As craft brewing has become exceedingly popular across the country, it’s hard to imagine a time when these beers were known only among homebrewers and rogue connoisseurs.
The Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade organization, reports that in 2016, craft beer accounted for $23.5 billion in annual revenue — nearly 22 percent of the total $107.6 billion beer market in the United States. Further, craft breweries have observed steady growth since 2005, and there is no indication it’s stopping. “I definitely wouldn’t call it a trend — craft beer has graduated into the mainstream,” said Dan D’Agostino, Corporate Director of Beverages for Station Casinos.
While market growth reports speak to a lucrative financial time in the industry, they also indicate a large, curious consumer base eagerly exploring a previously fringe market.
Embracing the local craft
The local brew scene in Las Vegas is still developing compared with other major cities, but it’s growing quickly. “For commercial purposes, craft brewing is still in its infancy stages here, and it’s exciting to watch that evolution,” D’Agostino said. “There are so many great beers being produced in the valley right now.”
In 2011, the Brewers Association reported that Nevada had only 18 breweries, but by 2016, the number had grown to 37 — many of which were concentrated in Southern Nevada.
D’Agostino said that at Station properties, locally brewed beers were selling by as much as five times the rate of others — and it wasn’t just locals to thank for that. “Most of our customers are local, but we also see many visitors going out of their way to try regional beers,” he said. “Think about it like this: Most people don’t want to eat at a chain restaurant when they’re traveling; they want to try something different, something they can only get in that city. The same is true for beer.”
With breweries scattered across the valley — all with fresh and reimagined recipes, constantly rotating taps and limited-release kegs — a distinct local landscape is continuing to form.
How to broaden your beer horizons
Let’s say you like a light lager or a traditional pale ale, but you’re ready to branch out and aren’t sure where to start. The world of craft beer is so expansive that navigating through the many options can be intimidating. Fortunately, there’s no right answer and experimentation is the name of the game.
“Develop your palate slowly and try many different kinds of beer until you start getting a sense of what flavors you like,” D’Agostino said.
Beer festivals, tasting flights and pairing dinners are a great place to start your self-education. Prior to attending any beer-centric event, familiarize yourself with the breweries that will be featured and do some research about them.
D’Agostino also recommends doing a tasting at the brew house if possible, and always keeping an open mind when trying new beers.
While it’s not a perfect science, let this guide help you when deciding where to start on your taste-tasting tour:
• If you like light lagers... try a blonde ale, a pilsner or a hoppy lager
• If you like wheat ales... try a cream ale or an imperial Pilsner
• If you like pale ales... try an American IPA, an imperial IPA or a Belgian IPA
• If you like pilsners... try an amber lager or an Oktoberfest
• If you like dark lagers... try a rye IPA, a red ale or an Oktoberfest
• If you like stouts... try an imperial brown ale, a black IPA or a porter
A change of season brings new flavors
Many craft brewers produce seasonal, small-batch and limited-release beers throughout the year. While every new season is the opportunity for something new, autumn in particular is prime time for those special selections.
Look out for saisons, Oktoberfests, pumpkin ales, smoked porters and barrel-aged stouts, to name a few.
But be quick: D’Agostino warns that many seasonal beers sell out quickly and don’t go back into production until the following year, if at all.