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!