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In Fresno, Tioga-Sequoia Brews Both Beer And Culture

Craft beer has swept the country and can be found in almost any grocery store in California. One local brewery has helped spearhead the movement in the Central California. FM89 reporter Ezra David Romero visits Fresno based Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company to hear about their latest innovation in brewing.


Its 7:45 in the morning and Lee Morphew’s work day has just begun. He’s busy prepping for a day of beer making at Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company in downtown Fresno. He’s Tioga-Sequoia’s head brewer and he loves to create new beer infusions.  

Today he’s taking raw wheat kernels, grinding them up, adding them to boiling water and creating a hot soupy slurry that will eventually become 22 ounce bottles of beer.  

"I felt to get people excited, to get people always wanting more Tioga stuff we have to make something cutting edge all the time." - Lee Morphew

Tioga Sequoia is one of a growing number of local independent beer makers, also known as craft breweries. Nationwide, these small scale producers are the hottest trend in the industry, with sales growing by 20 percent last year, according to the Brewers Association. And as beer drinkers set aside “macro” brews like Bud and Coors for something quirky and local, brewmasters like Morphew are letting their creativity run wild.

His latest brew is a chocolate milk stout infused with coffee from local roaster Leo Rios at Café Corazon in Fresno’s Tower District. Morphew calls the hybrid coffee-beer, Rush Hour.

“Rush Hour is something I made because it’s almost something like I wanted to drink," Morphew says. "I came in on the weekends and 10 gallons was the first batch and with those 10 gallons we got so much response and desire to have that beer that we got pushed into making more and now we’re making it on a large scale and putting labels on it.”

It’s this quest for new flavors that is helping to put Tioga-Sequoia on the map. Rush Hour is the latest product in a line that also includes Joaquin Murietta chili flavored beer, and Sugar Pine cocoa-vanilla porter. That openness to experiment is what brought Lee Morphew to the company last May.

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Morphew has also filled a select amount of Whiskey barrels to age beer in.

In college he studied molecular biology and worked part-time job at a brewery in Denver to pay his bills. It was there that he discovered that biology and beer are the perfect brew.

"When I came in it seemed like they were really focused on making their production beer, but I felt to get people excited, to get people always wanting more Tioga stuff we have to make something cutting edge all the time and always have people think what is Tioga going to do next," Morphew says.

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio

Every Saturday from 11AM to 2PM from now through mid spring, Tioga-Sequoia’s main brewery south of Chukchansi Park is open for tastings, growler fill-ups and bottled beer sales.  

It’s here where the brewery’s marketing manager Michael Cruz and I poured a glass of Rush hour.

“It’s one of our most unique beers to date," Cruz says. "That beer's basically a milk stout, we call it a chocolate milk stout because its base beer has all the characteristics of chocolate and use lactose for the sweetening part of it.”

Cruz says Tioga-Sequoia is growing to meet consumer demand. The company plans introduce other flavor-infused beers, and later this spring will open its downtown brewery to the public with a new taproom.

Julia Herz is the Craft Beer Program Director of the Brewers Association and publisher for Craftbeer.com. She says Tioga-Sequoia’s connection with local consumers is a key to the company’s success.

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio

"Beer lovers in southern and northern California have really seen these breweries come of age and not really just become small businesses down the street but small businesses they believe in," Herz says.

But Cruz and Morphew aren’t just set on getting valley residents to “Drink Local.” Their goal is to make their beer a hit with drinkers nationally or even globally. Later this year they plan to enter Rush Hour and three other beers into the World Beer Cup.

"It’s kind of a big deal when you win," Morphew says. "Your beer is the best in that category for two years. You know, its big bragging rights.”

Tioga-Sequoia plans to hold a sneak preview of their new taproom and unveil their newest beer flavors at an event at the brewery  on April 12th.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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