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Drinks: Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company
There’s something poetic in the fact that the mural along the back wall of Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company reads “Welcome to Fresno.”
From a marketing perspective it’s a perfect complement to the park-ranger-inspired sign that sits atop the building and the smell that surrounds the place. It’s sticky-sweet and reminds you of summer parties and selling beer at football games.“To be successful, we don’t need people to come down here,” says Michael Cruz, the brewery’s brand manager. But the slogan is “drink local” and having a full-run facility downtown — its sign visable from Chuckhansi Park — brings with it exposure and a good amount of street cred.
Inside, bottles are coming down the rollers as a fresh batch of Tamarack Amber Lager is filled, capped, labled and boxed. The Laverne and Shirley theme cues up in your head. This is the brewery’s first big day of production and they are looking to do close to 400 cases, Cruz says.
Tioga-Sequoia is the brain child of brewmaster Kevin Cox, whose recipes were created at Butterfield Brewing Company — a still-talked about Fresno favorite. When it closed in 2003, Cox started brewing at the Sequoia Brewing Co. and released several beers under the Tioga-Sequioa brand via contract breweries.
As a start-up, contract brewing makes sense. It saves the up-front costs of buying expensive equiment and finding a suitable facility to house it. It also comes with complications, Cruz says, like not being able to set your own timelines and running the risk of having the place go out of business. Several of the breweries they used went under.
“We didn’t want to build demand and then not be able to meet it,” he says.
That’s not a problem now. With the equipment in the facility and a distribution deal with Donaghy, you should be able to get the beer anywhere in the four county region, Cruz says. It’s readily available at Save Mart, BevMo, Whole Foods and Vons, along with many independent liquor stores and on tap at places like Me-n-Eds, Swiggs, Eureka Burger and Fulton 55. The company just received 112 new kegs embossed with Tioga-Sequoia.
“That’s the idea. You can drink it in a restaurant, drink it in a pub, and then buy it at a store to take and drink at home,” he says. Eventually, they’d like to open a tasting room alongside the brewery. It’s a new idea for Fresno. While there are are several brew pubs in the area, none have the capability to brew more than they use on site.
The market in the area is still a bit underdeveloped, Cruz says. He hopes Tioga-Sequoia can serve to change that by getting the brand in front of people. Earlier this month, Tioga-Sequoia hosted a beer garden during a Fresno Grizzlie game. They’ll have another for the July 4 game.
So far, it seems to be working. The General Sherman IPA is doing well in bottle sales. The Tamarack Amber Lager does well on tap and the brand’s Peak Pilsner — made in partnership with the China Peak ski resort — has been a hit with skiers there. In fact, during the high point in the season it sold better than Bud Light, Cruz says. And just this week the company did a test release of Mt. Whitney — its new pale ale. If IPA are a craft brewery’s signature, pale ale is the session beer, Cruz says. “People who know beer love IPAs, but they can only have so many.” This pale ale is a spawn of Cox’ orginal recipe from Butterfield.
Next month the brewery will debut the reworked Half-Dome. Once a hybrid hefeweizen/pale ale, the beer will now be a straight unfiltered California wheat beer — something akin to a Blue Moon, Cruz says.