Have you ever been to a beer festival where indulging in just a few of the beers being offered would equal the price of admission, yet you had the opportunity for unlimited tastes? I have, and it was at none other than the 2nd annual The Biggest Little Invitational. The title of the fest is a play on Reno’s longtime nickname as “Biggest Little City” and the “Invitational” indicates that unlike nearly all other beer fests, the beers being poured were selected and paid for by the co-founders/organizers—Jaimi Ficco and Dan Kulikowski. Most importantly, while many beer fests stand out for the quantity of beers served, and although this fest didn’t offer several hundred choices, it definitely stood out for its quality and rareness of the brews it provided.

Held on June 8 on a grass field at the serene Bartley Ranch Park just a few miles from Downtown Reno, 22 tables were filled with nothing but the best the craft brewing world has to offer. A nice touch was your tasting glass attached to a bead necklace allowing for hands free indulging and also for not accidentally misplacing it.

Distributor Vin Sauvage brought the lion’s share of the rarities, filling 8 tables with the likes of Fantome, Evil Twin Even More Jesus Imperial Stout and Crooked Stave Sour Rose. When asked what makes this fest stand out from others, Garrick Dicus, a Certified Cicerone and Craft Beer Specialist with Vin Sauvage said, “There are a lot of beers that typically you don’t find in Northern Nevada; for example, we have (beers from) Cantillon, Nightmare Brewing and Ale Apothecary, very sought after beers that are crazy expensive and really rare.”

Joining the mix were the majority of breweries from Northern Nevada including 10 Torr, Alibi, Brasserie Saint James, Great Basin, Imbib, Lead Dog, Occidental, Pigeon Head, Revision and The Depot. Josh Roach, Head Brewer of Brasserie Saint James, said, “I think this is the best beer event Reno has to offer if you’re a fan of beer and a craft beer nerd. It’s really fun to see this event with a lot of things you don’t typically see come through Reno.” As for his brewery’s contribution, he continued, “We’ve got Maggie’s Farm, which is a hoppy bretted saison and a barrel-aged frambois, a traditional raspberry sour-style beer made with 2,000 pounds of fresh raspberries put into a fresh oak barrel.”

Jason Green, Co-owner/Brewmaster of Imbib Custom Brews in Reno, was fresh off of celebrating his brewery’s 4th anniversary and about to open a 2nd location in the Legends Mall in Sparks (suburb of Reno). Telling of his contributions he said, “We have our award-winning Triad, our take on a Gueze/Lambic; Abiogenesis #9, which is a white nectarine American sour; our Belma/Blanc, a wild saison dry hopped and aged in our foeder; and Snowflower, which is our Flanders red.” Regarding the uniqueness of the fest, he related, “It gives people a good take on sour beers and unique beers that a lot of bars aren’t pouring, which is fun for the community.” 

While the majority of brews were rare sours, barrel-aged ales, IPAs and imperial stouts, not all were high octane ABV beers. Ben Engler, Co-owner of Occidental Brewing with locations in Portland, Oregon and Sparks, brought something out of the ordinary not normally found in the US, but commonly encountered if you are at a bar in Germany, a radler, made on the spot. Ben in describing the drink said, “We use our Edel-Hell (helles lager) as the base and then I cut up a bunch of lemons and made homemade carbonated lemonade and I’m mixing it half and half.” This drink he created was a natural choice, as Occidental specializes in German beer styles, and was quite refreshing and a nice respite from the mostly strong ales on the other tables. 

And not all of the offerings were beer. One I found quite intriguing and equally delightful, was a mead from Superstition Meadery—Peanut Butter Jelly Crime—a blueberry mead that vividly brought back memories of my school lunches many years ago.

Other notable finds were the aptly-named Waking up in Reno, a wine barrel-aged smoked salted sour brown ale from Against the Grain Brewery out of Kentucky; Reno’s Pigeon Head Brewing Oatis Redding Oatmeal Cookie Red Ale (who says beer isn’t great for dessert!); the fruity and Champagne-like Fantome Printemps Saison; the barley wine-like 9% Odell 180 Shilling; and the lone contribution from Las Vegas, Able Baker Kris Kael barrel-aged Imperial Brown Ale.

If festgoers hadn’t quite had enough, their ticket entitled them to an after party with 50% off any beer purchase and a coupon for later use for a buy-one-get-one-free pint at Beer NV, which happens to be co-owned by Co-organizer Jaimi Ficco.

Let me preface this by saying, in my beer journalist career spanning 20 years, I have attended numerous fests, but this one ranks as one of the very best (if not THE best) and in my opinion provides the festgoer the best bang for your buck with such an expensive and rare selection to indulge in (and with no limits on your tasting). I highly recommend making plans to attend the 3rd annual and sincerely wish the organizers much success so this experience can continue year after year after year. 

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