Chow Town

Great beer brewed in Vegas stays in Vegas

Sin City’s brewmaster Richard Johnson and his signature beer.
Sin City’s brewmaster Richard Johnson and his signature beer.

It’s got one of the coolest names and coolest logos — in my opinion — in the industry.

Even better, the beers brewed by Vegas’ Sin City Brewing Co. are really, really good, and the company’s brewmaster and founder, Richard Johnson, is a nice guy.

All of this was confirmed in a recent trip to Las Vegas where I had the chance to meet Johnson, taste through the range of Sin City beers and learn of the company’s and Johnson’s background.

The experience, which played out over a couple of hours at Sin City’s Bar in the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood, was fun, informative and tasty. What follows is a somewhat loose, subjective and mostly factual interpretation of the conversation and the beer.

“I like brewing a clean beer,” Johnson said.

When I asked him what that meant, Johnson explained that he “cut his teeth” on German-style beers, which follow very specific rules and guidelines called the Reinheitsgebot established in 1516.

German beers don’t deviate much, sometimes at all, from the long-established styles that have been passed down through the generations. A foray into British-style beers followed and some time brewing Canadian malted beverages-clear beers across the board. All of that experience, a quarter century’s worth, manifests itself in the suds of Sin City.

“I launched Sin City Brewing Co. in 2005,” Johnson said. “I wanted to make beer in small batches and handle the distribution myself. That way, I can control the quality.”

It’s the reason Sin City offers only draft beers, the reason the beers are only brewed and distributed in Las Vegas and the reason Johnson plans to keep it that way.

“Our beers are brewed in small 100-keg batches, using traditional methods, premium raw materials and a strict adherence to the Reinheitsgebot,” he said. “It’s what sets us apart from the big boys.”

That, and flavors and aromas, of course — something I find lacking in brews from the “big boys” and something you’ll find in spades in Johnson’s Sin City offerings.

Aside from being on tap all over town, Sin City Brewing Co. features three signature locations on the Las Vegas Strip: the original inside the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, a second inside Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and the newest location at Harmon Corner just outside the Miracle Mile Shops.

I didn’t get to The Venetian bar, but I visited both of the Planet Hollywood spots, and they are both a blast — small, distinctive and cozy, and packed with personality and tasty brews.

Johnson, my photographer Andy Wegst, two of Johnson’s public relations’ representatives, a straggler from Cleveland we’d encountered at the bar at Ellis Island and I sat down and went through the Sin City lineup of beers. What a great experience.

There were six beers in all, starting with one simply called Light, and ending with a seasonal, which rotates through five different beers depending on the season.

I was impressed with all of brews, even the ones I don’t normal care for like the Blonde and Amber Ale. I have to say that’s a direct result of Johnson’s brewing and his aforementioned desire to brew “clean beer.”

The beers we tasted were as follows: Weisse Is Nice, Never Pass Up A Blonde, Say Hello To Amber, The Ale With A Tale, The Dark Side of Sin and the seasonal, which was an IPA.

My favorites, in no particular order, were the Weisse, Amber, and IPA. I almost always enjoy an IPA, so it came as no surprise that I loved Sin City’s seasonal version. Weisse beers, however, aren’t really my cup of tea as they have a tendency to be rather light and often too sweet for my palate. Neither is the case with the Sin City Weisse. It has some real heft, for a wheat beer anyway, and possesses lovely clove aromas and a refreshing citrus finish.

Another surprise for me was the Amber, which was full-bodied but extremely well balanced — a hallmark of Johnson’s style. Ambers are often a bit overbearing to my taste, but again, that was not the case here. I would say hello to this Amber, or any of Johnson’s brews, anytime.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.

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