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Owner Links Nevada Brewery to Prehistoric Sea Creature

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Nevada’s state fossil — an official pairing most people probably do not know about — is the ichthyosaur (ick-thee-oh-soar). It was not chosen at random. The Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park of Nevada, created in 1957, holds the continent’s greatest concentration of this crucial creature’s fossils and remains from the tepid ocean covering what is now Nevada some 225 million years ago. 

A computer rendering of an ichthyosaur // Photo courtesy Julio Lacerda

This state park is not the only tribute to the ichthyosaur, though. In 1993, Tom Young, a former geologist, opened Great Basin Brewing Company with his wife Brenda in Reno, NV.

A self-described science nerd, the newfound brewmaster was looking for a way to connect his first, locally brewed beer to a component of Nevada life inseparable from the state itself. He landed on what is now his brewpub’s best-selling creation: the Ichthyosaur India Pale Ale. Commonly called “icky” by customers, Great Basin has brewed more than 6 million bottles.

Today, it is the most consumed beer in the entire state, spreading an interesting tidbit of awareness about what Nevada used to be and its importance to the environment we know and admire today. 

Founder Tom Young (right) in 1993 // Photo courtesy of Great Basin Brewing Co. 

Young, who loves science, recognized the impact that ichthyosaurs had on the longevity of aquatic life and ecosystems today. He was determined to further the local community’s knowledge about them through the unexpected medium of craft beer. 

“Nevada is one of the most important localities to understand how ichthyosaurs helped create and survive in the ancient ecosystem,” the co-founder said. The impact these Mesozoic-era creatures had on nature took millions of years to actualize, according to timelines by scientists. Still broadly speaking, the ichthyosaur “created roles in the ocean that had not existed before,” like hunting fish and other reptiles in evolved ways, according to PBS. Their inherent innovation spurred the diversification of their prey’s defenses and created the complex food chains of today, with each species serving a crucial role in the Earth’s aquatic ecosystem. 

Great Basin Brewing Company has pursued and supported developing new ichthyosaur research in various ways. The most well-known is the brewery’s cash donations to researchers, more than $11,000, to help learn more about the ichthyosaur. The brewery’s funding helped researchers discover four new species of the sea creature.

Young and Martin with the excavated ichthyosaur skull // Photo courtesy Great Basin Brewing Co. 

The brewery also supports field expeditions by world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Martin Sander, who has been one of the preeminent scientists on the ichthyosaur. Great Basin’s support for Sander has been ongoing since 2011. It has ranged from monetary assistance with excavations to lending its truck for the transportation of newfound remains to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Young and Sander excavated one of the largest known skulls of an ichthyosaur at 6.5 feet in length, buried beneath Nevada’s dry land. Sander said he located the remains in 1998 but didn’t have the means to excavate. The last ichthyosaur existed roughly 90 million years ago. 

To Great Basin Brewing Company, sustainability means more than renewable energy and recycled materials. It means learning about the world we live on, the land we walk on, and where the water we brew beer with was flowing long before our time. 


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