Beer from ‘the Middle of Everywhere’: Tonopah and Virginia City Breweries Take Off with Statewide Distribution Deal

On the long drive between Reno and Las Vegas on highway 95, the once-booming Nevada mining town of Tonopah is the half-way mark. In an unremarkable stucco building once occupied by the local Ford dealer’s showroom, Tonopah Brewing Company pumps out hundreds of gallons of beer each month.  Story continues below…

This billboard on Southbound highway 95 points the way to Tonopah Brewing Company, about half-way between Reno and Las Vegas. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

“That’s a lot of beer, in the middle of – nowhere,” the GBN reporter commented, only to be corrected before the sentence was finished.

Customers lunch on smokey barbecued meats in the tap room at the Tonopah Brewing Company on October 11, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

“Everywhere,” said Rich Weathers, Tonopah’s general manager and brewer. “We’re in the middle of everywhere. I can be in Vegas in three and half hours, I can be in Reno in three and a half, I can be Utah in two and a half, I can be in California in an hour and a half.”

Centrality in the middle of everywhere (and nowhere) translates to a lot of beer sales, ninety percent of it from transients and tourists, Weathers told GBN. It varies by season, but Weathers tossed out some numbers. Cocktail napkin calculations say Tonopah is pouring more than 3,000 pints per month on premise. A recent distribution deal with mega-distributor Southern Glazer’s has pushed production even higher. In the first months, the distributor took 100 kegs and 80 cases of bottled beer.

Tonopah’s success – bolstered by a menu of barbecued meats – is not the whole story for Weathers, a self-taught brewer whose first career was cooking. For a year, he’s been traveling between Tonopah and Virginia City, another historic Nevada mining town, where he brews and sells a separate brand owned by the same company.

A customer enjoys Saturday afternoon in the Virginia City Brewery’s tap room on November 3, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

The Virginia City Brewery is Tonopah’s northern sibling. Production is smaller for lack of space – the brewery occupies a long-and-skinny space with a bar in front and tanks crowded into the back. This operation, too, has been picked up by Southern Glazer’s.

“I have to keg it off on the day they’re going to pick it up,” Weathers said. He rolls the beer one keg at a time through the customer entrance, onto C Street’s Old West wooden plank sidewalks, and out to the trucks.

The two breweries are producing distinct brands. In Tonopah, Weathers altered the recipes favored by the brewer who launched the location.

“Our IPA is an English IPA but we weren’t using English hops. I changed it to English hops.” Virginia City’s IPA is made with American hops.

“Virginia City will always be Virginia City. Tonopah will always be Tonopah,” Weathers said. “They’re two rural locations. Different recipes. I have nine core beers in Tonopah. When I get done up here (Virginia City), I will probably have seven or eight core beers, plus seasonals, up here.”

The Virginia City brewery will collaborate this winter with the Roasting House, an espresso bar across the street in the Brass Rail Saloon, to co-promote a seasonal Espresso Milk Stout.  Story continues below…

Outside the Virginia City Brewery on Saturday, November 3, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Weathers exudes calm, for someone simultaneously producing beer and managing two breweries and a restaurant, 200 miles apart  He credits his cooking background for the brewing success. Brewing or cooking, he says, the principles are the same.

“I’m a a chef, almost 35 years. It’s all flavors,” he told GBN. “I’m making soup and throwing away the vegetables. I’m keeping the broth.”

Weathers also enjoys the relationship with his bosses, Fred and Nancy Cline, of the winery Cline Cellars​ in Sonoma County. They’re hands-on, he says. They come to the breweries, and they enjoy the character of Nevada’s rural towns. Mrs. Cline’s family has roots in Tonopah, and their son runs Tonopah’s recently reopened Mizpah Hotel, which Weathers says brings tourists to the little town in the middle of everywhere.

Southern Glazer’s trucks move through the middle of everywhere twice a week, and soon you’ll see bottled Tonopah Beer at Reno and Las Vegas retail and restaurants. The brews from Virginia City currently travel only in kegs, but some time in the future, they will be available in bottles or cans, Weathers says.

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