“As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience an oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude: when I am seated, I find the master courteous, and the servants obsequious to my call; anxious to know and ready to supply my wants: wine there exhilarates my spirits, and prompts me to free conversation and an interchange of discourse with those whom I most love: I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight.” – Johnson
“Yes, as Johnson says, it is the poets who preserve the language.” I twirled my Belgian-whit, brought liquid to lips, and set glass to wood. “After I read Dante, I told myself two things are needful to appreciate him, truly; one must learn Italian and become a Catholic.” I lifted the glass once again. “You see, Musa’s translation, so I suppose” – here twirling the beer and holding the glass out like a sort of speaking-stick – “is very good, but Dante’s rhyme scheme, the aba bcb cdc, is lost in the English. In Italian it would be very much like Spenser’s stanza, where that second rhyme becomes the first and sort of whirls one about.” I paused from speaking and enjoyed the brew. The man across from me concurred. Beyond him, huddled in a dark corner, our tattooed waitress smoked a cigarette with a patron. Another man sat at the bar, smoking and trying his luck at the penny-slots. He sat half-turned on the stool, as if speaking to the specter in the next seat, as if waiting for the friend he knew would never show.
There is a tendency – I had almost said a temptation – for modern man to over-generalize his experience in life. “This bar, this beer, this person” becomes something more like “just another beer at just another bar with just another human.” It is true that globalization and the increase of unnecessary technologies destroy localization. Globalization destroys neighborhoods, not like an unruly giant, who picks up homes and smashes them together with an odd mixture of rage and joy. No. Globalization destroys the neighborhood like a humble, innocent, yet uncreative architect, whose rows of houses are as unchanging as rows of headstones. But even as I muse on our despondent situation, there is at least one ray of hope. There is at least one sector of society, one brotherhood of men who have risen from their headstones, dusting off the ash and dirt of the prohibition and raging with the unending joy of resurrection. There is one race of men out to preserve the species. And these titans, rearing their heads with laughter, are none other than your local brewers. And it is with great joy – after months of despondency and near despair – to have discovered these brewers brooding and existing even in Las Vegas. Even in the new-age desert a man may drink a pint of good, local beer.
Over the past year, I have casually searched for good local beer. Discovering and supporting local beer is important. First, it is important because it supports, in its way, local community, local men, local flavor. Second, it is important because craft beer, as opposed to supporting drunkenness, acts as a buffer against it. By its very name, craft beer is about creation, and a craft brewer crafts a beer for taste and no other reason. If you do not care for taste in your beer, it’s likely because you have no taste. And drinking simply to blackout is nothing but a mild form of suicide; it is the tasteless trying to taste less than they already taste. But craft brews are for crafty people, for who people who, like carpenters, are into crafting and creating things. I suppose, if it is not irreverent, that Christ was a crafty fellow. If Christ were alive today, he might drink craft brew. For Christ, apprenticed as a carpenter, both carved wood and had a hand in creating man. I can see him now, whittling away at some object as a teen – perhaps a miniature of his mother. It’s hard and blasphemous, in any case, to picture Christ blacking out. It’s hard, and blasphemous, to support those brewers of the night, those brewers who brood on dark thoughts, who deceptively brew light beers, who in the cover of night seek the deeper darkness of their unconscious.
Like the great morning star, the brewers in this town rise above the rabble and ruckus. As one may eat his peas before his pudding, let us began with the worst of the Vegas brewers. One thing to note about Vegas breweries, generally speaking, is their fondness for bad beer. That is, the local brewers love brewing lagers and pilsners, IPAs and pale ales. This makes finding the good rather difficult. One must wield his scythe and proactively separate the wheat from the chaff. And even the wheat here is a toil on the taste buds. Instead of brewing a good wheat beer, the brewers concoct Hefeweizens, filling them with banana notes and making one cringe. Now, though the outer ring of these breweries consists of bad beer, if one descends deeply enough, he will find hidden treasures.
There are two breweries, to begin with, that are an exception. Big Dog’s brewers not only brew bad lagers and pale ales and Hefeweizens, they also have achieved the very difficult tasking of brewing a bad Brown Ale. What is notable about their Red Hydrant Brown Ale is that it actually tastes worse on tap than out of a can. Any beer brewed for a can must immediately be canned.* Another brewery to avoid is Bad Beat Brewery, out of Henderson. Now, I have only had two of their beers to be honest, but the only other one on the shelf was a pilsner. This brewery, as far as I can tell, does not brew anything worth spending money for. If a local man offers you any beers from these two breweries, I think it is certainly permissible to question that man’s character. If this man offers you a lager, you at the wrong social event.
There are, nevertheless, three breweries here that have not just decent, but delicious brews. The Crafthuas brewery, a small, coffee-shop sized brewery in Henderson brews a delicious saison. This brew is a nice summer beer. It is smooth, refreshing, not too bitter, not too sweet, and certainly not too thick. Now, if a man offers you this beer, you must repay him in some fashion. If you are from the Midwest, you ought to offer him the saison from Boulevard as repayment.
The Joseph James Brewery, another Henderson gem, has achieved the reverse of Big Dog’s accomplishment. Though their lager is on par with Bud Light, their Citra Rye Pale Ale, though a tad too bitter for my own tastes, is decent. It is fruity and strong, two other qualities that I usually dismiss immediately, but which are not overdone. Their Weize Guy Hefeweizen is also drinkable. It’s banana notes are not overly dominating, unlike other Hefeweizens in this town. The sin of the craft brewer, as the sin of the saint, is over-craftiness, of going over the top. His sin is often an excess of taste rather than a lack. Though these brews are not overdone, they are not the best beer. However, if a local here offers it to you, you need not cringe or stick up your nose at him.
The best of the local brews, though, are the brown ales. The Busker Brown Ale from Joseph James is your standard brown. It is rich and smooth. It does what all good brown ales do; it sets a man’s wits afire. A man nearly starts quoting the bard when he drinks of it. A man can drink a brown ale slowly; he may enjoy it; he does not worry about it growing too warm; he waits not till his hills turn blue. This is no more true than the best of the best in Vegas. In a small little brewery on Bonanza Road, in the darkest recesses of our town, shines a light as if in a black pit. I have only had one beer from the Tenaya Creek Brewery, but the Bonanza Brown Ale towers above the other beers in this town. The Bonanza Brown is the closest thing to drinking tobacco, the closest thing to that rare pleasure of enjoying two things in one. Apart from perhaps the milk stout or the chocolate porter,** the brown ale is the richest of the beers. And the Bonanza Brown is certainly a bonanza in the mouth.
These beers are difficult to find in a town that hardly realizes they exist. But it is the joy of the Gambler to spread the good news. It is his noble task to ask and pester his local bars until they provide him with locally crafted beer. It is his task, along with these noble brewers, to help preserve the tongue. While he sits in dark booths brooding over another town’s beer, quoting the poets, he must not only seek to preserve the language. For what does it benefit a man to save his language but lose his tongue? What happens when bad brews brew bad poems? This must not be. A man must drink from the fountains of his local brewery; he must, though, drink their best. For only then will his tongue be loosed; then will he no longer speak in prose but poetry.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Painting: “A Tavern Scene”
By James Flewitt Mullock
Oil on canvas, 1883
*A distinction is needed. A beer brewed for a can is different than beer brewed and placed in a can, a beer meant for a glass.
**I have found no porters here, and it being summer, I have not tried the local stouts and therefore cannot comment on those noble brews. This analysis does not include the local brew-pubs that do not distribute.