Fortunately for Las Vegas beer drinkers, Aussies love to travel. For her fourth trip to the States, South Australian native Steph Cope and her boyfriend/fellow brewer Steve Brockman decided on a 13-month American beer tour ... that ended with entrepreneurs Wyndee and Dave Forrest hiring the couple to dream up the signature suds for their Henderson brewery CraftHaus, which opened last September in the Booze District.
This made Cope the first female head brewer in Nevada, a distinction that—despite her longtime participation in the Pink Boots Society, which works to educate and advance women in the beer industry—she’s modest about, mostly because she didn’t encounter any political barriers or glass ceilings. “I think women being in brewing suffered because for so long, every single beer advertisement was telling everyone that a brewer or a beer drinker should be a man,” she told the Weekly at the CraftHaus tap room, fresh from brewing up a new sour beer that will join her and Brockman’s saison, IPA and other varieties—now found in over 50 local bars and stores.
Do you remember your first beer? Absolutely, it was Cooper’s Pale Ale. It’s an easy-drinking, floral, fruity beer that’s yeast-driven. I was lucky. I was 18, but that’s the drinking age in Australia! (laughs) I started home-brewing shortly after that.
Have you developed strong preferences toward any beer varieties? I’ve always loved pale ales, and the Australian pale ale is fairly accessible to most people. That led to IPAs, and I’ve always loved stouts as well, and then I got into Belgian beers later on. It’s like listing your favorite child when asked your favorite style.
You initially studied economics and politics, and landed a government job in trade and economic development after you graduated. Does that skill set still serve you as a brewer? I’m glad I saw the light and came over to the brewing side, but I’ve used numbers and a lot of my Excel [skills], and there’s a lot of science and managing the brewery, making it economical to brew beer. The good thing about beer is, historically, it’s been one of the most recession-proof commodities. That’s a good incentive to go into brewing!
Two years later, you went back to school for brewing, and were hired to work at a prestigious brewery only a month into your studies. Would you call yourself a quick learner? I ask a lot of questions and I was very annoying when I was learning. I had to learn not to second-guess myself. One of the brewers that trained me used to hide because he’d see I had a question and he knew I could handle it myself. So I’d just do it and it would be the right answer. In brewing, you have to trust yourself.
Both you and Steve were successful in Australia, so the US beer scene must have been substantial to lure you over. Absolutely. With a lot of the European and British breweries, they’re amazing, but they haven’t changed. They’re not as innovative as in the States, who are at the forefront. The States is making the best beer in the world. We wanted to be a part of that.
What was the most rewarding thing about your road trip? The whole experience of the two of us living in the van. Steve and I learned to live with a lot less. It also allowed us to test our relationship. We made it through 13 months of living on top of one another. (laughs)
How did you first meet the Forrests? We were in Denver. We posted that we were looking for work in Colorado or Oregon or California, the three main places we visited. And they contacted us. They were like, “We’re opening a brewery in Las Vegas ... yes, Las Vegas!” And they asked if we wanted to swing by and chat, and we agreed to do that. We had Skyped a few times beforehand and liked their vision, and we were finishing each other’s sentences, so that’s always good. But we weren’t going to come to Vegas. We were going to go down through Arizona—like, it was a bunch of flashing lights and we were penny-pinching through the States. Somehow they got us to Vegas. And they were very clever. They didn’t take us to the Strip. They took us to Red Rock [Canyon] and Sour Fest at Atomic [Liquors]. We were like, this isn’t so bad! And the weather was great; we’d been up in Colorado, which was cold at the time. We were wooed.
Did you and Steve have to come up to speed quickly with regard to beer culture in the city? And did that play into what beer varieties you considered for CraftHaus’ launch? Yeah. The overarching thing that Steve and I found touring throughout the country was sticking to fewer styles or broad, overarching styles. Belgians and IPAs is CraftHaus, and that has worked out in breweries in Oregon and California and North Carolina—a really good business plan, we think. Within that, we have our saison, which is easy-drinking and low-alcohol, and it’s not challenging by any means. We designed that beer specifically for non-craft drinkers so it could be a gateway beer. Also, people that are kind of drinking Blue Moon but want to get into a local beer, [and one] complex enough that it would satisfy beer geeks as well. Even with the IPA, we were like, instead of [making] a rip-your-palate-off beer, we balanced it with some malt so it’s easy-drinking. We thought about that, and that it’s hot, so we wanted people to be able to drink in the heat.
And the reason we chose cans was also for Las Vegas; you can take a six- or four-pack and pack in, pack out. If the Strip eventually goes glass-free ... people can drink them on the Strip, they cool down quicker, they’re better for the environment—they’re just easier. And they look great on the shelf.
When you realized you would be the first female head brewer in the state, did that mean anything to you? I shouldn’t have been! (laughs) But Nevada’s brewing scene is a little slower than, say, California or wherever. Hopefully there will be more. Maybe it just takes one person and more people will consider it. I didn’t even know it was an option to be a brewer until I found the brewing courses—like, oh, this is available for me.
There’s a stereotype that most women don’t drink beer, but do you find that far more do than assumed? Yeah, more and more. That’s why Pink Boots [Society] is so important. Not only does it educate the people already [in the beer industry] but highlights that you’re not alone. (laughs) The more women that get together and drink together and share their experiences—that’s a very important network for us to have. And the Pink Boots [collaboration brews] get a lot of promotion. Some kid at UNLV studying bioscience might be like, oh, I really like beer, maybe that’s a career path for me.
Do you find Pink Boots or even yourself telling pickier or more skeptical women that there’s a beer for them? Yeah. There is a beer for everyone. And sometimes going the route of a lighter beer is not the best way. Give someone a Russian imperial stout and they’re just as likely to like it, or for a lot of women, their gateway beer is an IPA. Everyone’s different.
Do you feel Las Vegas can take the lead on embracing women in the beer industry, given how many women work in the general beverage industry here? I guess so, yeah, if the 40 million visitors here can get exposure to female brewers and bartenders—and there are some great female bartenders in Las Vegas, specifically for beer.
Your creations are now sold all over town, but is it a bigger score when you can get into the big casinos? Our focus was the craft beer and local bars at the start, because we are foremost a locals’ brewery. When we get more capacity, then we’ll definitely make a push for the casinos, but as it stands, we didn’t want to run out of beer for Rebel Republic or Atomic Liquors or wherever. We wanted to satisfy beer places.
Do you feel there’s pressure for bars to have local brews? Yeah, and that’s a testament to the locals. That’s what it takes, someone to walk into the bar and ask what’s local, and hopefully the bartender knows—and if they don’t, they check.
And even the local breweries carry other local breweries’ beers. We actually try to have—we don’t at the moment—one local beer and one out-of-state beer ... We try and have, say, Hop Nuts, especially because they’re Downtown, or Banger Brewing or Big Dogs or Tenaya [Creek]. We try to get the ones from across town, because Las Vegans don’t like traveling. (laughs)
CraftHaus Tap Room 7350 Eastgate Road #110, 702-462-5934. Wednesday & Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday, 2 p.m.-midnight; Saturday, noon-midnight; Sunday, noon-8 p.m.