur in search of a new project. What resulted is the coolest brewery within an hour's drive of Reno. The Brewing Lair is in Blairsden, Calif., (population 3,879) one of several small towns on your drive from Reno to the brewery.

Directions are easy, although it's equally easy to miss the turnoff for the brewery, which is tucked into 15 acres of forested land in the Northern Sierra Nevada. From Reno, simply take US-395 north toward Susanville before getting off at Portola/Quincy exit for CA-70. Turn left and head exactly 32.4 miles before taking a right into the woods. There's a little sign that tells you where the Brewing Lair is, but I'd advise just typing the location into your phone so you don't miss the turn.

The dirt road will take you about half a mile up before you get to various parking spaces, which can be limited, but you can always find a spot, even in the overflow parking. The first time we visited The Brewing Lair, in August 2017, it wasn't too busy. Last weekend, there were 40-50 people there, but we still got a good parking spot, and there's plenty of room to social distance given the 15 acres the brewery sits on.

The actual 15-barrel brewery is relatively small, but it offers five beers, our favorite being the Acclimation Sour Ale. We got the five-beer flight, which includes four-ounce tasters of each of The Brewing Lair's beers to sample before choosing which one you want to go back for (the flight was only $10). The majority of their offerings are IPAs.

"We will only brew beer that we like to drink, so please don't ask us to brew a light, fizzy, tasteless beer," The Brewing Lair's website reads.

We also got a bag of kettle corn (we got one with Thai chili flavoring), which is the only food offered at the brewery, although there are three charcoal barbecue pits available if you want to bring your own food to grill. You just need to bring the charcoal, a lighter and your meat. The Brewing Lair is cool with customers their own non-alcoholic drinks and/or wine for non-beer drinkers, but outlaws bringing commercial bottled beer to the grounds, which is fair. It welcomes aspiring brewers bringing home brew to try or share.

But the beer and the food is only part of the story. The coolest aspect of the brewery is the location. You're literally in the middle of the forest breathing fresh mountain air and feeling good vibes.

Dogs are welcomed (but have to be kept on a leash), and there are plenty of activities to keep yourself or your kids entertained. We played on one of the two ping pong tables for about 30 minutes. There's also cornhole, a slack line for those with better balance than myself, hula hoops and a 9-hole disc golf course, so bring your discs if you're into that sort of thing.

There are a couple of bathrooms, so it's a full service operation. There's also plenty of wood seating and picnic tables as well as big grass and deck areas, although you can bring your own chairs, too. There's a firepit and a stage for music, which is typically held every weekend when we're not in a pandemic. While the site is big, there's no camping at the brewery, so pitch your tents elsewhere.

But there are plenty of things on site to keep you entertained for an hour or two beyond the beer and conversation. You can take a walk on the disc golf course, too, if you want to get a little exercise. It's a nice path for dogs.

The Brewing Lair also has a swag shop that includes hats, shirts, sweatshirts, smokable hemp and other items, the coolest being a ceramic growler that goes for $110 (or $94 empty), which I almost got, but I'm not a big beer drinker and would probably never use. But the design and material it's made out of still tempted me as a kitchen display item.

Even in these hot summer days, there's plenty of shade to escape the heat on site as the seating and activities are built around the trees. Yeah, your car and shoes might get a little dusty given the dirty road used for parking, but The Brewing Lair really is one-of-a-kind and certainly worth a trip from Reno. And if you're in the Graeagle area, you'd be crazy not to stop by (hours are Noon-"darkish," aka 7 p.m.-8 p.m.) just to check it out and relax for a little while.

In next week's Exploring Our Backyard, I'll take you through a couple more of our stops in Graeagle, but the one place I most highly recommend is The Brewing Lair.

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