Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company in Fresno
By Ben Ralph
Photo: Ellie Koleen
There are many reasons you would find yourself in downtown Fresno. Maybe you work for the government. Maybe you’re catching a Grizzlies game. Maybe you’re just out for a stroll on a pleasant 104-degree summer evening. The possibilities are endless. There’s one more reason to find your way to downtown Fresno: Beer (which is an especially good reason).
Within the Fresno triangle of Highways 99, 41 and 180, you’ll find the Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company. Most folks probably found it long before they ever visited the brewery itself, since Tioga’s libations can be found in just about every grocery store, liquor store or concession stand in the Tulare-Kings-Fresno County area. They’re at beer festivals, tap takeovers, college graduations. They’re in Fresno, Visalia, Clovis, Madera, Bakersfield, Woodlake. But where did they come from?
Tioga-Sequoia has actually been around the Valley since 2007. According to company president Michael Cruz, Tioga initially began as a “contract brewery,” supplying recipes and methods to other larger brewing operations for production. This shifted in 2010 when Tioga became its own in-house operation. Just blocks from the Grizzlies stadium, Tioga operates out of what was initially intended to be a brewpub. Now a stylish brick venue, the setting is reminiscent of a classical beer garden, complete with indoor/outdoor seating areas and picnic style tables.
In discussing the spirit and intention behind the creation of Tioga, Cruz notes “the local element has been a huge part.” This is evident from its location selection to its branding and goals. The beer labels commandeer the names of known landmarks and figures, such as Mt. Whitney Xpa, Half Dome California Wheat, Joaquin Murrieta Chile Beer and General Sherman IPA. However, it is its original intent that sets it apart in its dedication to the idea of “local.” As Cruz explains it, the initial aim was to be a distribution brewery, which was unique since most of what was available for locals at the time was their nearby brewpub, where patrons can acquire the product only on site. As a distribution brewery, they could make local beers more easily available and craft beers unique to the region, not just the neighborhood.
In the early days of the Central Valley craft beer scene, there were no such local options. You could get craft beer from the colossus of the Central Coast, Firestone-Walker, from the SoCal titan, Stone Brewing, or from the king of the North, Sierra Nevada, to name a few. But Cruz and his associates at Tioga wanted to provide staple beers truly distinctive to the Valley. As Cruz pointed out, “You’re only as local as you are relevant,” and his team plans to achieve this through growth focused on concentration, availability and recognition within the Valley.
There’s no better metaphor for this than Tioga’s newest change to one of its oldest brews: the 99 Golden Ale. Aside from it soon being available in cans as a “six-pack of pints,” the ale will now sport a graphic of the pine tree and palm tree. The symbolism is rich. Highway 99 itself links the major Central Valley cities, providing a unity of the Valley communities. The 99 Golden Ale tends to be the initial beer for those first venturing into Tioga’s craft selections because it’s “good for every occasion but can lead to other flavors” and can serve as a highway to transport one into craft beers of all styles. Finally, the palm meeting the pine is a longtime icon seen from Highway 99 that denotes the geographic centrality of the area within the state and is a reminder that the Valley is its own territory, being neither Northern nor Southern California. Together, it seems the statement is that the 99, both the highway and the ale, would be “the road to craft beer” in the Central Valley.
But Tioga, like the 99, makes efforts to lead locals not only to craft beer but also to other local craftsmen, local landmarks and to each other. Rush Day, an event held each December, highlights Tioga’s coffee infused beers and local coffee roasters. The event also features local food vendors who use the beer in their cooking. Tioga is planning a similar event in the spring to highlight its Midnight Lightening Imperial Stout with barrel-aged variants. They’re also teaming up with the High Sierra Trail Crew for a four-day camp focused on getting locals outdoors to learn and perform trail maintenance in the Sierras, thus taking a more active part in enjoying and preserving their natural treasures to the east.
Though still growing, Tioga-Sequoia is a brewery Valley locals can truly call their own. So whether you’re heading down Highway 99 or hunting down a bottle of 99, know that either one can guide you to the breadth and heights of local ingenuity, creativity and craft. Though water may be scarce, the beer isn’t: Drink local.
Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company • 745 Fulton Street, Fresno
Wednesday 4-9pm, Thursday-Friday 4-11pm,
Saturday 12-11pm, Sunday 12-6pm
www.tiogasequoia.com • Find them on Facebook & Instagram