I was really getting tired of sitting at my desk here at Cubs Insider, so I decided to get out and live a little. I borrowed the last of the petty cash (sorry, Tom!) and hopped the first thing smoking to a glittering city in the desert, a town built on a foundation of vice, shattered dreams, and the bodies of dead mobsters (like Chicago, except hotter).
Yes, I headed out to Vegas, baby! This former haven for organized crime has become known more for mega casinos and quickie marriages, but its reputation as a player in the craft beer market is growing. After having an ethereal experience at Public House a short while back, I was bound and determined to get back to Lost Wages to see what other gems I could unearth.
So it was that I devised the Vegas Beer Tour, a strategically-planned pilgrimage to some of the bars and breweries that are putting Sin City on the craft map. My first stop was Aces & Ales, a bar a little ways off The Strip on S. Nellis Blvd, which stays open 24 hours and claims to be "Las Vegas' best craft beer bar." Well, here, let them tell you:
Inspired by the classic gastropub’s of London, Aces & Ales appeals to the casual connoisseur. Proudly leading a revolution for craft beer drinkers who want to break free from the ‘norm’, we frequently rotate (to ensure freshness) a carefully chosen array of 22(Nellis) & 50(Tenaya) draft beers, as well a finely tuned 150+ bottle list (many ‘vintage & limited’ selections). Aces & Ales has a unique offering: a full range of beer styles, from pilsners and imperial stouts to reds, hefeweizens, and IPA’s, coupled with chef-driven quality-conscious, gourmet comfort food. We work diligently with our suppliers each day to bring you the most nutritious and high quality products available.
I reached out and got in touch with Adam Metcalf, Aces & Ales' Director of Operations, who told me that the Nellis location was the original A&A and that it usually sees more tourists. Adam put me in touch with Jennilee Frederiksen, the GM at Nellis, and he also suggested I check out the Tenaya location, which I didn't quite have the time or money for by the end of my trip.
My plan was to get over to Nellis for their Tuesday Night Tasting, which includes a selection of six 4oz taster samples and a little specialty food, all for only $20. How could I go wrong? Then I saw on Twitter than Evan Weinberg, owner and head brewer at Cismontane Brewing, would be in the house. Perfect!
At the time, I had no idea about Cismontamne's beers, but I welcomed the chance to talk brewing with a guy named Evan; I mean, who wouldn't? Well, the evening didn't get off to such a great start, as I had to guide the cabbie to the destination with my own phone's GPS. I guess most guys aren't used to driving too far off the neon path.
A&A was a little smaller than I thought it would be, but what it lacked in size it made up for in rare beers. Two locked coolers on the floor were stocked with various hard-to-find bombers, most of which I'd never even heard of. The bar wasn't packed, but business was brisk and both ladies behind the bar were really hustling. I didn't feel right trying to flag Jennilee down to answer my questions with as much as she was running around, so I just sat back and observed.
Between Cubs rain delays, I had a tasty (if a little soggy) order of fish and chips at the vide0-poker-studded, u-shaped bar -- well, actually, it was more of an open-ended, right triangle shape if memory serves. When I could look away from the game and the bar, I saw that the walls were festooned with banners and signs from craft breweries, rather than the typical macro ads. The tap list was well-rounded, but my attention, rightfully so, was drawn to the Cismontane takeover section.
I began with Tread Lightly, a very nice American IPA ripe with Amarillo and Simcoe hops. It was a great start to the evening and paired nicely with my meal, but I wanted to venture a little bit more into the uniqueness of Cismontane. With that in mind, I next opted for The Mesa:
A new school testament to the tradition of brewing beer with grapes. It is a blend of 25% Santa Lucia highland Riesling from Mer Soleil Vineyard and 75% Pilsner from Cismontane. This beer is brewed entirely with Nelson Sauvin hops. Soured with Lactobacillus to enhance the natural grape acidity and fermented with a blend of wine and beer yeast. This process highlights the flavors that beer and wine have in common.
While this isn't a beer that I could see myself session drinking, it was certainly eye-opening. The grape flavors were prominent but not overpowering, blending with the pilsner to create a drink that was not quite wine and not quite beer. I'm not normally a fan of sours either, but this had depth and complexity that really intrigued me. Not one for the amateur, but a fine brew nonetheless.
Up next was a Coulter IPA, a well-balanced beer with rye and plenty of hops for great aroma. This may have been my favorite of the bunch, as it countered the hop aroma with a nice malt backbone and enough alcohol to let you know this was not a beer to be taken lightly.
I decided to dial things back just a bit on the next choice, which was Holy Jim Falls, a crisp, clean APA with a bright hop aroma. A little lighter in color and body than my previous choice, the HJF went down smooth and would be perfect for a warm summer day at the ballpark. I'd love to have some in the fridge to cap off a day of yard work or just to enjoy while grilling out too.
Given the light and more commercially-acceptable taste of the Holy Jim Falls, I suppose it's odd that I opted to finish my Cismon-tasting with Marea Roja, a Flanders red beer (check one more off my StirSide Periodic Table of Beer Challenge). Its name means "red tide," which is an algal bloom that usually occurs in coastal areas, turning the water a red or brown color; the high concentration of normally-innocuous toxins has been know to cause fatalities for marine animals and respiratory problems in humans.
Much like its namesake, Marea Roja took my breath away when I first tasted it, as it was quite a departure from my previous beers. Flanders red is a style of ale often fermented with Lactobacillus to produce a lactic acid sourness and fruit flavors similar to plums, prunes, and raisins. Think a thinner, yeastier version of prune yogurt.
Okay, that's really an unfair metaphor, as it makes the beer sound less than appealing. Once I got over the shock to my palate (which I knew was coming but was ill prepared for nonetheless), I settled into the Roja quite nicely. It had perhaps a little more roastiness than what is typically expected in the style, but I found that desirable. This is a beer that lingers, revealing new facets of its character as it does so. Again, not a session brew, but one I'm so glad I experienced.
The other Evan was busy making the rounds, so I didn't get to bend his ear for long, but I managed to bug him for just a bit before I had to leave. He was a really unassuming and affable guy, with his t-shirt and hat and SoCal mannerism. We fell into a spirited conversation about the craft beer market in our respective areas and some of his experimentation with The Mesa to get the flavor dialed in just right. I even got to sample one of his rare aged beers, though the name and style escape me; rest assured that it was money.
Picking the brain of a fellow beer fan, particularly one who's turned his hobby into a successful business, was a great treat and I came away with a new mission: to get Cismontane into more states in the Midwest, particularly Indiana. I cannot recommend either A&A or Cismontane highly enough; the former had a great beer selection and service that was second to none, while the latter had a great beer selection and a brewer who's in love with his craft.
Next time you're in Las Vegas, a trip to Aces & Ales is a must; just be ready to pay a relatively steep cab fare and to help your driver with directions. And if you have occasion to drive a few hours west to Rancho San Margarita, CA, make sure to stop by Cismontane's tasting room and tell 'em Evan sent you.
Holy Jim Falls APA, Coulter IPA, The Mesa
CA, NV, OH (according to Evan, so I'm going to have to get to Jungle Jim's to see if they have it), probably more but I don't have full list
For past installments of GaBI, click HERE.
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Filed under: Craft Beer