Pigeon Head Brewery dabbles in ales but focuses on European lagers
Northern Nevada’s newest brewery emerges from the old SPCA building hidden under the Wells Ave. overpass on Fifth Street. Not just any brewery, a lager brewery run by a brewmaster with 25 years of experience who plans to break the trend of Belgian beers and IPAs in the northwest.
“You used to come here to get cats, now you can come here to get your kegs,” said James Mann, co-owner of Pigeon Head Brewery.
In the tasting room, several wooden picnic and stand-up tables give drinkers a view into the brewery through a black chain-link fence. Eddie Silveira IV, “the brains behind Pigeon Head,” wants to put up bike racks inside and outside for cycling visitors and eventually build a patio.
The four-block stretch of Fifth Street between Valley Road and Morrill Ave. looks and feels nothing like its redeveloping neighbor, Fourth Street. The area near Denny’s and the Ramada Hotel consists of mostly car repair shops, a fire house, The Daily Bagel and vacant lots. But it’s on the list of Reno’s gentrifying neighborhoods, as that vacant lot across from the brewery will soon become an apartment building. Lucky tenants.
Eddie and brewmaster Lance Jergensen met at the Reno Homebrewer about six years ago when Lance needed grain for his company, Rebel Malting. Eddie’s ranch in Yerington, Nev. can grow up to 15 acres of grain so they formed a partnership. Eddie decided not to grow any this year, though, so he can focus on the new brewery. Instead, Pigeon Head’s base grain will come from Churchill Vineyards.
Lance started his beer journey at Crown City Brewery (now closed) at age 18. He immediately attended chemistry classes to understand brewing science. In 1992, he started as one of the original employees of New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colo. After 10 years at New Belgium, Lance helped open and run the brewery at Oggi’s Pizza and Brewery for two years.
Lance later opened his own brewery, Jergensen Brewing, which he and his family sold to a green tea energy drink company in 2010. During that time he occasionally worked with London Bridge Brewery in Lake Havasu, Ariz. who sold their brewhouse to The Fort Collins Brewery — the same brewhouse they just bought for Pigeon Head. At the same time, Lance also worked for the distributor Southern Wine and Spirits to bring the New Belgium brand into Northern Nevada starting in 2003. Next time you drink a Fat Tire, thank Lance.
After spending 11 months in Denmark to learn even more about brewing, Lance decided he wanted to bring clean, crisp, consistent European flavors here.
“When I landed in Europe it was like drinking silk water,” he said. “I want to prove to all those guys at Stone (brewing) and other yah-hoos that we can make awesome Pilsener beer in the Western United States.”
Lance assures me he still really likes Stone beer and knows the brewers.
Despite his 25 years of experience, Lance remains a quiet, humble brewer whose excitement and pride shows most when he talks about the lagers he wants to make. The brewery will open with a blonde ale, keller brau and the rye pale ale they used to test the new brewing equipment — don’t worry the test was successful. By the grand opening in late May, a Black Lager, Pilsener and India Pale Lager will join the list. Eventually, Lance plans to introduce Reno to some interesting European styles that don’t exist in the United States.
At home, Lance is making an old Scandinavian beer that starts in a hollowed out birch or aspen tree stump with a filter bed made from straw and juniper berries. Instead of regular brewers yeast, it’s fermented with bread yeast and turns into a heavy, unfiltered, 9-percent milkshake of a beer.
“It’s an acquired taste,” he said.
Lance also wants to bring a traditional Danish-style lager to Reno, something like Carlsberg, that’s made of 30-percent maize and 2-row barley. With most breweries making Belgian beers and IPAs, Lance plans to go the opposite direction and show everyone that it’s not taboo to put adjuncts into beer to make it taste better.
Lance, James, Eddie and his father Eddie Silveira III run the brewery together. Right now, three lagering tanks converted from dairy tanks and two upright fermenters barely fill the brewery, allowing Pigeon Head plenty of room to expand and experiment. In the corner sits a small bottling machine still wrapped in plastic. Eddie and James want to gauge what Reno drinkers demand before adding more tanks and bottling 22-oz. bombers.
“Once something is kicking ass, we’ll put it into Reno’s thirsty mouths,” James said.
The three of them believe in building Reno into a tourism destination for breweries and food. Like so many other business owners, they want to build Reno’s craft movement and make the Fifth and Fourth Street area into a Brewers District. By the end of 2014, three breweries and a distillery, not to mention many bars and a few restaurants, will live in a square mile of each other. And that’s if no one else decides to open up shop between now Christmas.
“A rising tide raises all ships,” James said, a phrase echoed by others of their ilk.
Pigeon Head Brewery
Opening: Soft opening Friday, May 9. Grand opening end of May. Follow us on Facebook to find out when.
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: Noon – 8 p.m.
Online: Pigeon Head Brewery online and their Facebook page
Address: 840 E. 5th Street, 89512
Updated May 2 at 8:45 a.m.: A correction was made to Lance Jergensen’s brewing experience to fix what year he started working for Southern Wine & Spirits. Another correction was made to the history of the Pigeon Head Brewery brewhouse and Lance Jergensen’s time spent working on that brewhouse in Lake Havasu not Fort Collins.
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