By Jamie Helmick
Few things inspire such ardent passion in some and such indifferent apathy in others as beer. Even the divisions among those two groups are stark. Homer Simpson and your neighbor with the microbrew collection are both intense about their love of beer, but you wouldn’t recommend the same bar to them. Same goes for the apathetic — some are content to drink whatever domestic is on draft and some won’t drink it at all.
So what’s a beer drinker to do in Sin City? You’re on vacation after all, why not find the place that suits you best? From what we’ve been able to gather, Las Vegas is experiencing something of a beer renaissance right now, so pull up a stool and read on to find your new favorite watering hole.
First, there’s the stuff you can’t get anywhere else — or, if you can, it’s just not the same as drinking it within driving distance of its birthplace. These are the Vegas microbrews and they’d like your attention.
If you find yourself far, far away from the Strip and in need of something hand-crafted in a brew pub environment, there’s Tenaya Creek Brewery with its four regulars brews (a brown ale, a Pilsner, a pale ale and a Hefeweizen) and rotating seasonal brews. If it’s just the beer you’re after and could do without the environment, Tenaya Creek, like most of Vegas’ other microbrews can be also be found up and down Las Vegas Boulevard in hotels like The Bellagio, Treasure Island and Mandalay Bay.
Also near the Strip is the Ellis Island family of beers, located, predictably, inside Ellis Island. With all sorts of awards and recognitions to their name, the beers (a lager, light, dark, amber, Hefeweizen and a root beer) are consistently named among locals’ favorites and for more than just the taste. Ellis Island (along with Metro Pizza) run some of the best beer deals in town, including the increasingly rare $1 draft specials.
To really hammer home that you’re drinking a Vegas beer in Vegas, make a stop at Sin City Brewing Co. As Rich Johnson, president of Sin City Brewing Co. put it, “We started out with a goal to become Las Vegas’ beer and we think we’re on our way.”
The brews, which have been around for six years, include a standard always-on-tap four (light, amber, Hefeweizen and a Irish dry stout) as well as a rotating seasonal that includes a British IPA and a Czech Pilsner.
“We see what both the locals and the visitor audience likes and get a pretty good idea of [what people want],” Johnson said.
He’s also quick to give credit to both crowds for helping his brand and beer in Vegas and beyond grow.
“Right now you can really find an incredible diversity in beer style,” Johnson said. “More importantly, there’s an audience that wants to drink them.”
Sin City Brewing Co. brews in town, but doesn’t have an attached brew pub. Instead, they have what Johnson calls “mini tasting bars,” including locations inside the Venetian, Flamingo and Planet Hollywood. Sin City is also available on tap in several of the city’s restaurants.
If you’re not as concerned about where your beer comes from so much as that you can get what you want, when you want it, Vegas proudly introduces you to the Freakin’ Frog. Owner Adam Carmer said there are, right now, 927 bottled beers available there, as well as 15 on tap. Housing 927 beers isn’t something that just happens overnight and it’s a testament to the beer drinking population of Las Vegas that it got that high.
Carmer said when they opened about seven years ago (on South Maryland Parkway near the University of Nevada Las Vegas), they had a good beer selection, but nothing triple digits. Then, “everyone that came in wanted beer,” Carmer said. “After a little while, I had 100 beers and then 200, 250, 300. People would ask for something and I’d say, ‘I’ll get that, I’ll get that’ and it just kept going.”
And if you’re not sure what you want, or where to begin on a menu like that, Carmer said one of his “beertenders” will be able to help you out — that is, if the guy sitting next to you at the bar doesn’t get there first.
“Beer drinkers, it’s not so much, ‘You have to like what I like,’ it’s more, ‘You’ve gotta try this, I really like it.’ They’re not so much telling you what to like as saying, ‘Hey, have you tried this?’ What you like is good, whatever that is.”
Plus, with the beer culture in Las Vegas growing (and Carmer says it is — and will continue to grow), what you like might just be available wherever you are in the city, even if it’s not the Freakin’ Frog.
Restaurants like Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay make craft and speciality beers a fixture, keeping brews like the much-vaulted Delirium Tremens on tap, as well as stocking the city’s microbrews. Yard House at Town Square has more than 100 draft beer taps and also gives microbrews their due.
But it’s not just pockets of the town making the change to brew respect, it’s almost everywhere.
Clyde Burney, vice president of beer for Southern Wine and Spirits (whose wife runs Burger Bar) said although Las Vegas, “still isn’t known as a beer destination, it’s better than it used to be.”
Burney pointed to the recent opening of Aria at CityCenter as an example of the foamy tides changing.
“Aria’s got great beers,” Burney said. “People are drawn to that.”
In sales, Burney said Southern is seeing more interest from top level resort executives in more specialized beers.
“They’re paying more attention and it’s moving, we’re selling it,” he said.
Plus, as Burney says, the awareness of craft brands is higher than it used to be. Filling that awareness with a pint isn’t a bad way to go.
“If you do it smart, it’s profitable,” Burney said.
Carmer echoes this sentiment.
“You have a culture that gives away beer [to gamblers],” Carmer said. “[But] a lot of the casinos and restaurants, they’re getting it and I think the craft beer scene will be its own scene. It’ll morph into something fabulous.”
And, although big domestic brands are still a major presence in hotels, imports are gaining a foothold. The top three best-selling imports in Vegas, Burney said, are beers you’d probably already recognize. Although they jockey for ranking, the top three usually contains Blue Moon, Stella Artois and Newcastle, he said.
With the amount of beer (domestic, import, craft, microbrew, fruity, hoppy, dark, pale) currently blanketing Sin City, it’s nearly impossible to paint an accurate picture of every place to grab a beer here. So wherever you are in town, find a bar, ask for your drink, if they don’t have it, move on to the next. If all else fails, why not try something new? It is Vegas after all, live a little.