As Tom Young was getting ready to open his brewery in 1993, he listened to bankers who said no, a lot.
Bankers liked the idea, they just couldn’t risk the investment. The early 1990s were a far different time in beer than 2018. Instead of the more than 6,300 American breweries at the end of 2017, there were fewer than 500.
IPAs were far from a norm on tap lists, let alone the multiple deviations the style has evolved in the modern era. The massively bitter West Coast IPA had yet to even make its presence felt.
Part of the reason Young switched careers to open a brewery, however, was to challenge the status quo of the beer industry he was so intrigued by since childhood (read the Nevada Beer: An Intoxicating History for his full story). The challenge was strong enough for Young to ignore the advice those bankers doled out, even after denying Young’s request for funding.
“Tom, we think this is a great idea, but don’t make a strong aggressive beer,” they told him.
When Great Basin Brewing Company opened its taproom in Sparks, there wasn’t enough funding for all the fermenters Young desired. The brewery opened with four tanks, enough to have three flagship beers and a brewmaster’s special — a common term for a rotating tap back then.
The three main beers, porter, amber and kölsch were all palate friendly for the beer novices who would frequent the brewpub. Little did probably anyone know what the future would hold for first Great Basin brewmaster’s special.
Ichthyosaur IPA dates all the way back to 1993, likely among the longest continuously brewed IPAs in the nation.
“It might have been one of the hoppiest IPAs in the West at the time,” said Young, who still holds the recipe tight, but at 46 IBUs, the statement is almost laughable in 2018, an era where IPAs can range to more than 100.
“Icky boasted some bold grapefruit character from end of boil flavor hops, predominated by the use of a relatively new variety at that time called Cascade,” Young said. “The first batches were dry hopped with Cascade, but the dry hopping level has been elevated over the years. It is a somewhat malty IPA, lending balance to the bitter hop character. The aroma is dominated by floral and citrus notes with earthiness and a spicy finish.”
Once an intensely hoppy beer, Young now says many consider it more of an American Pale Ale and he often enters it into competitions under the English IPA category, a style with more mild hop presence than its American cousins.
For a beer the bankers warned would be a bad idea, it sure didn’t last long. The first 7-barrel batch of beer was gone within a week – that’s two kegs a day.
The beer is still Great Basin’s best seller — making up more than half of the brewery’s annual production — a feat in a world of ever-evolving consumer desires and demands. Little has changed in the recipe of Icky IPA, an even greater feat for Young and the Great Basin brewing staff.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, as its namesake is one of pre-historic reference. As a former geologist, Young found solace in naming the brewery’s IPA after Nevada’s state fossil, the Ichthyosaur, an underwater reptile from 217 million years ago. (Editor’s note: It seemed fitting to make this the first post as I launch this site around the time Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom is released. Plus it’s very likely, though I claim this very unscientifically, the most recognizable Nevada beer.)
The brewery takes the name so seriously they suggest picking up a six pack and heading to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and checking out some Icky fossils in person. Young said there Ichthyosaur fossil presence in Nevada is the largest and most diverse from across the world, dating to the eons Nevada was under a vast sea. The marine reptile was likely an aggressive animal, and Young felt the name fit the then-aggressive beer.
“It can be a mouthful, especially the more beer you have,” he said. “To make it easier for the paleontologically challenged, we shortened it to Icky.”