toast of the town
RIGHT SIDE OF THE TRACKS
Chris Shanks and Brandon Wright bring nostalgia and spirited vision to East Fourth Street with The Depot.
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA NELLEMANN
PHOTOS BY SHEA EVANS
While Reno High School teens and University of Nevada, Reno students running around the city, Chris Shanks and Brandon Wright never envisioned themselves owning a 100-year-old building — much less one full of beer and whiskey.
“In college, Brandon and I discussed how cool it would be to own our own brewery,” says Shanks, co-founder of The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery in Reno. “We were roommates at the time and had been home brewing quite a lot in addition to Brandon working as a brewer at Silver Peak in Reno. Later in life, as a co-owner of Louis’ Basque Corner in Reno, I stared at The Depot building [next door] every day and dreamed of doing something cool with it. However, after graduating with a finance degree from UNR and wanting to be in that world, I still never thought I’d end up here.”
“Here” is The Depot, the popular restaurant, brewery, and distillery that has drastically changed the face of East Fourth Street in Reno. Built in a former railroad depot that served the Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad, the building is just one on a long list designed by famed Nevada architect Frederic Joseph DeLongchamps. It also was Reno’s main railroad station from 1880 until the mid-1930s. The building had been abandoned for decades and had suffered some fire damage, but that didn’t stop Shanks and Wright.
“We had a soft spot in our hearts for the nostalgia of this space,” says co-founder and brewmaster Wright. “We are both nostalgic for the old-school ways of how to do things. I have an affinity for old cars and Chris has a love of architecture of the Reno area, so it really doesn’t get any better than a 100-year-old building.”
Wright, who received his education through the Doemens World Brewing Academy in Munich, Germany, and has a master’s degree in brewing science and technology, also attended the American Distilling Institute in Hayward, Calif. Fortuitously, around the time he and Shanks were looking to open a new brewery, the Nevada Legislature passed AB-153, the 2013 craft distillation bill which allowed for the sale of distilled spirits. The Depot became the state’s first dual brewery and distillery.
The raw skeleton of the building appealed to the partners, and they jumped at the chance to purchase and renovate the old railroad depot. Ten months — and 26 floor plans — later, the construction was complete. The former passenger area now contains the restaurant space and the old luggage building accommodates the brewery. The room contains 14-foot-high ceilings — just enough room for whiskey stills.
The second and third floors were administrative offices for the railroad, and, during construction, Shanks and Wright discovered a signed directory belonging to a bygone model train club. The immovable railroad safe, with its 1,600-pound door, will remain indefinitely in the men’s bathroom.
“I wanted the design for The Depot to feel authentic to what the building was designed for — a train depot,” Shanks says. “The natural light, existing subway tile, light wood floors, and brick steered me in the direction you see today. I tried to stay true to the existing materials and modernize with light fixtures, furniture, and accents.”
“The building is so cool with its 20th century architecture and its history in the community,” Wright says. “It gave our brand an immediate identity.”
Brewery District mainstay
The two men didn’t build their business to create a new Reno district, but it worked out that way. The creation of The Depot has inspired other brewing and distilling businesses to crop up and organically create the city’s Brewing District.
“When we built The Depot, we were contributing to an already outstanding craft brew nucleus in the area,” Wright says. “We didn’t want anything too pretentious, but something you can be proud of … like our pastrami burger.”
Shanks’ concept for The Depot is to provide customers with an authentic experience across the board. All of the restaurant’s food, beer, whiskey, bourbon, and gin are handcrafted using local ingredients when possible, and quality ingredients in cases when local isn’t an option.
“In a country largely run by chains and large corporations, we wanted to bring a transparency to our production process so people could see what real products and their means of production look like,” Shanks says.
The partners’ love of history and Nevada is evident even in the names of their beers: The Voyager IPA, The Emigrant pilsner, and The Explorer American pale ale reflect research on the backstory of each brewing process. Wright also delves into some unusual combinations. His latest brew, The Pirate, is a rum-barrel-aged Baltic porter brewed with a touch of sea salt, and the new The Farmer’s Daughter is a wild saison brewed with plums and raspberries.
“I’m proud of the diversity of beer styles we have here,” Wright says. “Over the course of the year, we brew about 35 to 40 different brew styles of beer. In most cases, we are trying to emulate old brewing traditions. For instance, our summer pilsner, The Burner, is a traditional German-style pilsner and has a big, rich, malty backbone that most American pilsners don’t have.”
As native Nevadans, both Shanks and Wright are trying to showcase, in the best sense, what our community is and was.
“I love seeing this community on Fourth Street come alive again,” Wright says. “With its proximity to UNR, the downtown events, and the ballpark, I think we are in a good position to continue the renovation of the Lincoln Highway.”
Christina Nellemann is a writer and designer living in Washoe Valley. She’s thrilled that the old railroad depot has been transformed into a bright, airy space with some excellent beers. She likes The Ranch Hand ale.
The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery
325 E. Fourth St., Reno • 775-737-4330 • Thedepotreno.com
Warm up on cold winter evenings with this French- and Latin-inspired cocktail from The Depot co-founder Chris Shanks. The corn-aged whiskey can be purchased from The Depot Distillery.
1½ ounces aged corn whiskey
½ ounce lemon juice
¾ ounce Giffard Banane du Brésil (French banana liqueur)
½ ounce Bittermens Tepache Pineapple Liqueur
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 sleeve Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Cocktail Bitters
Pour all ingredients into cocktail shaker, shake, and serve over ice. Garnish with lemon wedge.