Las Vegas' burgeoning craft beer scene is gaining more representation on the Strip as demand for locally brewed ales and lagers is influencing real-life beverage managers. That's music to the ears of Wyndee Forrest, co-owner of CraftHaus Brewery and president of the Nevada Craft Brewers Association.
"You don't have to search so hard to find a local beer any longer when you're visiting food and beverage locations up and down the Strip, which is a huge stride for local beer or Nevada-made beer," Forrest said.
"With this shift in our visitors vocalizing that they're looking for something that they cannot get at home, that makes a big difference on the decision-makers who are designing the beverage programs for their Strip locations."
Las Vegas' evolution into a professional sports town undoubtedly has spurred more demand for beer, she said. But the pandemic-induced pause in travel created even more thirst for not just regional but hyperlocal brews, she said.
"People's palates are evolving. They want a unique experience that they can't get elsewhere, and they want it to be memorable," Forrest said.
"Those things include beers that they can't get at home, artwork on labels that they're not used to seeing and tap handles with different names that they're not used to seeing."
Circa Resort & Casino collaborated with downtown's Able Baker Brewing to launch its exclusive Vegas Vickie Neon Blonde lager. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Circa Resort & Casino
For example, Circa Resort & Casino collaborated with downtown's Able Baker Brewing to launch its exclusive Vegas Vickie Neon Blonde beer on Sept. 1. The lager is a tribute to Circa's kicking neon cowgirl.
And Forrest's CraftHaus introduced Rebel Spirit ale this year in partnership with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It is available at the school's Thomas & Mack Center and at the CraftHaus taprooms in Henderson and downtown Las Vegas.
There were 51 craft brewers in Nevada in 2021, the majority in the southern part of the state. The biggest jump, from 25 to 34, occurred in 2014-15, when Forrest worked with cities to remove the gaming component from their brewpub laws, drastically lowering the cost of a business license.
She is working on legislation to be introduced in the Nevada Legislature next year that would make secondary tasting rooms (locations different from where brewing takes place) more economical to operate.
Whether it's about innovation, perseverance, organic ingredients or having a carbon-negative footprint, storytelling is essential to the craft beer experience, she said. Their passion also sets brewers apart.
"We are storytellers," said Forrest, who with her husband, Dave, started CraftHaus in 2014. "How do we convey those stories and convey especially our passion? Because you definitely have to be passionate to open a craft brewery. It's hard, it's challenging. There's not a lot of rule books and how-to's on how to do it. So passion is key when opening a brewery, for your longevity and the success of that brewery."
CraftHaus Brewery's tasting room in the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Edison Graff
Arts and crafts
Among those helping to tell those brewers' stories are Craig Lanzillotti and Mikel Bishop, who opened Las Vegas Brews Cruise in September 2021.
The company features walking tours (beginning at $105, plus tax and fees) of the downtown Arts District, which is becoming known as Brewery Row. The company's recently launched bus tours ($165) pick up guests on the Strip. The itineraries last nearly four hours and include a snack, flights of four 5-ounce pours at three breweries and guided brewery tours.
About 99% of customers are tourists who are enthusiastic about what's brewing in the desert, and Lanzillotti is eager to inform them about the craft beer industry in Las Vegas.
"It's very up and coming," Lanzillotti said. "We have award-winning breweries. There's far more beer here than there ever has been in recent memory. It's all very good. I'm constantly impressed and blown away with the different styles of beer and quality of beer that is being made here. Especially for such a young brewing scene."
In addition to shops, bars and restaurants, the easily walkable Arts District includes Able Baker, Nevada Brew Works, Hudl Brewing Co., Hop Nuts, and CraftHaus Brewery (its beer is brewed in suburban Henderson, which also has a hopping craft beer industry), and Neon Desert. Astronomy Aleworks and Mojave Brewing Co. share a tasting room over Three Sheets Craft Beer Bar.
For those with limited time, Servehzah Bottle Shop and Tap Room, home of Las Vegas Brews Cruise, always has local beers on tap.
Variety is a virtue
A good representation of a variety of beer styles is what Lanzillotti seeks in a brewery.
"Everybody has the extreme beer that gets them a little notoriety ... getting away from the well-balanced, well-rounded beers that got people like me into the craft beer industry. I don't want to go to a place that only has milkshake IPAs. I also don't want to go to a place that only has sours," Lanzillotti said.
Continued growth and enhancing local craft brewers' reputation for quality are among Forrest's goals.
"All of our breweries -- we're striving to have the highest-quality products that we can possibly put out there," Forrest said. "We want not only our locals to be proud of what we're producing, but we also want those travelers to go back home and say, 'Nevada beer is excellent beer. I tried something that I was impressed with, and now I'm going to bring that home and share with people around me.'"
Even a place like Las Vegas, with its many famous attractions, can become a beer destination, Lanzillotti said.
"People don't know that there's such amazing craft beer here. ... [Tourists] definitely need to venture off-Strip and do something other than gambling and support some of the local small businesses and brewers that are here," he said.