OktoberForest: Great Basin Brewery
A Q&A with Great Basin's Tom Young
When a brewmaster names his brewery after an iconic Nevada landscape—the Great Basin—and his very first featured beer after Nevada’s state fossil, it probably comes as no surprise that protecting our natural world is important to him. That’s why Great Basin Brewery is participating in The Nature Conservancy’s OktoberForest campaign to spread the word about the essential connection between healthy forests and clean water—beer’s main ingredient.
Tom Young, Great Basin’s brewmaster, wasn’t always in the beer business. In fact, he started his career outdoors—as a geologist. Tom developed a fond appreciation of the Great Basin, where all the rivers flow in and never reach an ocean. While many people consider the vast Great Basin a stark, desolate region, for Tom, the dry playas and sharp peaks of the basin and range landscape were an inspiration.
Here’s what Tom had to say about teaming up with The Nature Conservancy’s OktoberForest campaign:
Why do healthy forests matter to brewers like you?
Beer is made up of 90 to 95 percent water. Great Basin is fortunate to benefit from the wonderful waters from the Truckee River that flow through vast forests from Lake Tahoe and terminate about 30 miles north of Reno. Flows in the river vary from year to year due to snowfall and other factors. The health of the river and forests are essential to making great beer.
Nevada’s natural resources—and specifically its natural history—have been a part of Great Basin Brewery since its very beginning. Can you tell us more about that?
When we were considering brews for our opening in 1993, we chose as our first brewmaster’s special an IPA (India Pale Ale) that may have been one of the most hop-forward beers of its time. We named this beer after Nevada’s official state fossil, the ichthyosaur (from Latin meaning “fish-lizard”). After listening to imbibers ordering this beer, it became apparent that few could pronounce the name. We shortened the name to “Icky” for those who are paleontologically challenged.
When your brewmaster has a background as a scientist, how does that shape the business?
Great Basin Brewing Company has long been a champion of the health of our region and waterways. We honor those who hold appreciation and respect for science to guide our decisions to manage these resources.
One example of our commitment to science is our involvement to fund and promote an international effort to study the Mesozoic-era icthyosaur by teaming up with a diverse group of researchers. The group has identified eight different species ranging from about 220 to 245 million years old —at least four are new to science—in remote mountains in central Nevada. In addition to the wide range of species, the Nevada ichthyosaurs are also the largest ever found. One specimen, shown here, is a new species estimated at about 50 feet in length which appears to be the first large creature ever discovered in the fossil record. It was found resting in the dry Nevada wilderness among pinon forests.
Why do you think the study of these ancient creatures is so important? How is it relevant to your goals as a company today?
While these creatures are now extinct, there is still great value in understanding their history to discover the world we live in now. Mountains, forests, streams and rivers all evolved to make this region what it is today! It is our hope that we might learn from the past to help us pave the way to a successful and sustainable future – one pint at a time. Great Basin will continue to support efforts, driven by scientific inquiry, that will enhance our lives here on earth and guide us into a future where we all can wonder and wander in the magnificent splendor that we enjoy now.