Drinking Local in the High Sierra: Mammoth Brewing

The tasting room. Photo courtesy of Mammoth Brewing Co.

By Derrick Peterman, The Beer Runner

Hearing the words “head for the mountains” brings back awkward college memories of swilling cheap Busch beer in college back in the ‘80s. Thankfully in our more enlightened times, heading for California’s Sierra Nevada mountains won’t lead you to a skunky brew, but to some fine beers, like those of Mammoth Brewing Company.

Located in Mammoth Lakes on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park, the brewery was founded by Sam Walker in 1995, who sold it to current owner Sean Turner in 2006.

Turner explains that what makes his beer unique is that at 8,000 feet water boils at 198 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 212 degrees at sea level, resulting in a softer flavor profile during the brewing process. He also adds that at 8,000 feet, the mountain water they use is as pure as it gets.

Among the 10 beers they brew, Mammoth is best known for their Golden Trout Pilsner, Real McCoy Amber, Epic IPA, IPA 395, Double Nut Brown, and Hair of the Bear Doppelbock. They’ve won a slew of awards at the California State Fair and other beer competitions, so they must be doing a lot right.

I can personally vouch for IPA 395 (8.0% ABV, 60 IBUs), named after the main highway through the Eastern Sierra. Mammoth Brewing uses locally grown hops with dessert sage and mountain juniper to create one of the more unique and memorable California IPA’s you’ll find.
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Owner Sean Turner explains that what makes his beer unique is that at 8,000 feet water boils at 198 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 212 degrees at sea level, resulting in a softer flavor profile.
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If hoppy beers aren’t your thing, then give Mammoth’s Hair of the Bear Doppelbock (9.0% ABV, 20 IBUs) a try. A German-style strong bock beer, it tastes like liquid banana bread with its banana-like fruity esters melding seamlessly with the highly roasted malts. In addition to innovative brewing, Mammoth Brewing was one of the first craft breweries to distribute their beer in cans.

“Putting in a canning line was one of the first things I did at Mammoth, before the sale was even completed,” recalls Turner. “We sell most of our beer around Yosemite and putting beer into cans made it much easier for hikers to carry into the backcountry. We’ve increased our output by a factor of three since 2006, and going to cans was a big part of that.”

The second largest market for Mammoth Brewing is, naturally, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, as the beer is also popular with skiers. Mammoth Lakes is also the home of the mighty Mammoth Track Club, which includes many elite runners, including U.S. Olympic marathoners Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi. These athletes are seen training all Among the 10 beers they brew, Mammoth over town, but unfortunately are too focused on running fast and winning races to ramble into Mammoth Brewing’s Tap Room for some liquid carbo loading.

Turner remembers his first encounter with Meb Keflezighi years ago. “Meb approached me about a deal to wear a cap with our logo on it for a couple hundred dollars. I barely knew who he was and I had just started running the brewery, so decided to pass on the idea. Next thing you know, he wins the New York Marathon and becomes famous.”

In early November, Mammoth released its Owen’s Valley Wet Harvest Ale, brewed using organically grown hops from a local hop farmer transported straight from the hop fields into the brew kettle. Mammoth Brewing purchases these hops to support agriculture in Owen’s Valley, a battleground of California water rights for the last 100 years as much of the local water has been diverted to ever-thirsty Los Angeles

To find Mammoth Beers, you might need to head for the source, as Mammoth Brewing distributes only from Truckee down to Kern County along the High Sierra. But check your local Whole Foods store or beer wherehouse. You can also stop by Mammoth’s Tap Room open daily from 10am-6pm at 94 Berner Street in Mammoth Lakes. Two-ounce tasting samples are free.

Derrick Peterman lives on the San Francisco Peninsula and is the runner/beer lover behind the blog, Ramblings of a Beer Runner.

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