Ten years of lagers: Pigeon Head Brewery celebrates a milestone with a new beer garden

These days, the bar business is rough. People have less money to spend on going out, and there has never been more competition for the drinking crowd’s dollars. But now and again, there is a reason to celebrate—and Pigeon Head Brewery has hit a rare milestone in this industry: 10 years open and thriving.

I sat with co-owner and head brewer Bryan Holloway to discuss beer, Fourth Street and the next 10 years.

Nestled under the Wells Avenue overpass off of Fourth Street, in the former home of the SPCA, Pigeon Head Brewery has spent its first decade making some of the most chuggable beers in Northern Nevada.

“We are the original brewery down here,” Holloway said. “The craft-beer boom started when we started.”

Pigeon Head has seen the beer-market trends change significantly in its lifetime—from dark, heavy beers dominating the market, to big, hoppy IPAs being the flavor of the day—but they have remained steadfast in making the lighter beer they love.

“Lighter beers, in general, are the beers we like to drink, so they are the beers we like to make,” Holloway said.

The team at Pigeon Head focuses the bulk of their energy on making accessible beers known as lagers, but most people do not understand that the more seemingly subtle a beer is, the harder it is to make.

“Lagers and pilsners have been around for hundreds of years—it’s one of the reasons we built our business around it,” Holloway said.

Pigeon Head’s flagship beer is their pilsner, a crisp, crushable porch-pounder perfect for that beach day or barbecue, but pilsners take much longer to make than other beers, because they are a lager. Lager beers require yeast strains that must be cold during fermentation; therefore, it takes four to eight weeks for the yeast to turn sugar into alcohol, almost double the time of other styles. Also, styles like pilsners have fewer robust flavors, so filtering and other clarification techniques are much more critical.

While the pilsner style may be harder to make, it remains a classic and in high demand. The brewery distributes 80 to 90% of its beer to bars, restaurants and retail stores throughout Nevada and into Sacramento.

The new world of beer is challenging, and according to the Brewers Association, in 2023, craft beer sales dipped 2%, decreasing for the first time (excluding the pandemic). With the declining craft beer industry, it is hard to find a path forward. “The industry is not heading toward expansion,” Holloway told me. “It’s now more about hunkering down and bringing people back into your tap rooms.”

Smaller breweries are succeeding in bringing back that neighborhood taproom vibe and steering away from the giant production-brewery model. “It’s about refocusing people to come in and enjoy the beer here instead of distributing to 30 new states,” Holloway said.

Pigeon Head plans to move forward into another 10 years with the addition of its new beer garden.

“The space was used basically as a campsite or a trash can,” said Holloway. “I am out here daily cleaning up trash.”

He decided to make the best of the situation. Pigeon Head Brewery was one of the first 10 recipients of the city of Reno’s ReStore Facade and Tenant Improvement Program. This program aims to improve the overall livability of Reno’s commercial spaces by providing funds for improvements, inside and out. While these funds have helped Pigeon Head cross the finish line, building this beer garden started more than two years ago.

“I hand-drew our plans and dreamed up what this space could be, but then we had to go through the process of permits and contractors,” Holloway said.

While constructing a beer garden on a partially city-owned property was challenging, the juice is worth the squeeze. Because they started their process years ago for this construction, Pigeon Head will be one of the city’s first working examples of the grants in action. “It worked out for all of us, that’s for sure,” he said.

The new beer garden’s location under the Wells Avenue bridge provides all-day shade, perfect for hot summer days. The well-lit space will feature outdoor games with plenty of space for parties and events.

“People tend to find and seek out breweries. … We want to bring more people out to see what we are doing and what we are up to in the taproom,” Holloway said, boasting about the rotating tap list that features beers only available at the brewery.

“The whole reason we started on Fourth Street was because we saw potential here,” Holloway said.

The future of Pigeon Head Brewing is filled with exciting prospects. New neighbors are coming, including a restaurant that will deliver food to the brewery, which is set to open this fall. The brewery will continue to host a variety of events, from beer-pairing dinners to trivia nights and even Grateful Dead nights—all designed to keep the community engaged and the pints flowing.

Pigeon Head Brewery is located at 840 E. Fifth St. For more information, call 775-276-6766, or visit pigeonheadbrewery.com.