Alibi Ale Works a hit in North Lake Tahoe

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Alibi Ale Works a hit in North Lake Tahoe

Beer list at the Truckee Public House.

Beer list at the Truckee Public House.

Madison Schultz

Beer list at the Truckee Public House.

Madison Schultz

Madison Schultz

Beer list at the Truckee Public House.

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When one walks into Alibi on a Friday night, the public house is buzzing— thriving with great conversation, cold brews on tap, music, and an easygoing, social atmosphere that any true local would enjoy indulging in. It goes without saying that one of the most appealing places to go in town is Alibi Ale Works.

What began as an intimate taproom in Incline Village with four custom brews, has now transformed into a North Lake Tahoe empire. Alibi Ale Works has made a massive imprint on communities around the lake, and the brewery has become a staple not only for North Lake locals, but Sierra Nevada College students as well.

Alibi was founded in 2014 by Kevin Drake and Rich Romo. Prior to opening, both owners had a passion for home-brewing, and decided to transform their hobby into a professional business opportunity. Almost five years later, Alibi is the first brewery to brew with Lake Tahoe water, and has grown into three tasting room locations which offer over 20 in-house unique beers, and provide an ever-changing food menu.

“We only sold beer out of our taproom for the first year,” Drake said. “It was fairly simple from a business standpoint, it was a lean crew—not a very complicated model. During that time when we opened our doors, two weeks later we had ink on the page to sign the lease for the back half of the building to start building out the larger brew system while we were in our first year of operation.”

With Romo working towards creating a larger brewing system, Drake worked the front-house taproom at Alibi. The brewery began only operating a few days a week, but as one of the only breweries in the Incline Village community at the time, Alibi’s popularity rapidly grew amongst North Lake locals and traveling tourists.

As business progressed for Alibi, both owners decided that they needed more room than the original space from their first location. In summer 2017, the brewery opened its second location in downtown Truckee, and a third location opened in Incline in July 2019 inside the previous Hacienda Mexican restaurant building. However, what came with rapid expansion also came a copious amount of hard-work and devotion.

“We learned after the first year in business that economically we needed to have another taproom—we needed to sell more beer over our own counter,” Drake said. “We also realized that the taproom environment that we created was a hit. As simple as it was, people loved it, so we were inspired out of financial necessity and by positive community reaction to our brewery.”

In the five years that the brewery has been operating, Alibi has incorporated progressive tactics towards building a successful business, such as implementing a creative food menu at both the Truckee Public House and the Incline Public House locations.

Aaron Zendner is the executive chef and general manager at Alibi. Aside from creating a unique menu incorporating seasonal dishes to fit specific brews offered, Zendner is also known to many students for being the executive chef at SNC for over a decade. Zendner made the tough decision in early 2019 to leave SNC and take his craft over to Alibi.

“I really enjoyed my time at SNC, it was a very hard decision for me to leave,” Zendner said. “But I have much more freedom here [at Alibi], and I’m involved in a much more adult atmosphere.”

When Zendner took his professional cooking skills over to Alibi, he also was given the title of general manager upon his transition. Hired in mid-winter 2019, Zendner was also put in charge of open- ing up Alibi’s newest location in Incline this past summer.

“Opening this location was full of unexpected surprises,” Drake said. “We took over an older building, so doing structural and appearance improvements were fairly straight forward and understandable, but the rehabilitation of a very old infrastructure, specifically the kitchen, was far more time-consuming and much more capital intensive than we ever anticipated.”

Since delays came as a surprise for the opening of Alibi’s newest location, this resulted in staffing issues and an unclear opening date. The new Incline location was expected to open in the spring but didn’t open until late July 2019. However, once the opening was foreseeable it was still tough to grasp how it would unfold. With unexpected timelines, Zendner coined the term of opening the new location as a “shotgun opening.”

“Opening late wasn’t by design, it was out of necessity,” Drake said. “We probably should’ve taken another two more weeks until we opened, but we had staff that really needed to work, and we needed to make some money. We needed to get people in the door fast, so we did a fairly rapid opening—but we pulled it off through sheer grit.”

Though premiering Alibi’s new location wasn’t the easiest business venture, Alibi staff persevered and created yet another successful taproom for customers to enjoy.

“Working with friends that are like- minded and have the same goals has been the most rewarding, fun, and challenging experience I’ve had here,” Zendner said. “As a staff, we all sit down and talk, and when creating this new space, everybody had a chance to voice what they thought Incline needed. We all wanted to be on the same page, and our communication together as a staff is solid. Having this support group is pretty impressive.”

With Alibi currently having three functioning taprooms, the brewery has grown into a massive success within the North Lake community. The brewery has also created over 20 custom beers and creative food dishes to cater to guests.

“We’re having a lot of fun and maneuvering around with the dishes here,” Zendner said. “We haven’t been open that long but were trying to create food that is ethically sourced. We try to buy from local vendors, and buy fresh and seasonal foods. Our menu changes all the time.”

As the seasons change, Zendner makes an extensive effort to keep up with the common foods most people expect during certain times of year. Right now, guests at Alibi can expect to try new soups and warmer dishes to appeal to colder temps associated with fall weather. Alibi’s food menu also includes brew suggestions that compliment the desired dish.

Aside from Alibi’s three taproom locations in North Lake, the brewery also cans their own beer. Cases and kegs are available at grocery stores around the lake , Reno, and surrounding communities. Most Tahoe locals are familiar with Alibi’s brews, and Drake credits this success to their customers.

“We are very grateful that the community has supported us like they have,” Drake said. “We’re lucky we’re ‘a big fish in a small pond’ here in Tahoe, but we don’t take it for granted that we have to work everyday to continue earning the patronage of the locals. We know tourists will always come through and find us, but we’re here first and foremost for the locals.”

Even though Alibi’s newest location just opened several months ago, the brewery is still ever-expanding and is making strides in optimizing what they currently have. It is clear that there is a foreseeable future for the sustainability and success of the business. Currently, Alibi is creating three new beers a month on average, and they are hoping to focus on further expansion of beer production.

“Anytime you do something big, you get plenty of self-doubting questions like, ‘is this thing really going to work and get to where I think it could go?’,” Drake said. “But that’s just your mind, that’s a human’s ‘fight or flight’ reaction. You just have to push through it. We have a group of people, not just Rich and I, that are so committed to making Alibi work, that we know it will. We have enough momentum now and we just need to be smart moving forward.”

Aside from Alibi’s staple beers that are available to guests, the brewery is creating some new beers that customers can expect moving into the winter season. According to Alibi’s website, some new blends include “Mr. Tartacular’s Awkward Family Dinner,” a kettle sour-type beer featuring tangerines, cherries, and cranberries, as well as, “No Apples Were Harmed,” a fall-seasoned blend brewed with brown sugar and raisins, then conditioned with toasted pecans, bourbon-soaked oak cubes, and cinnamon—smelling like fresh apple pie.

For additional information on Alibi Ale Works, visit: alibialeworks.com.

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