Ahh, Las Vegas. For all it’s sins, vices and pleasures, craft beer hasn’t been one of them. That’s changing and if you like treasure hunts, Vegas provides a mixture of frustration and payoffs.
I spent a few days in Las Vegas for the first time recently and hit up google for a little research before getting on the plane. Phrases like “craft beer wasteland” were surprisingly common in the articles and comments. Yet, another theme emerged, too. While the craft beer “scene” isn’t going to compete with Portland, San Diego, Bend, Asheville or any of the other large and small beer destinations, it’s definitely on the rise.
Away from Downtown and the Strip the beer scene has some nice choices. Aces and Ales carries 20+ taps heavily weighted to high gravity beers. Freakin Frog is well known for it’s ever growing selection of bottles, now exceeding 1000. The Yard House chain has a restaurant a mile or so down south from the Strip. Breweries like Tenaya Creek, Sin City, and Big Dog’s keep it local and you’ll also find outposts of the chains BJ’s and Gordon Biersch.
As my first trip to Sin City, I was out to see the sights – hitting at least a walk through of nearly every casino property along the Strip over a couple of outings. While checking out the glitz and glamor of the Bellagio, the freakishly real clouds of the Venetian, the neighborhood feel of New York, New York, the downtrodden era of Harrah’s and everything in between, we kept an eye out for craft beer. And kept looking. And kept looking. It was actually a relief when we spotted Sam Adams Oktoberfest amongst some American macros at the Mirage. Every casino and collection of shops has a large selection of bars from bare bones to sleek and swanky, but the number of taps usually doesn’t exceed six and the selection is predictably boring. Yet, we did occasionally stumble upon an oasis of craft beer. Here’s a few we spotted.
Holsteins is one we nearly missed. Well, that can actually be said for almost all of them. It’s not like it’s hidden, but a place called Holsteins Shakes and Buns and featuring milkshakes and burgers isn’t something that naturally screams “beer.” Nevertheless, from a distance my eye caught what looked like a long line of taps and, being the thirsty types, we took a detour.
Holsteins is inside the Cosmopolitan on the second floor and has 23 taps with a little something of everything. Nothing unusual, but on the strip, this counts as a darn fine selection. They’ve also got 100 plus bottles and I noticed some interesting high gravity stuff and a good variety. We chose to try the local tap and got a pint of Tenaya Creek Hop Ride IPA (picture below). All around, this was a very nice beer. Great aroma, nicely balanced hops and plenty of flavor.
Pour 24 is on the second floor of the New York, New York casino, right next to the escalators headed down to the casino and restaurants. Maybe that’s why we missed it the first two times we walked by. That’s what a strong hunger and a million things to gawk at will do. As the name indicates, there’s 24 taps. Again, there’s nothing unusual, but a good variety of styles from Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA to Rogue Shakespeare Stout will having you flipping for joy on the Strip.
I stayed local again, choosing a Tenaya Creek Calico Brown Ale. I didn’t keep any notes, but remember it being one of the better brown ales I’ve had in a while with some unusual quality about it. Wish I could remember what that was. When you’re there, grab a seat overlooking the casino for a great view of the action and slip a 5 spot into the machines while you take in a pint.
Spago is a Wolfgang Puck restaurant inside the Forum Shops at Caesars. We stopped there for a late dinner, but ended up impressed by the beer list. It isn’t huge, with perhaps 8 taps and a number of bottles, but there were unique choices compared to everything else we’d seen. We picked a draft pint of Goose Island Matilda which the menu described as a “pale ale,” omitting the “Belgian style” from the official description. One whiff of the aroma revealed the fortuitous omission, however, and the beer paired very well with some spicy “chicken lolipops.”
Todd English P.U.B.
Todd English P.U.B., or Public Urban Bar, is a classy “carvery,” grill, oyster bar and tap house just outside the Aria Casino at the Crystals at City Center shopping area. The Aria sits a bit farther off the Strip (so it seems) and you’re not likely to stumble upon this place unless you’re making a point of checking out as much of the glitz and glamor tour as we were.
At first glance when you step inside, the attractive joint gives the impression it has just a few taps. That’s only because they’re placed in small groupings around the perimeter of the bar. Take a look at the Draught List in the picture and you’ll see quite the opposite. Right, that’s 39 on the list, by far the most we saw. That said, you’d better like brews from the U.K. as they dominate the list. We didn’t have time to stop for a pint, or to check out the bottle list as we were making tracks for dinner at a different joint.
A couple of other restaurants we noticed with a few craft taps were BLT Burger in the Mirage (great burgers, by the way) with a couple decent craft beers amongst their 10 or so taps and Broadway Burger Bar and Grill in the New York, New York casino with 8 taps including Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Firestone Union Jack IPA, Stone Arrogant Bastard, Abita Turbodog Brown Ale and the like.
Take a look at reviews for any of these spots or one of the hundreds of others on the Las Vegas Strip and you’ll see multiple comments about sticker shock on the price of beer. It’s true. Pints are pricey, though so is everything else. Expect a minimum of $6 for 14 ounces. $7 to $9 is common for pints running 14 to 16 ounces and sometimes up to 20 ounces. For higher gravity beers and 22 oz. bombers, I saw prices running $12 to $15. We expected those prices, but they still hurt when $3.50 pints can still be found around Missoula and $4.00 is more the norm.
The four places mentioned above aren’t casino bars (they don’t ring the central casino areas) and don’t comp beers if you’re gambling. (Pour 24 has video poker machines, but didn’t comp.) Unfortunately, the bars that do ring the casino areas and will comp if you’re playing a machine at the bar generally have the same boring selection. We’re not much for sitting at the banks of slots forming the bulk of most casino areas, but will pop a few bucks at a machine built into the bar if there’s a decent beer to be found. The Sports Bar at the Mirage at least had Sam Adams Oktoberfest (which I rather enjoy) and the Bar Moderno at the Aria had Anchor Steam, Abita Purple Haze, Sam Adams Oktoberfest and a couple of others.
Downtown, Old Vegas, Old School
When you’re ready for a little different experience, head north of the Strip to Downtown Las Vegas and the compact, old school, Fremont Street collection of original casinos. Here, the craft beer treasure hunt paid some nice dividends. (And a few of the slots did, too). The light show above Freemont Street will dazzle, everything is a short walk away, and two breweries await the adventurous. It’s also much cheaper all around.
Chicago Brewing Co.
Tucked into a dark corner of the 4 Queens Casio is the Chicago Brewing Company. Grab a seat at the bar, slip some bills into the machines and they’ll comp you one of their award winning beers. The beers are brewed at the original location on Fort Apache Road, but you’ll find six on tap here including a very good IPA. The Hardaway IPA is full flavored with a nice pine hop punch and a good splash of citrus. It pairs well with the pizza they’re known for. I recommend the garlic knots followed by a Magnificent Mile Meat Lover pizza.
Triple 7 Restaurant and Microbrewery
A long block north of Fremont Street takes you to The Main Street Station Casino and Triple 7 Restaurant and Microbrewery. The restaurant features two long bars, views of the fermenters and other brewing equipment and a large menu of brewpub staples. It’s a popular joint brewing up a great variety of nice beers like a hefty Belgian quad and a rotating series of IPAs called V.I.P.A. During our visit there were 8 beers on tap. We chose their seasonal Zehus IPA, a 9% abv imperial IPA with strong citrus hop flavor over a big malt backbone.
When you’re ready for a little gaming action, head into the casino and out to the long bar near the cage where four of Triple 7’s beers are the only ones on tap. Not a fan of gaming in a physical casino? Grab a beer and visit Norwegian casino site Casinor.com where you can play spilleautomater (slots) from Betsson in the comfort of your own home. The Black Chip porter is a nice, smooth porter with light chocolate flavor and a touch of smokey coffee. At 4.3 % abv it makes for a nice session beer while waiting for Lady Luck to make an appearance. When playing the machines at the bar, they’ll quickly comp you a pint (none of the seasonal are on these taps). Even when not playing, at $1.75 and $2.50 (two separate visits) the beers were a bargain even for Montana prices.
There’s no doubt we missed some other gems on the Strip and Downtown. So pitch in and let us know where else you can find craft beer treasure in Las Vegas.
Here’s one I missed: The Pub. Located inside the Monte Carlo casino, The Pub has 300+ beers on draft and a bar with a backdrop of lighted kegs. 300? Really? And me, Mr. Growler Fills, missed it? The Monte Carlo is one of only a couple of casino properties I did not visit in my multiple trips up and down the strip during my stay. Figures.