Prohibition No More

Photography by Ingrid Nelson
Prohibition No More

Downtown Grass Valley finally gets its own brewery–and it is only the beginning.

These four fathers may not be leading downtown Grass Valley’s revitalization, but they’re definitely giving it a big boost, bringing Grass Valley Brewing Company to life. They created and offer a well-thought out selection of beer, even naming one after themselves, Four Fathers Heritage Ale.

Tom Rogers, Chris DeSena, Chad Wingo and Matt Kinney met through their kids, as fathers, at a popular co-op preschool in town. Through years of barbeques, Little League gatherings and camping trips, the foursome honed their brewing skills and let their dreams evolve into a business plan.

According to Rogers, the only one of the four that brewed beer, they didn’t go into it to get rich. In addition to being a labor of love, Rogers says they wanted to give something back to the community, especially since the quaint historic downtown hasn’t had a brewery since before Prohibition. It’s bustled with wineries and watering holes, but in the recent surge of local craft breweries, Grass Valley had yet to get in on the action.

“This is about something that brings the community together, to change the atmosphere of downtown,” he says.

Everyone has a role in the brewery. While Rogers is a jack-of-all-trades, his wife Carah handles events, DeSena acts as the general manager, Kinney handles finance, Wingo oversees marketing and his wife Heidi handles human resources. They also handpicked their staff to create a specific, inviting tone for the brewery.

“I want people to think the staff is great, and, oh, the beer’s good, too,” Rogers says.

Most of the brewing is now handled by Mike Sutherland, who Rogers plucked from the Sacramento area. Sutherland moved to Grass Valley over the summer, and does the “easy job” of brewing in what used to be an auto body shop. It now opens up to an expansive and airy sitting area—that used to be a bakery—where kids and dogs are welcome.

Grass Valley Brewing Co.

The gregarious staff is well versed in the 12 beers on tap—eight standing beers and four rotating handles. A few are Rogers’ original recipes, with Sutherland creating the rest. On the food front, they have partnered with the owners of Jernigan’s, a popular pub in Nevada City, which opened Roost in the brewery’s dining area, and offers pub fare inspired by the region’s history. Owner Sean Cox describes the food as an amalgamation of California bistro with Asian influence, paying homage to the communities that developed the area—Asian railroad workers and Cornish miners. Their menu consists of bahn mi and pasties along with buttermilk fried chicken and burgers.

The Grass Valley Brewing Company isn’t the only one making headway in the historic downtown. Thirsty Barrel opened its Taphouse and Grille last December. They’ve also been thriving, with 30 beers on tap (including Grass Valley Brewing Co.) and a well-developed wine list. The Wild Eye Pub, just a few blocks from downtown, opened in June and offers fresh fare, beer and wine from regional farms, ranchers, brewers and vintners. They also host pop-up supper clubs. Cork 49 opened this summer as well, and is an elegantly low-key wine bar and tasting room, pouring wine, beer and ciders, along with charcuterie and snacks. It’s in a quaint lounge space on Mill Street, the main thoroughfare, with a patio bar out front and bottomless mimosas on occasional Sundays.

The falafel on grilled flatbread pairs well with any of the brewery’s 12 beers on tap.

Set to open by the New Year are The Pour House and Cake. Located in the historic bank building downtown, Cake will offer decadent French pastries and luscious cakes, as well as European sandwiches and charcuterie paired with wine. The bright and artistically upbeat spot will be open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Pour House, owned by husband-and-wife team Ryan and Teresa Thomas, is set in an old antique store. They’ll offer 15 wines and just as many beers, along with house-made pub fare. They plan to make it a warm and interactive place, with karaoke, trivia and open mic nights.

And make no mistake: it’s in no way a competition between these businesses. They often call on each other for advice, support, insight and last minute ingredients. And you’ll often see proprietors, bartenders and wait staff mingling and enjoying a beer at each other’s establishments.

“We love the community that has started down here,” Teresa says. “(The guys at) Grass Valley Brewing coined the phrase ‘brewmunity,’ that feeling of working together and bringing more people downtown. Grass Valley wasn’t really known for nightlife, but now we’re all talking to each other and getting to know each other.”

And of course the fathers at the brewery named a beer after their philosophy, Brewmunity: a chocolate coffee port on nitro made with Carolines’ coffee, another staple on the downtown scene.

Co-owner Chris DeSena and manager Mimi King
Co-owner Chris DeSena and manager Mimi King.

Local existing businesses are definitely seeing the benefits of the new upscale watering holes and eateries, too. “As a shop owner, I love having all of the newness around us,” says Lillie Piland, co-owner of Yuba Blue, a longstanding cornerstone boutique. “It brings shoppers downtown for dining, fun events and of course to visit their longtime favorite stores as well. One or two great stores or restaurants can’t make a vibrant and successful downtown district. It takes a great mix of many small businesses.”

The vibrancy and “brewmunity” isn’t limited to the downtown. Rogers and his crew are eagerly awaiting the opening of 1849 Brewing Co. in Grass Valley’s Brunswick Basin and the Ol’ Republic Roadhouse on Highway 20 outside of Nevada City. The camaraderie is palpable amongst the entrepreneurs and it’s something Rogers is more than willing to spread.“It’s kind of an emotional thing, the way we’ve been accepted and how much people like being here.”