April 19, 2013

More Vegas drinking for 2013

When most people think of drinking in Vegas they think of free drinks in the casino, shots at the bar and over-priced, watered-down drinks in the extremely expensive clubs. Depending on how much of the 90s you remember, you might think of Vegas drinking through the eyes of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. However, there actually is a growing recognition in Vegas that people coming to town actually would like to drink a beer that isn't an industrial lager. Over the past four years there has been a noticeable expansion of beer options and beer availability on the strip (as well as off). Sadly, not all of it is what one could hope for. Many casinos have simply tagged one of their bars with a patio as a "beer garden" but still serving the same industrial lager brands as before. However, there are some legitimate beer bars on the strip growing up. As I recognized back in 2011 there were already solid beer locations on the strip at The Pub at Monte Carlo and the Burger Bar between Mandalay Bay and Luxor but there are also beer-centric locations at the Wynn and Public House at the Venetian. Gordon Ramsay Burgr had a decent selection, as did Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesar's Palace (can you tell we are Ramsay fans? The food lived up to the high expectations we had for his food.)

The Public House at the Venetian has a west coast-focused tap list with a smattering of European offerings. What's most interesting about this place is that they always keep a sour tap and a cask. Since my wife and I are fans of both we tried to help as much as we could to drain the keg of Bruery Sour in the Rye and the cask of Lagunitas Sucks cask hopped with Citra. We also scored Innis & Gunn aged in rum barrels and the Innis & Gunn stout aged in Irish whiskey barrels, although for the $12 twelve ounce bottle we found at Public House we found a significantly better deal on it at Gordon Ramsay Burgr in Planet Hollywood with $7 twelve ounce pours. The flagship Innis & Gunn beer is very sweet, almost cloyingly so, so it helped that we were drinking a sour beer to help cut the sourness. The stout was fantastic and far better balanced.

In addition to the expanding beer drinking there is a growing list of local Las Vegas and Henderson breweries helping supply the strip with local options. Sadly, most of these breweries don't produce great beer. The bartenders never seemed to recommend them and from our few attempts to try them we weren't overly impressed. Both Beer Advocate and Ratebeer suggested a consistent opinion (not that I place much reliance on the reviews at either site). We did drink a lot of Sin City weisse, which is one local beer that is very good. It's not overly banana, which makes my wife happy. Personally, I prefer a little more banana in a hefeweizen but this beer easily holds its own against many German hefeweizens. If you do look for Sin City, there are locations in the Miracle Mile, Flamingo and Venetian. The Flamingo location is the best. They have the best deals on beer and the most fun environment. You can get Sin City beers at some of the other beer bars around the strip.

Aside from the Innis & Gunn, Bruery and cask Lagunitas, we weren't as impressed by the beer selections along the strip as we had been in the past. I think a lot of this had to do with the arrival of Firestone Walker in Texas. Before a few months ago, Vegas was one of the few places I travel I could find Firestone Walker so I was always happy to find it on tap in Vegas. Now that we have it locally I don't see any reason to taste it at $9 per pint. So that cut down on a lot of the beers I normally try to hunt down on the strip. I did also enjoy a couple Utah beers, including Epic's Brainless IPA, a very good Belgian IPA, and Uinta Brewing's Anniversary Barleywine, a well-balanced American barleywine.

Unfortunately we only had three days in Vegas and had a lot planned so we didn't get to beer hunt as much as we could have. I was happy with what we found but there's still several places I want to check out. Several off-the-strip places continue to elude me, including Aces and Ales, Ellis Island Brewpub (which I hear is not that great) and Hofbrauhaus. Still, I had great time as always and had some great beers (and a lot of free scotch in the casinos). If you come to Vegas and come from somewhere without Firestone Walker access you should not ignore their beers. Utah is also starting to put out some good beers that make their way to Vegas so they should not be ignored, either. Epic, Uinta and Squatters all put out great beers. Wasatch isn't too bad but not in the same class as the other three.

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