The WHALES tend to wander in search of beer nirvana and such migrations to far reaches of the earth shall be documented here so that the less ambitious may become envious.

What Brews in Vegas....

What Brews in Vegas…:

My Tour of the Craft Beer Scene in Las Vegas

By: Michael J. Slocum (September 2011)

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Stick to the casino bars, and your luck won’t be the only thing liable to disappoint.  Familiar standards such as Heineken, Dos Equis, Miller, Blue Moon – they all flow like water, but provide the more adventurous beer-drinker with little to satisfy his curiosity.  But put in a little effort to research your options, and Las Vegas has much more to offer.  My wife and I spent a few days there in August 2011, and here is what we found.

*****

Gordon Biersch:  With numerous locations all around the country and a handful of World Beer Cup and GABF wins under its belt, the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company boasts several beers on the BJCP Commercial Examples lists – and with good reason.  We naturally went with the beer sampler, sporting a golden export lager, a hefeweizen, a Czech pils, a marzen, a schwarzbier, and the seasonal “Brewer’s Special” IPA.  The golden export was quite refreshing, with a crisp dry finish and mild carbonation.  The hefeweizen, the only regular ale in the house, was brimming with clove spiciness and a wonderfully effervescent body.  The pils relies on imported Saaz hops, and relies on them heavily – the beer was considerably darker in color and more aggressively hopped than the quintessential Pilsner Urquell.  The marzen built upon a solid malt foundation with a noble hop balance, resulting in a tasty amber lager with excellent clarity.  The schwarzbier, more deep reddish-brown in color than the name would suggest, finished with distinct roasted coffee notes.  Finally, the IPA, with a bright amber color and persistent creamy-white head, showcased American hops (Centennial according to the brewer’s notes) with great aplomb.  Every bit as impressive were the menu – we recommend the garlic fries highly – and the staff, who had clearly been trained to answer even fairly detailed questions on recipe and technique.

 

Hofbrauhaus:  Billed as an accurate replica of the famous Bavarian bier hall, the Hofbrauhaus combines German beer, food and live entertainment.  Served in dimpled liter steins, the Hofbrau Original (a bright golden lager with a thirst-quenching balance between malt and hop) and the Dunkel (a dark brown with a creamy tan head and spicy aromas to spare) complimented the wursts perfectly.  A live German band – complete with an alphorn and a cow-bell concerto – provided a truly energetic atmosphere.

 

Sin City Brewing Company:  We stumbled upon this one while strolling through the Strip’s Miracle Mile shops, essentially a small bar in the mall offering pints of craft beer to go.  What a concept!  The premium light lager was somewhat more full-bodied than the beers that made either St. Louis or Milwaukee famous, but overall remained true to the style.  The German wheat beer maintained an impressive rocky head and had ample carbonation, although the clove aromas were rather understated.  The Octoberfest and British IPA seasonal were both admirable efforts and decent representatives of their respective styles, but the Irish dry stout clearly stole the show.  Dry but with a body bordering on chewy, with a tightly formed tan head and a medley of roasted and hop flavors, this beer was the one I selected “for the road.”

 

Ellis Island Casino & Brewery:  Of course, every rule has its exception.  In the “craft can still be crap” category, the Ellis Island Casino & Brewery scored very low marks.  There’s evidently a reason the word “casino” is first in the name – this was primarily (as my wife and fellow traveler described it) a “gambling hole.”  The dining room was thick with second-hand smoke, and the menu was such as to inspire us to move on to a separate venue for our dinner.

 

The beers were likewise disappointing.  The hefeweizen came with a slice of lemon floating atop a quickly-dissipating head.  While the straw-like color and haziness were appropriate, the beer lacked any real effervescence or the spicy clove aroma you would expect.  The stout proved no better.  The head had fallen before the beer made it to our table, and the reddish brown color looked more like a porter than a stout.  The malts approached cloying, with none of the roasty or hoppy flavors characteristic of the style, and the body could only be described as watery.

 

The Pub at Monte Carlo:  A little beer-nerdvana in the desert!  The beer list offered more than a dozen styles, many with fifteen to twenty representative members – barley wines, bock, fruit and spiced/herb beers, and of course an ample selection of pale ales, stouts, lagers and others.  We started with the sampler of local brewery Tanaya Creek’s fare – a nut brown ale, with a deep amber color and a mouth-filling malt profile; a hefeweizen with a modest yeast profile but excellent pale gold color and effervescence; and the “Hop Ride” IPA, a deep golden ale with an assertive citrusy hop nose and a thick white head that tracked the vanishing beer down the side of the glass.  Of course, we couldn’t resist the Chimay tripel and Delirium Tremens, both of which were on tap, and were left only to wish we had more time.

*****

Odds are that few – if any – travel to Las Vegas specifically to try the local brews.  However, should you find yourself in Sin City, don’t think you’re condemned to bland beer!


Pub Review - Coppermine Pub (North Arlington, NJ)

I met Vito, owner of the Coppermine Pub at a W.H.A.L.E.S. meeting a few months ago.  First off, let me thank him for showing interest in our club and taking the time to come and get to know us.

I visited the Coppermine Pub around 6:30pm on a Saturday in December.  The initial draw that brought me there was a tapping of a rare Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada collaboration Life and Limb cask, which to my dismay, but not surprise, was kicked about 45 minutes after it was tapped.  So, I was left to take in the feel of the bar without that coveted dark strong ale, replacing it with a fine Spaten Holiday Bock.  It had the same delightful crispness I’ve come to expect from a German holiday bock, but with a touch more on the malt end. 

Read more: Pub Review - Coppermine Pub (North Arlington, NJ)

Finding Beer in Cambridge, MA

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While most WHALES were enjoying a club meeting field trip to Harvest Moon, I'm stuck out in Boston on business. In order to redeam such an injustice, I vowed to consume at least dozen beers that I haven't tried before while checking out some choice watering holes in the area. More specifically, I was staying in Cambridge Mass between the MIT and Harvard campuses. I had no car so I had to stick to the best beer in walking distance.

My first choice was Cambridge Common which was about a 2 mile walk up Mass Ave, just past Hahvad Yahd. The place is nice enough with outdoor seating facing the street. The bar was pretty small so the 30 taps and beer engine dominated the scene. I get the feeling people don't typically come for food because the place was pretty quiet at 7pm but I knew they were serious about beer given the up to date printed tap list with great descriptions of the beers on offer. I wouldn't say the selection was wild but none of the 30 taps paid any mind to BMC swill. IPAs dominated for sure. Since I had a good 2 mile walk back, I needed to pace myself. I requested a flight of four 5-ounce tasters which I later came to find was only six bucks.

My first taste was a local brewpub's (Cambridge Brewing) Tall Tale IPA on cask. While I like a good cask ale, I don't care for those that take on a huge amount of house character (aka stale as hell). I don't suppose many people dig on the cask here. Next up was Port Brewing Wipeout IPA. This was a typical mediocre IPA with nothing standing out as excellent. Things got more interesting with Sierra Nevada's Southern Hemisphere Harvest IPA. I haven't had the chance to taste this one before and it may be my new favorite IPA, trumping Celebration Ale in that category. The intensity and freshness of the hop flavor and aroma could only be topped by running a randle. I could swear this thing was dry hopped in the keg that morning. Tiring of hops, I moved on to Cambridge Brewing's Cerise Cassee.  Reading the description, I was pretty sure it was going to be a weak attempt at Russian River's Supplication but I was wrong. It reminded me of both Supplication and Rodenbach Grand Cru combined. It was sweet and sour and aromatically complex with oak, vanilla and cherry. I finished up at Cambridge Common with a pint of Harpoon English IPA to go with my passable chicken sandwich. The bottom line here is come for the beer and atmosphere and skip the food.

Since I burned off so much sweat walking back, I found a liquor store that sold single bottles so I picked up some Peak Organic IPA and drank it wrapped in the paper bag. Sweet.

Based on the CBC beer I had tasted, the next night I seeked out the actual brewpub which turned out to be less than 6 blocks from the hotel. I saddled up to the bar and requested a full flight. 10 tasters showed up in front of me, five of which were mini flutes which were their specialty/seasonals. I started with the stock fair of Golden, Amber, APA and Porter. Blah, blah, ehhh, blah. Ok, I understand that half the taps have to be middle of the road in every way. The pale ale was passable and I'd drink it all night if I had to. I moved on to the seasonals which started with a traditional Hefeweisen, then a Berliner Weise. Admitedly, I'm not a great judge of Hefeweisen because 99% of the ones I tasted were "good". Both the banana and clove that is typical of the style was really muted which suggests a house blend of traditional and neutral yeast. It was really cool to see a Berliner in a brewpub and I watched many of them get poured while I was there with either Woodruff or Raspberry syrup. Things started getting interesting with a "nom de plum" which reminded me of something between a Belgian Wit Saison but with plum aroma, color and just a touch of sweetness. Next up was Cerise Cassee which I already mentioned from the previous day but I have to say more. Their descripton mentions a 3 day sour mash followed by a fermentation and multi-year aging in French Oak. They've been running the barrels in solera fashion for 6 years so the tap pours an unknown blend of old and new product. MyOwnStout is a Russian Impy Stout aged in Jack barrels and although it was a little heavy for a hot summer day, I love me some RIS and this one was good. I finished off the flight with their "Arquebus" which was a summer barleywine. What's that you say? It was a "light" 11% ABV.

After one more full pour of Cerise, I stumbed back to the hotel satisfied to have tasted 16 beers that I never had before. I'd rather have attended the WHALES meeting, but Boston was a close second.

Pub Review - Blind Tiger Alehouse (New York, NY)

member_headshots_20081217_1815175631The first day of July seemed as good a day as any to venture out into NYC for beer.  I headed to The Blind Tiger Ale House to meet a fellow WHALE for an event that found its way onto my schedule courtesy of my friend Pete, Area Sales Manager for Victory Brewing.  While at another establishment, he had told me that Victory would have every line at the Tiger running with a Victory brew, which I didn’t believe, but to my surprise Victory has a sneaky big beer lineup.  In this case, I was happy to be proven wrong. 

Read more: Pub Review - Blind Tiger Alehouse (New York, NY)

Pub Review - Zeppelin Bier Hall (Jersey City, NJ)

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This review is a continuation from the Blind Tiger Alehouse review.

This brand new beer hall has been talked about for the last few months by "all-things-beer" lovers in the tri-state area, supposedly sporting 144 taps upon opening, has unfortunately been pushed off a few months past the original planned opening.

Read more: Pub Review - Zeppelin Bier Hall (Jersey City, NJ)