Is anything truly local in Las Vegas?

The Vegas Strip at Night

When I first heard my company sales meeting would be held in Las Vegas, I admit I was elated.  Normally, our meetings are held in the quiet town of Logan, UT which is as different from Las Vegas in just about every possible way.   While Logan is a nice place to live, isn’t all that exciting to visit. Spending a couple days in the fantasy land of Vegas with all the bright lights, over the top attractions, and its “Can you top this?” attitude is undeniably a lot more fun.

Of course, pretty much everything in Vegas is fueled from somewhere else.  For starters, there’s no way the surrounding desert can provide all the energy and water needed for the bright lights and pretty landscapes all over town.   All those resources have to be brought from somewhere.  Even if you’re not bothered by the environmental unsustainability of the place, you have to admit the Las Vegas strip consists largely of attractions manufactured to look like someplace else.   Not only are large cities like Paris, Monte Carlo and New York recreated in Vegas, the city attempts to import entire countries like Italy and Egypt into its mix.  The drive of the few entertainment corporations dominating the city to capture more and more tourist dollars has transformed the city of Las Vegas into its own world, a manufactured city of anywhere.

The beer may not always be good in Vegas,
but it is usually cheap

As for beer, it’s mainly used in Vegas as a device to cheaply deliver alcohol to tourists so they don’t realize how much money they’re losing at the slot machines.  The pace is full of flashing signs entice people to come in off street and into the casino with the promise of $1 PBR’s or Bud’s.  In this seemingly hostile environment to local, high quality beer, I walked into the city one Sunday night seeing what local beer I could find.

I first stopped at The Pub at Monte Carlo, one of those places boosting of about a hundred taps, fitting in with the “bigger is better” ethos of Las Vegas.  The place offered  a local tasting flight, so I went with that with my dinner of fish and chips.  First up were three samples from Sin City Brewing. Their Weisse and Amber were OK, rather unoffensive beers on the lighter side.  Definitely thirst quenching on a hot day, but I suspect dialed down a bit to be popular for tourists looking for something slightly more than $1 PBR’s.  I actually liked the Sin City Stout with its nice chocolate notes.

Local tasting flight at The Pub at Monte Carlo

Sin City Brewing turns out to be another manufactured Las Vegas import.  It was founded by a former Gordon Biersch executive and is brewed under contract at Gordon Biersch’s Brewery in San Jose.  Ironically, my quest in finding local beer in Las Vegas turned out to be beer brewed about ten miles from where I live.

Next up was a couple selections from Las Vegas’s Tenaya Creek Brewing.  The Hefeweizen was light, with a sour tang and some fruity esters struggling to get out.  But lord, what happened with their Hop Ride IPA?  All I got was a lot of unsatisfying tea-like bitterness and a bunch of phenolic off-flavors, all leaving a bad coating in my mouth.  I hate to judge a beer so harshly on just a sampler glass, but it was easily one of the least enjoyable IPA’s I’ve ever tasted. Finally, I tried Big Dog Brewing’s  Red Hydrant Ale, which has won a couple World Beer Cup medals in the English style-Brown category over the last couple yeas.  And indeed, it was a nice beer. If I ever get the chance, I would like to try other beers from this brewery.

The Ellis Island Brewery

Once that was finished, it was time to head back through the Las Vegas strip back to my hotel. On the way back, I noticed the Ellis Island Casino and Brewery.  Nothing from the outside suggested New York’s Ellis Island. Intrigued, I decided to venture in. The casino was basically a large room filled with a bunch of clanging slot machines, with a bar in the middle, a lounge to my far left, a pizza place to my right, and a barbecue restaurant in the back. Up in front was the brewery, with large windows helpfully allowing everyone to see the shiny brewing equipment.  I took a seat at the bar and everyone has me pegged as some guy from out of town in about 15 seconds.  The bartenders literally addressed every single person by their first name except for me.  Unquestionably, this was a locals’ hang-out off the strip.

“Try the amber,” suggested the thin, gaunt man to my left working on a bunch of  Jumble word puzzles clipped from some newspaper.  Two old guys on my other side were in getting their growlers refilled, which I immediately suspected they emptied each night.  “The amber is the best, not too hoppy like the IPA. Just right.  And it’s fresh” one of them advised, pointing to the brewery.

“How long has this brewery been here?” I inquired.

“Oh, maybe 15 or 20 years,” he responded  as his growler will filled.

Ellis Island Amber Ale

So I ordered the amber.  The bartender puts down a tall glass on the counter and I ask him how much, expecting to pay five or six dollars.  “Two bucks.”  I suppose they need to compete on price with all the $1 PBR’s and Bud’s.

The Ellis Island Amber was, well, an Amber Ale. A bit light, dry with some toasty and caramel
character and a slight earthy finish.  But to deconstruct this beer into flavor components is missing the point.   This beer had actual authenticity.  It was not brewed for the tourists, but for the people who actually lived here.

Finishing the Amber, I tried the IPA next.  It wasn’t anything like the big West Coast IPA’s I’m used to, which was a good thing.  It had this light, clean bitterness with a  just a whisper of citrus, the perfect beer for whiling away a hot afternoon at the quarter slot machines.  Unlike most things in Vegas, this brewery was something that couldn’t be manufactured.  For a city of where real authenticity hardly exists, it was a comfortable to find.  Next time I’m in Vegas, you’ll know where to find me.

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ramblingsofabeerrunner

Writing about beer from the California's Silicon Valley.

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