Hoppy Place

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Truckee’s Donner Creek Brewing is a communal space with hot cheese and cold beer.

“Hey, Emma, have you met so-and-so?” is how Greg Speicher often introduces me to other locals at his redwood slab bar before cracking open a fun beer for all of us to taste. Welcome to Speicher’s living room, aka Donner Creek Brewing.

Longtime local and ex-pharmacist Speicher is the co-owner (with his wife Wendy Lautner) and brewer at Donner Creek Brewing in west Truckee, and he also is a great host. As a “pico-brewery” (smaller than nano) and retail store, as Speicher describes it, Donner Creek feels like a beer share or homebrew club that requires no prep work or cleanup. Better yet, the kitchen churns out consistently hot and gooey, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.

Besides folks who like to drink tasty liquids, there’s no obvious niche audience, and that’s what makes Donner Creek so welcoming. The eclectic interior reminds me of a dorm’s common area — a neutral place for those of us who exist a little bit outside of the box in our own separate ways. The décor is not trying to be hip or smart — although the intentional woodwork and abstract art on the walls are certainly not dull. It’s “comfortable, cozy, and a little bit funky,” Speicher says.

Speicher raises a glass of one of his brews

From low-ABV beers to heavy hitters, nonalcoholic house seltzers, California wines, ciders, coffee, and kombuchas, there’s something for everyone at Donner Creek Brewing. With dog-friendly brewery swag (think plush toy beer cans, so you never have to drink alone again), a colorful children’s room (thanks, in part, to Wendy and approved by their two small children), and a pool table, Donner Creek happily provides an inclusive public space.

What’s on Tap

Operating on 1.33-barrel batches, Speicher tries to always have “something hoppy, something English, and a farmhouse” on tap from the house brewery. “Farmhouse” is a catchall term for beers that are brewed with ingredients or processes available to, and sustainable for, the brewer, who traditionally was also a farmer. These beers usually are seasonal with distinctively earthy or tart flavor. For Speicher, this means dropping extra sourdough ends (from the grilled cheeses) into the mash to increase acidity, as well as employing a semi-open, fast, and warm fermentation.

Most of Donner Creek’s farmhouse ales pay tribute to Lithuanian roots. One beer on the chalkboard menu reads Vitkus (Speicher’s mother’s maiden name), which is a series of Lithuanian-style farmhouse ales he continues to perfect. In fact, Vitkus 3 won silver in the Historical Beer category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, suggesting it’s already damn near perfect. Not bad for Donner Creek Brewing’s first-ever entry into the country’s most renowned beer competition!

The most recent iteration of Vitkus is a light and bright, lemony refreshment with rosemary, mint, lavender, and pine tips that hovers around 4 percent ABV. With a dash of dryness from the sourdough’s saltiness and characteristic farmhouse funk, Vitkus 5 is the rugged Sierra summer in a glass.

Cans of Donner Creek’s award-winning beer

Donner Creek Brewing celebrated its second anniversary this year. Through nonprofit fundraisers and many live music nights, the brewery has solidified its position as the public use space Speicher wanted it to be for his community.

Soon, patrons can expect to see more Donner Creek Brewing cans in its extensive cooler selection as a portion of each batch of beer will be can-conditioned to sell.

The mission is simple: “We offer stuff we love to drink,” Speicher says, “and we’re excited to grow.”


Emma Schmitz is a writer living in Truckee. She’s a certified cicerone, beer judge, and homebrewer.


Donner Creek Brewing
11448 Deerfield Drive, Truckee
530-414-9923 • Donnercreekbrewing.com

Emma Schmitz is a writer living in Truckee. She has been in an exclusive relationship with craft beer for almost a decade and is studying to be a beer sommelier.


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