Las Vegas – Lack of respect for great beer

So it’s been a little while since you’ve seen a post from me. My apologies. But life as a mild mannered data architect and father sometimes gets in the way. And while it’s getting in the way it can provide content too.

This past week, I was in Las Vegas, Nevada. This place is not only the capital for gambling, but it is a magnet for every celebrity chef, wine sommelier, and everything high end. As I experienced the one thing high end that has a really poor presence is beer.

Sure there is beer everywhere. There is even craft beer everywhere. Even the local CVS has a walk in cooler with a pretty decent collection of craft brands. But the special stuff, you know the stuff that separates a bar with craft beer, and a craft beer bar, is virtually non-existent. And even their best efforts end up being middling at best.

Here’s the thing about Las Vegas. When you visit Las Vegas, you see the nicest of just about every product in the world, especially when it comes to food and drink. Many of the finest restaurants have Sommeliers. In case you aren’t familiar, a Sommelier is an expert in wine and pairing. Then there is the Master Sommelier. This is a distinction that takes years of training, and is a very elite distinction to have with wine. Worldwide there are currently 219 Master Sommeliers, and 11 of those are in Las Vegas. This is an extremely high number considering Las Vegas isn’t exactly a hub for vineyards and wine production, just consumption. Wine sommeliers are not just a master of wine, they also have a good knowledge of beer, cigars, food, and spirits. But primarily their focus is wine.

While it’s a newer distinction, beer has a distinction called the Cicerone. I’ve written about this in the past here. Like Sommeliers, Cicerones have multiple levels of distinction; the equivalent distinctions would be Cicerone and Master Cicerone. In Las Vegas, there are 20 Cicerones, and 0 Master Cicerones. In a city known for being the premier location for sins, opulence, and decadence, this is kind of pathetic.

The question is why?

I have a couple of theories. First is, Las Vegas is soulless. This is kind of the anti-vibe of craft beer. Craft beer tends to really take off in places that are deep with character or at the very least characters. Places like Portland, San Diego, Ashville, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and even Baltimore. Even the almost equally soulless Washington DC has a much more thriving beer scene than Las Vegas. Or maybe this theory is complete off.

Maybe, it’s the corporate stranglehold on the casino culture of Las Vegas. When looking at the beer people are drinking at the tables, Bud Light was the most common brand I noticed. Most of the casinos are symbols of corporate greed, or really greed in general. Vegas is a place where a burger and a couple beers is going to cost you at least $50.

Beer fridge at The Yard House.
Beer fridge at The Yard House.

One evening that included a fine meal in the hip Cosmopolitan Casino at STK was devoid of fancy beer. I could order a Chimay, but that was one of about 3 decent choices. Luckily for me, they had an excellent wine list, and someone else’s credit card. While I certainly made due, I would have loved to have seen something flown in from a fine western brewer like Alpine, Crooked Stave, or Prairie Artisan, among others.

Some of the casinos are trying to break the mold of corporate beer. The Aria now has a house beer that features Stillwater Artisanal, the prodigal son of beer in Baltimore. My hotel, The Palazzo, featured The Public House which was named the “Best Gastropub” in Las Vegas. It was certainly, okay. But it paled in comparison to the Gastropubs I’ve become accustomed to in the Baltimore area.

The Public House did feature two cask beers, which was certainly welcome. However, I found it interesting that the servers and bartenders didn’t know if there were any special ingredients added to the cask, or were even aware that was something that happened. After I inquired, they pulled the insulated cover off the cask and checked. The found it had lemon peel added. Wow! They learned something.

Vegas also is home to a couple breweries, but from what everyone I talked to said, it wasn’t worth visiting. This was a good thing, because I certainly didn’t have the time given the amount of meetings I was in each day. There are also a couple Yard House Restaurants around town, which was another welcome sight. But while they have a lot of handles, there is generally nothing that is very rare or unique. Since there are few breweries of distinction in the area there are no quality local brews to sample either.

I would love for one of my readers to tell me I’m wrong and tell me that Vegas does indeed have great beer. I’d love to know where. Maybe I went on a bad week, but I just didn’t see it.