All-American April: Craft Beer in Las Vegas

While the Ontario craft beer scene has just started to really pick up, the US craft scene has been alive and kicking for a good while. We can’t resist checking out the local beer wherever we happen to travel, so we decided this month we’d do an “All-American April” to feature some of the US places we’ve been.

It’s true: you can get craft beer in Las Vegas. Here’s our take on what breweries and beer bars were easy enough to visit from a casino/hotel on the Strip.

Sin City Brewing

Sin City Brewing

With four locations serving up their own beer list on The Strip, we’d venture to say that Sin City Brewing is the easiest Vegas brewery to locate. We visited the location inside the Grand Canal Shops, a stone’s throw away from the canals, gondoliers and palazzos of “Venice”. To our Canadian eyes, the walk-up bar within a mall (with to-go beers as well) was both peculiar and should absolutely be a thing here.

Sin City Brewing

Sin City serves up five beers + a rotating seasonal. We found that they were all pretty basic or traditional styles – but done quite well. We were even surprised by their Light Lager, which we tried with some serious hesitation, as light lagers are not a style either of us is generally a fan of. But we found it quenching, and much more malty than your average light lager, and both of us enjoyed even that.

Ellis Island Brewery & Casino

Ellis Island Casino & Brewery

One long block off the Strip, on Koval Lane at E. Flamingo Dr, Ellis Island Casino & Brewery is what’s often described as a “neighbourhood casino” – meaning it’s not on the glitzy Las Vegas Strip, and their clientele is primarily the locals. The slots were low value (heavy on nickels and pennies), and it had a more casual atmosphere than the rest. It’s also a brewery, with a window you can peek into on-premises to the see the inner workings.

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The beer was also dirt cheap, for Vegas or anywhere. A $7 flight, which included 6 beers and a root beer, was a great deal. Like Sin City, they focus on 5 key styles that are relatively traditional and common-place, and a rotating seasonal. The standards were decent, but our major winner was the seasonal – at the time, it was a Winter Spiced Ale which had the taste of cinnamon and mulled cranberries.

Banger Brewing

Banger Brewing

If you decide to take the Deuce from the Strip and head up to see the Fremont Street Experience, find this neon among all the rest and don’t miss Banger Brewing, located right on Fremont Street.

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Banger went into fully inventive craft territory, with a long list of their own beers and some local guest taps. Josh loved the Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout Dark Angel, and we both found the Morning Joe, a kolsch with hazelnut and caramel coffee, really tasty. And that’s saying something, considering Jessica doesn’t drink coffee – it was more like a beer version of a Coffee Crisp than a cup of coffee.

The vibe was that kind of industrial-hipster aesthetic that you see in a lot of breweries back home. We were into it. Felt like a good hang-out place, appropriate for locals and tourists.

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BEER BARS

Public House

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Inside the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shops, not far off the casino floor is this gem of a gastropub. Prohibition-themed with a look that’s kind of industrial meats swanky, Public House’s menu looked good (we were between meals), and the beer and liqour lists were fabulous.

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We were delighted in trying US craft from all over, with a special focus on Vegas and the surrounding area. Since we were between meals, we sidled up to the bar, conveniently located near their interior entrance, and chatted with the bartenders on beer, beer regulations and politics.

Yard House

Advertised as having the world’s largest selection of draft beer, even though Yard House is a chain, we couldn’t resist heading over to the Vegas Strip location, which is in the row of outdoor shops at The LINQ. After all, we don’t have any of them near here! The food was pretty good, and seemed to have a sort of Mexicali focus (we enjoyed the fish tacos), and the staff was particularly friendly.

A bartender hams it up for the camera
A bartender hams it up for the camera

And yes, the beer list is pretty amazing. Multi-page and organized by stylistic tendencies, it also featured a lot of the US craft beers we’d hear about but would never be able to try. Too bad that the closest installment of this restaurant from our house is all the way in Ohio.
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MISSED THIS TIME

There’s a few more breweries in Vegas, but we found them a bit further afield and trickier to access as a non-car-having traveller staying on The Strip (e.g., Tenaya Creek Brewery, Hop Nuts Brewery, and Big Dog Brewing Co)

We know there’s some good beer bars in Vegas, but again some were further out and we just couldn’t see everything! Two on our wishlist included: Aces & Ales and Atomic Liqours. And then there’s Hofbrauhaus, a classic German beer hall like it’s namesake in Munich . .  but as we’ll be at the original in May, we decided we could leave it off.

Visit date: February 2017

The Exchange Brewery, Niagara-on-the-Lake

We were enticed to head down to Niagara-on-the-Lake this past weekend for a Sour Tasting & Tour at The Exchange Brewery. Neither of us can resist a good sour, and this absolutely didn’t disappoint.

THE PLACE

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The Exchange Brewery is in a compact historical building right downtown in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Despite the size constraints, they packed a lot of space into the area, with two floors of service, brewing and some barreling on-site, and a very chic look that tied it all together.

THE TOUR

Because it was The Exchange’s first anniversary, we were able to get a tour of the facilities. At first when the eager group piled into the very small working space behind the glass enclosure of the brew room, we worried we may had signed up for yet another lesson on the absolute basics of beer-making, like we’d seen on some other tours.

Fortunately, we needn’t have worried!

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The tour felt very personal to the brewery itself. The set-up was unique, and the stories were less focused on an ephemeral “how beer is made”, and more about how this brewery chooses to make their beer. The operators had even purchase different sets of much of their apparatus for sours vs non-sours, which was something we hadn’t seen before.

But the most impressive part of it all was how efficiently they used such a small space. In a room where you could barely squeeze 20 people in, everything was tightly packed with perfectly organized hoses running the liquid up and down and back and forth.

THE BEER

During the talk by the head brewer, he talked about the brewery’s two focuses: hop-forward West coast ales and Belgian-style sours. We could definitely see those focuses in their beer list, especially in the sour selection. He mentioned also making a variety of styles, to please the large variety of people that come through the door – the balance of having a working brewery in a tourist-heavy city.

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They had about 15 different beers on offer, including a couple on cask as a special anniversary weekend event. Some of our top hits were:

  • & Oud Bruin Barrel Aged Sour – Our winner of the night, a complex sour with a dark brown/red colour – sour, malty, with a sort of dried cherry taste. A bit of everything.
  • 7White IPA – An interesting mashup, with the coriander and orange peel of a witbier combined with the hoppy bitterness of an IPA, but without too much of either. This blend worked very well for us.
  • Black Saison – A very surprising beer. Sour, malty, even a bit of toasty oak at the end. Quite diverse in its taste profile, and unique among saisons.
  • ∞ Belgian Stout – Medium-bodied, with a flavour reminiscent of those fancy cherry chocolates. Quite a pleasant cool-weather brew. 
  • Flanders Red – Another complex, rich sour, with a light, slightly nutty flavour; stays quite true to its roots.

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THE EXTRAS

What’s with the numbers and symbols? The building was once used as a telephone exchange (hence the name – and the numbers!). It also works perfectly on the round trays with plastic ‘tokens’ they give out to mark their flights.

The Exchange has a short food menu with snacks and bar staples the can be made behind the bar (cheese trays, hummus, flavoured popcorn), but they also build partnerships with local food places on different nights – sushi, food trucks, pizza places. When we were there, British-fusion food truck Ello Gov’na was parked outside supplying the bar patrons with a delicious apricot cauliflower curry.

BONUS: If you can’t make it out to NOTL for a little while but want to try some of The Exchange’s brews, they’ll be serving them up at the Hamilton I Heart Beer Festival on February 10-11, 2017.

Visit date: February 4, 2017

Our Top Ten Noteworthy Beers of 2016

We went through our Untappd ratings for 2016 to find our top ten new-to-us beers for the year.

This is our combined list, and we do have different preferences, so it took some negotiation. We both love darks and sours (as evidenced by our list), though beyond that Josh’s tastes are more likely to go toward barrel-aged brews and high ABV offerings, while Jessica’s preferences run more toward the sweeter and fruiter flavours.  Neither of us are particularly into hop-bombs, which is why they aren’t well represented here.

In no particular order

Home Sweet Home – 5 Paddles Brewing – This honey vanilla wheat ale is one of their standards, and it was a stand-out for us. Creamy and sweet caramel/honey taste, it reminded us of Werther’s candies. Very crisp for a wheat ale as well, despite the sweetness. Available regularly at the Whitby brewery.

5 Paddles Brewing

Collective Project: Gose – Collective Arts Brewing – We did a whole post on Gose, and this is a perfect example of the style: tangy, slightly salty, and very refreshing. It was their summer seasonal, but is still available at the brewery as of this writing, and had also been available in some grocery stores.

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Dry-Hopped Tripel – Cameron’s Brewing – We got lucky enough to get this seasonal at the brewery, which was sweet, fruity, and not at all syrupy as some high ABV offerings tend to be (this one sits at 7.5%). They told us they were aiming for it to be a “white wine of beer”, and we thought that label fits – it even has a light grape flavour.

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Brooklyn Sorachi Ace – Brooklyn Brewery – Our one non-Ontario pick, because it’s just that good. Rated highly by both of us, this saison was rich, creamy, dry, and lightly hoppy. An all-around good beer. We found this one at the LCBO, and there are still some available at certain locations.

Purgatory – Innocente Brewing Company – Don’t expect a usual cream ale, as this black “cream ale” was something a little more intriguing. Very roasted yet at the same time very smooth, with deep milk chocolate tones and a light body. We had this possible one-off at the brewery, and it doesn’t look like it’s still in production – let’s hope we’re wrong!

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Limberlost Farmhouse Ale – Sawdust City Brewing Co. – A tasty wild yeast farmhouse ale, tangy with a hint of sourness, like a lambic mixed with a saison. We’ve seen this one at a couple festivals, and we hope to see it appear again soon.

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Harry Porter – Great Lakes Brewery – This is a not a new beer, but strangely, though we’d had several of the take-offs (for example, Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder), we’d never had the original until recently. And… yes. Here’s a delicious porter. Smooth, dark, drinkable, rich, and delicious.

Beer 101 Pilsner – Niagara College Teaching Brewery – The NCTB has an entire line of style essentials, but the pilsner is easily the best. Malty, interesting, more robust than the colour lets on, just a little hoppy and super drinkable.

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Russian Imperial Stout – Oast House – Josh loves his Russian Imperial Stouts so this was a no-brainer addition to his list – however, even Jessica found it the most drinkable R.I.S. she’d ever had. As rich and malty as it should be with coffee on the nose and grape on the tongue, it was also so smooth for a Russian Imperial. This was a seasonal offering in-brewery last winter, so perhaps it will be returning soon.

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Motley Cru (2016) – Bellwoods Brewery – Yes, we said this list wasn’t in order, but this was our unofficial top beer of the year. This two-year barrel-aged, funky & wild sour made with Gewurtztraminer grape juice was a big winner for both of us. Phenomenally well-balanced, blending the sweet and the sour, and bubbly on the tongue. We could definitely taste the Gewurztraminr. motley-cru

Niagara College Teaching Brewery, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara College Teaching Brewery is attached to the Niagara College brewing program, which means you get two worlds of beer: the seasoned brew teachers, and the upcoming new brewers.

THE PLACE

IMG_20160618_135600909 (2)In a small building on the Niagara College campus,  the brewery isn’t about atmosphere. It’s got the basics down for though: fridges full of product and a long line of taps. This is a place where you sample and buy beer. Enough said.

On the day we visited, the building was at capacity, as there was a festival on the grounds. Other days would generally be a lot quieter.

 

THE BEER

Niagara College Teaching Brewery, Hoppily Ever After

There’s not a lot to see from the inside the store. It’s a small tap room with a short bar top, minimal seating, and a few industrial grab-and-go fridges. However, What the brewery may lack in atmosphere, they certainly make up for with selection. They’ve got their “Beer 101” series featuring the faithfully recreated styles we all know, a “Brew Master” line featuring some carefully crafted brews, and one-offs made by the students. The pouring station has 16 taps, which we assume comes in handy around exam time.

Here’s a selection of some we tried:

  • Beer 101: Pilsner – Malty, just a little hoppy, and so drinkable. This was a winner for both of us. Don’t be fooled by the pale colour, this is more robust than you’d think to see it.
  • Brew Master Stout – Strong, rich stout, with a bit of a coffee flavour.
  • Cherry Pilsner – Also a Brew Master beer, it’s both malty and tart. Cherry flavour is subtle, so it still has the light, pilsner-y profile.
  • Sugar Parents – This one was a student Brew. A “big boozy Belgian” that was a one-off, and probably Jessica’s winner of the sampling day – fruity and interesting, and couldn’t quite tell it was 10% ABV

Niagara College Teaching Brewery, Hoppily Ever After

THE EXTRAS

NCTB is a simple place. There is some merch to check out and purchase, but the real interesting part is the beer fridges. It’s the kind of place that always carries one-offs, so we grabbed as many as we could so we could sample these exclusive brews.

Visit Date: June 18, 2016

Silversmith Brewing, Niagara-on-the-Lake

We visited Silversmith Brewing on a blustery day in January, and it was a cozy respite from the weather. It’s a pretty great brewpub too!

Silversmith Brewing, Hoppily Ever After

THE PLACE

Built in an old church, with arched windows, stained glass, red brick, and bare wood, Silversmith Brewing still looks the part. And it still does have a big congregation. Even though it was mid-afternoon on a Sunday in the middle of winter, the place was packed, with a band and a lively crowd.

Silversmith Brewing, Hoppily Ever After

THE BEER

Though it’s more of a brewpub than a tasting room, there was just enough space in the crowd for us to squeeze up the bar and order a flight of beers.

Silversmith Brewin,g Hoppily Ever After

  • Bavarian Breakfast Wheat – Crisp and sweet, this tastes as close to a real German Weiss as you can find in a local brewery.
  • Black Lager – Another in the German style, this is quite a traditional Schwarzbier: light-bodied, but with that dark and roasted malt overlay, as it should be.
  • Hill 145 Golden Ale – They call this one a “patio crusher”, and it’s easy to tell why. Great for summer, it’s a light but full-flavoured ale, heavy on the pineapple
  • Dam Buster – An English bitter. It’s clean, medium-bodied, and – don’t be fooled by the name of the style – not overly bitter
  • Devils & Details – A Belgian strong golden ale that was a limited release during our visit. Citrus-y, with quite a hoppy punch.

Silversmith brewing, Hoppily Ever After

THE EXTRAS

Tide and Vine Oyster House have set up shop at Silversmith, and it’s a great match for their beer selection. The menu changes seasonally, but it’s always a good bet that you’ll find oysters.

There’s also a good amount of merch available, much of which describes their fans as – what else for an old church? – “The Congregation”

Visit Date: January 31, 2016