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Vegas, Baby, Vegas: Las Vegas Breweries and Beer Beyond The Strip

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“Good people drink good beer.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

With the Saveur thing over and done with, I had an incredibly late flight the next night. An intentional move on my part, as I wanted to explore the city for a while and see what there was in ways of beer. Unfortunately, planned brewery visits had to be cancelled because cabs are ridiculously expensive in Vegas. A 20 minute cab ride is roughly $58, so unless you have a friend with a car or know your way around the public transportation system in Vegas (That was a big no on both for me), I decided to walk around to a few locations and gather some information. A big part of this involved walking around the city all day, which I won’t recommend without sunscreen and liquids, but is still worth doing for, among other reasons, the beautiful silence of the area compared to the chaos of The Strip.

The Strip is an incredibly cheesy, horrible place. I mean, I appreciate it and get why many people would love it, but at the same time it combines three things that I can’t say I’m fond of: crowds of people, encouragement of rabid consumerism, and encouragement of binge drinking. Only on the Strip is it perfectly legal to walk around with yard-high margaritas or bottles of beer. Why? One reason is that it was happening so frequently that it was thought that police could be put to better use, but another thought suggests that since The Strip brings in those sweet tourism dollars, it’s in the city’s interest to look the other way for that one area at least. The result is a street full of incredibly drunk frat boys and girls screaming, hanging out of the windows of their stretch SUVs, collapsing and vomiting on the sidewalk…you get the picture. I kind of wish I was exaggerating on that, but that just seems to be a regular weeknight on The Strip.

The rest of Vegas, though, and I don’t mean Old Vegas, I mean the places where people actually live…can be a pretty magical place, with a thriving music scene and an incredible craft beer scene with it’s own unique breweries.

– Bit of a disclaimer here, one day clearly wasn’t enough to give a full-on guide or any real impression on Vegas Proper. While I did sample beers from a handful of the breweries, there was still a lot of ground that wasn’t covered. Oddly, despite my glowing review of the Strip, I will be returning to Vegas. These experiences are my own and really, if you folks have any suggestions of breweries and brews, please feel free to comment. –  

For whatever reason you can’t leave the Strip at all, there still are places to find the beer there. Sin City Brewing Co. has a few locations within the Strip and about four regular beers with a seasonal, but personally I wasn’t impressed at all with what I had by them and found the advertising featuring busty gals in hot pants nauseating. For the odd reasonably priced bottle or 6-pack, the convenience stores and pharmacies have some hidden gems among them. Even the stores within the hotels have a few interesting bottles but remain, ironically, a crap shoot.

The best pub I found on the Strip was…well…THE PUB found in the Monte Carlo Hotel & Casino. It features an extensive menu of about 130 drinks on tap including a few ciders, though it should be said they are a bit on the pricy side. My biggest suggestion would be to purchase flights, as you can cover more ground that way without getting wrecked. The Pub is run by some good beer geeks who believe in having a strong local option, so several Las Vegas beers are stocked there along with many international and American beers. The environment is sports bar, so nights get kind of rowdy with things like Karaoke and sports-ball games , but for something in the mid-afternoon it’s the perfect setting.

Beyond the Strip there is the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas, a German Beer Hall and one of the weirdest locations I’ve been to. After 30-40 minutes of walking in the unforgiving desert heat, I figured a good Hofbrau Weisse break was in order. Upon entering I was greeted by a number of things. Firstly the music, which was The Chicken Dance. My sight was taken up by various cheesy German-themed posters and souvenirs with phrases like “It’s a real sausage fest in here!” painted on them, and a large screen television showing FOX’s hit show COPS was playing by the bar. As I sat there, drinking in the nourishing weisse, listening to music only Lawrence Welk would love and watching a 300lb drunk topless man surrender to the police on TV before attacking them again, I couldn’t help but feel I was still outside walking and that this was all a heat stroke-induced hallucination.  The beer was good, but I think my only reason for going back there would be for the completely surreal experience I had just sitting there.

After that I found my way to The Freakin’ Frog on the advice of my friend, talented journalist Joshua Ellis, who lived around the corner from there for years. The Freakin’ Frog is pretty incredible, a 5-10 minute drive from The Strip and a short walk from the University of Las Vegas campus, it has 12 regularly rotating taps, over 1,100 bottles, and a the largest selection of Whiskies I have ever seen held in their “Whiskey Attic”. What is on tap are some incredible national and international beer talent, but the bottles are the best reason to go there. Instead of giving you a list to choose from, they escort you in to their sizeable beer fridge and let you pick out what you want (while also offering suggestions in case you get overwhelmed) with a strict “you break it you bought it” policy . Once you’ve chosen what you want, they ring it up for you and it’s all yours. I took my time in the fridge to pick something that was a bit more suitable of a celebration beer than what I had the night before with Saveur and went with the Rueuze Gueuze brewed by reknowned Bruery from Placentia, CA. It lovingly danced the line between acidic and dry, with notes of lemon and apricots. Incredibly tasty.

I should mention as well, that near the Freakin’ Frog are two pretty fun non-beer things. First up is Alternate Reality Comics, by far one of the best comic shops I’ve been to with a great selection of indie titles. Run by a really nice guy named Ralph Mathieu, who is both incredibly knowledgeable and kind. Second is more if you’re a fan of Fallout: New Vegas. The National Atomic Testing Museum contains many amazing pieces and stands as the home to one of the most comprehensive collections of atomic history that shows that war never changes.

While I didn’t get a chance to head out there, as it was on the opposite side of the city and I had a limited amount of time, nearly every person I asked said that Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits was the place to go for my Craft Beer needs. It’s a dedicated and well stocked bottle shop with about 9 rotating taps and the option to open what bottle your purchase right there or take it home with you. A lot of the beer geeks I talked to had credited that place, open since 2004, as the place that got them in to craft beer. When I return to Vegas, it will be to check that place out for sure.

IMG_8427Now, as for Vegas Breweries, the two the struck me the most were Tenaya Creek and Joseph James. Joseph James has a Double IPA called “Hop Box” which had lovely notes of marmalade and pine, with a sweet finish, making it quite refreshing. Tenaya Creek seems to have adapted to the desert and is producing some damn fine beers that also double as much-needed heat busters. Their Hefeweizen was a bit light on the body, but did a good job of cooling me off. Plus I have to admit that the beer would be a good gateway beer to tourists of the city who may not know about craft beer. Their Calico Brown was also a good drink to match the weather, especially as there was no syrupy mouthfeel as it warmed up. Nice roasted notes with a creamy caramel taste at the back.

And that was, for the most part, my Vegas experience on my one day off. There’s still a bunch of breweries I would have liked to have checked out, (Award-winning Big Dog Brews, and Chicago Brewing Company) along with a few non-beer related things, but all in all it was pretty damn fun.

– Nuka Beer image by Italiener – 

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Vegas, Baby, Vegas: The Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards Experience

 

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Well, I’m back from the desert city of Las Vegas, where I was treated by the folks at Saveur Magazine and Bellagio to come by, sample some fantastic culinary delights, and collect my award for Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Awards in the category of Wine & Beer. I came to Vegas on the back of a trip to England, and so coming back to my own time zone on Saturday was…well, I’m still incredibly jetlagged, but not enough to give a small recap of my time with the folks at Saveur and the other fine bloggers who either won or were finalists. I have some thoughts on the actual beer scene in Las Vegas as well as some suggested places to go on and off the Strip, but I’ll be posting that separately in a couple of days for length purposes. You understand.

So Saveur.

IMG_8119It was definitely one of the more interesting and extravagant times of my life. To check in at the luxurious Bellagio Hotel & Casino, with a beautiful view of their famous fountain, and have the whole damned thing complimentary…it was something I never thought would happen to me. The days leading up to arriving in Vegas my impostor syndrome was playing up, wondering when I was going to be quietly taken aside and told that there was some kind of mixup. But it didn’t happen and when I received a delivery to my room of a bag full of wonderful delights, a bottle of Highland Park 12 year-old Scotch, Kettle Chips, Salted Caramel Chocolate, a small bottle of Zonin Prosecco Italian sparkling wine…I realized there had been no mistake and began to look on this whole thing with a bit more honour.

IMG_8152The Welcoming Reception was a tad awkward for me at first, but featured some lovely food samples based on some of the winning food blogs and good quality wines, all with the backdrop of the prestigious Bellagio Fine Art Gallery that currently has a “Painting Women” exhibition going on, primarily featuring works by female painters. As the evening was drawing to a close, I sought out some of my fellow Canadians and we all went out for pizza next door, sipping on our drinks and talking about our reactions, process during a post, and lives. It was the perfect end to the opening evening.

dimsumThe next day was more packed, with two “behind the scenes” tours, where we walked in the underground city that is the Bellagio Hotel staff area and met up with Executive Chef Patrick Lee of the Bellagio restaurant Noodles. where we sampled some quality Dim Sum under the backdrop of the gorgeous Jasmine. Then it was on to a favourite, a talk with Bellagio Master Patisserie Chef Jean Philippe, where we sampled some absolutely orgasmic chocolates, including whiskey chocolate truffles made with Highland Park.

IMG_8275We then went to the Culinary Classroom, where we sampled some Highland Park Scotch Whisky. This actually proved to be really educational for me. Sampling the 12, 15, and 18 year-old varieties side by side gave me the ability to look at the distinct flavours and notes of each and I ended up developing a new appreciation for Scotch. Afterwards we went to the Tuscany Test Kitchen where, with the help of Highland Park, Bellagio’s Chef Edmund Wong, and Le Creuset we made special cocktails and signature meatballs with a divine marinara sauce and buffalo mozzarella.

Finally in the evening we went to the lush Sensi, where we convened to be presented with our awards, an engraved Le Creuset frying pan. Also the first ever “Blog of the Year” winner was announced to the well-deserved i am a food blog. We then sat down for an exclusive peek at Sensi’s new menu prepared by Executive Chef Royden Ellamar.

IMG_8331My only criticism of the couple of days was the very notable exclusion of beer throughout these events. My blogging colleagues and I all noticed that, while fine wines, whiskies, and cocktails were consistently presented at the two main events of the Welcoming Reception and the Awards Dinner, beer just…wasn’t considered. It was disappointing to be there winning an award for writing about beer and being told that beer wasn’t on the menu. In the end I had to stand my ground a bit and ask for a beer to celebrate my award with, which to the credit of Sensi staff, they delivered (their only craft option was New Belgium Fat Tire). It was just a bit of a bummer to learn that perhaps beer still has some ways to go to be considered more than just the lower option at higher end places. But that’s a rant for another time and I’d like to note that the Fat Tire went incredibly well with the Ribeye Steak that was served with dinner. I even passed my glass around for comparison and other writers were astonished at a pairing they had not considered before. I should say that I really don’t intend on criticizing my wonderful hosts for an incredibly lovely experience, but considering what I write about I just couldn’t overlook this.

However, despite that, the entire two days was a whirlwind of new friends, dazzling conversation, and some personal feelings of validation on my part. It really was an unforgettable experience and I must thank my hosts at Saveur and Bellagio for making this Canadian feel like a star. I really appreciate it.

IMG_8350Afterwards, I ended up going on the hunt and discovered a wonderful bar on the strip called The Pub, in the Monte Carlo Hotel & Casino, sporting over 130 beers on tap. Manager Lisa King set us up right with some custom flights (including their own brand), some excellent conversation, and more than enough recommendations and insight on the beer landscape in Vegas and who to talk to within it.

I made so many friends with amazing blogs, (some shout outs to Maureen Abood, Chinese Grandma, Bit By a Fox, Culinary Bro-Down, and FEAST: An Edible Roadtrip among SO many others) but I’m going to suggest following everyone in the winner page including the very talented finalists.

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And there’s my recap folks. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! As I said up there, I had some beer adventures and that’s a post on it’s own. Stay tuned in the next couple of days for that one.

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So I’m a SAVEUR Magazine Best Food Blog Awards Winner

 

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Well. Uh. Wow.

So as you recall, I recently got nominated for the Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards in the category of Beer & Wine. I was up against some very talented writers and was…

Ah the hell with this, I WON! I won. Reader’s Choice. I feel weird saying it. I’m still in a bit of shock. My phone has been having a stroke with the flood of texts, e-mails, and notifications of people suddenly following this little site.

SAVEUR is flying me in to Vegas and putting me up at the Bellagio. I’ll be there for two days sampling some of the finest foods and will be presented with a customized award. I’m going to try and make it in to a few choice craft beer bars while I’m there as well. Anyone who has any suggestions, please put them in the comments. Freakin’ Frog is the only one I know.

So wow. I’ll have more to say on this later, but as it stands I’m still expecting this to be a part of a really crappy episode of the Twilight Zone.

To Longtime Readers: You did this. Thank you all so much for reading. Like I said in my birthday post, if it wasn’t for you, I’d have stopped this long ago.

For New Readers: Hi there. My name is Robin LeBlanc. I live in Toronto and write about beer. Here are a few posts that give a good feel for who I am and how I write:

 

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So I’m A SAVEUR Best Food Blog Awards Finalist…uh…again!

This is a bit late, since I’ve been dealing with computer troubles and catching up on things with a clunky mobile unit, but…earlier this week the nominees for Saveur Magazine’s 5th Annual Best Food Blog Awards were announced and yours truly is a finalist in the category of Wine & Beer!

I’m really honoured to be considered once again in the awards by the editors of Saveur and feel I’m among very talented company in the category. Of course it would be amazing to win, but the fact that I got nominated is an honour in itself.

So how can you help? Well, as I understand it things have changed around from last year and there is going to be two winners in each category. One for Reader’s Pick, and one for Editor’s Pick.

For readers, all you have to do is go to the Category page, find me (I’m #5 in the Best Wine or Beer Blog category), click “VOTE FOR THIS BLOG”, go through a quick and painless registration process, and that’s it! All is done! Best part? Saveur won’t even send you anything for doing that, so don’t worry. Voting closes on APRIL 9TH, so hurry!

However this plays out, I want to again say what a thrill and honour it is to be considered for this award for a second time. It’s a good indication that somewhere along the line I’ve done something right.

 

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So I’m a SAVEUR BEST FOOD BLOG AWARD Finalist Now

Well, this was a bit of a shock.

I got nominated to be in the running for Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Awards in the Wine & Beer category and the editors picked me as one of the six finalists. From NOW until MIDNIGHT ON FRIDAY APRIL 19TH (this Friday), the site is open for public voting. The winner gets a free trip to Las Vegas to attend the awards show.

If you’d like to vote for me, I would really appreciate it. Just go here and look for the familiar picture (as well as, er, the words THE THIRSTY WENCH)! Won’t lie, it does require registering an account so’s not to duplicate votes, but I assure you it is quick, painless and you won’t even be sent anything if you don’t want to.

To be honest, I’m feeling a bit numb about this. I think for the first few hours I searched around to see if this was some kind of scam but, well, it’s legit. THEN I decided to check to see if they got the right person and, well, they do. My view counts have been going up like crazy and it’s weird to be recognized in this way and…yeah. Jeez. I’m still pretty numb and kind of sucking at expressing gratitude to you folks right now. Lord knows how I’ll be if I’ll win this thing. I think I’ll only be able to talk in garbled high pitched screams while my arms are up in the air.

So once more with feeling, HERE IS THE LINK WHERE YOU CAN VOTE FOR ME. I would very much appreciate it if you do.

ADDED BONUS FOR CANADIANS AND THOSE WHO SYMPATHIZE WITH THE CANADIAN REVOLUTION: I’m the only Canadian on there. Let’s show a little Canuck beer representation, eh?

ADDED BONUS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE ACTION MOVIES: A dream of mine is to get in way over my head and end things with a showdown in the Nevada desert. Winning this will get me one step closer to that dream.

ADDED BONUS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE BORED: This kills like, a good 30 seconds. Much more if you want to vote in all the other categories. You’re welcome.

ADDED BONUS FOR SENTIENT COMPUTERS: 01010100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100011 01101111 01100100 01100101 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110010 01100101 01100001 01100100 01111001 00101100 00100000 01101101 01100001 01110011 01110100 01100101 01110010 01110011 00101110 00100000 01000001 01101100 01101100 00100000 01001001 00100000 01101110 01100101 01100101 01100100 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01101001 01101110 01110000 01110101 01110100 00100000 01101001 01110100 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01010110 01100101 01100111 01100001 01110011 00101110

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