The second in a two-part Summer Vacation series. The first was posted yesterday.

This summer, our family vacation destination was Mammoth Lakes, famous for Mammoth Mountain, a popular spot in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter season.  It’s not a highly populous town; as of 2010, there were just over 8,200 year-round residents. But, it’s not hard see where the seams might be busting during those four or five weeks a year when thousands upon thousands drive in to take advantage of the skiing conditions. In the warmer months, however, the atmosphere is slow and relaxed, as every good mountain town should be. 

Mammoth Mountain during the summer months, from the peak. Photo by FtB.

I titled this post, “The Local Brewery in Mammoth Lakes, CA…” because I think calling a place “the local” implies a sense of pride and commitment to your community. I believe Mammoth Brewing Company embodies that concept of “the local.” It would seem that there’s a level of acceptance on the part of the residents that this business is part of the social fabric of the town. For my part, I saw MBC out and about at town functions, the local grocery store had a highly visible and proud display of the brewery’s bottled options, they were a fixture on local restaurant tap lists, and they were organizing and sponsoring their yearly festival, Bluesapalooza. While we didn’t get there at the correct time to take part in the event, the posted schedule and resulting Instagrams paint a picture of a popular and well-attended festival with a wealth of good food and great music. Plus, there was a whopping list of over sixty participating breweries on the website. If you happen to have spent time in small towns, you’ll understand what it means to say thedrugstore or the hardware store, etc. It’s not special because of what it does, per sé, but rather because it’s a member of the family. In any case, that’s what I gather from Mammoth Brewing Company and the town of Mammoth Lakes. Maybe I’m wrong…but I hope I’m not (and I don’t think that I am).

Photo by FtB.

The brewery opened in 1995 and has been under its current ownership since 2007. Since then, they have quadrupled in size and are on track to brew more than 8,000 barrels per year. Recently, MBC has brought together brewing facility and tasting room in their location on Main Street/Lake Mary Road and Minaret Road. In coming together, though, they are stuffed to the gills with fermenters – some are outside, no doubt taking advantage of the cool climate. If MBC continues at their current growth pace, I would guess there would need to be some serious infrastructural changes. Outside, there’s a new beer garden, which, while it more or less amounts to an outdoor seating area in an unused section of the parking lot, is a welcome feature in a town with so much scenery in the background.

Of their “Original” lineup, I tasted the Real McCoy Amber Ale, Double Nut Brown and IPA 395. The Real McCoy is somewhat confusingly listed as an “American Amber/Red Ale” despite the fact that it won a bronze medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup for “German-Style Brown Ale/Düsseldorf-Style Altbier.” I suppose its because they’ve used the herbal and nectar-y sweet Palisade hop variety, which comes from the Yakima, Washington region (though Pallisade does share some characteristics of German Noble hops). The yeast might tell more of the story, as well, although it is unlisted. Whatever the case may be, this beer had a smooth, velvety malt palate, which made me think it had spent some time in a relatively cool conditioning tank (a trait of the Düsseldorf Alt style). The result was a very pleasant, mellow drinkability, without much in the way of fruity esters, that could have long accompanied our lazy nights of card games. Double Nut Brown, also confusingly named as it uses no nuts in the brewing process nor is it a brown ale usually noted for a certain amount of nuttiness, but rather it is a brown porter with notes of mildly sweet, dark chocolate and coffee with a roasty dryness. This beer is also a medal winner having taken home a gold in the 2012 World Beer Cup in the Brown Porter category. IPA 395, a double India Pale Ale brewed with Millenium and Centennial hops, chooses not to go for the knockout bitterness punch, though at 8.0% ABV it is deserving of the double IPA style moniker. The orange-y, citrus-y, earthy aroma is made more complex with additions of desert sage and juniper.  Compared to the aggressive West Coast double IPAs I’m used to, this was a nice change of pace. 

The tasting room. The brewing facilities are directly behind me. Photo by FtB.

Also available in the tap room were a number of one-offs and seasonals, which I took the opportunity to sample. El Capitan was a variation on the IPA 395 theme with the addition of brown sugar in the boil. It was distinctly stronger and more syrupy than its cousin, headed into barleywine territory. Wild Sierra, one MBC’s bottled seasonals, was a floral farmhouse saison with a prickly mouthfeel. They had a stout on nitro,Black Bear Stout. It had a soft and creamy mouthfeel while still relatively light. I noted that it would be an excellent choice for an ice cream-beer float. My personal favorites of their seasonals were Dos Osos, Blondibock and Bear Garden. The base of Dos Osos was a Mexican lager (I’ll assume by that, they mean a Vienna lager) with an addition of cold-pressed coffee in the lautering stage and lagered with cinnamon, cocoa and vanilla bean. The beer had a subtle roast that was nicely rounded with a medium body and carbonation level, I couldn’t help but think of it as a schwarzbier with a bit of spice. I’m told the use of cold-pressed coffee results in a roastiness without the normally associated acrid or burnt notes. If true, the effect worked here, I really liked this beer despite my usual aversion to coffee. There was apparently a variation on Dos Osos seen in last year’s Tres Osos, which featured the inclusion of tequila-soaked wood chips during the lagering stage. Color me curious. Bear Garden, this year’s official Bluesapalooza beer, was brewed in the Kölsch style with additions of rose hips, jasmine, and lavender (you could call it a “floral bomb,” if there were such a thing…there is now). These played nicely with the bready malt notes, light esters and dry, white wine-like finish. Blondibock, one of Mammoth’s annual releases, is a blonde bock (usually similar to a Maibock) aged for three months in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Admittedly when the server said “three months in the barrel”, I wasn’t that impressed. We beer folk are accustomed to barrel-aging periods of 12 months or more. But of course on tasting, my first reaction was “Wow! Three months was enough!” There were BIG notes of vanilla and bourbon with a with a smooth, toasty, slightly caramelly maltiness with the hops delegated only to a restraining role. From the alcoholic heat, I expected an ABV of at least 10% but was pleasantly surprised to see it rang in at 7.5%. I suppose the beer being a blond bock meant there wasn’t much of a deep malt profile to compete with the bourbon character of the barrel. Normally, a barrel-aged beer such as a stout for instance, has more dark malts to outdo in order for the barrel notes to be noticeable. The nice tasting room staff lady told me these barrels had come directly from aging bourbon without being used for anything else in between. This stood in contrast to the versions from previous years, which had third-or-more use barrels and subsequently, subtler bourbon character.

And of MBC’s house-made root beer, our six year old, who considers himself a connoisseur, had a whole growler to himself to form his opinion. He had this to contribute, “It’s rooty and beery.” My fiancé added, “It makes you never want canned root beer again.” Apparently, teetotalers need not feel left out.

As a final sidenote: Mammoth Brewing Company just posted an event on the Facebook page for a Hop Picking Party, next week on August 17. In exchange for 5 pounds of hops picked, you get a ticket to their Hops and Sage Fest (two of the ingredients in IPA395), three allocated bottles of Owen’s Valley Wet Harvest Ale and a free pint and barbecue in their tasting room.  I may have gone on record as not being a hophead but wet harvest pale ales and IPA’s (using fresh, non-dried hops, thus “wet”) are completely different.

Does anybody want to take another trip to Mammoth with me? Say…next week?

The Minarets from the peak of Mammoth Mountain. Photo by FtB.

The Minarets from the peak of Mammoth Mountain. Photo by FtB.

Mammoth Brewing Company can be found online at http://www.mammothbrewingco.com. They’re also on Instagram, @mammothbrewing.

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