Beer, sweat and tears: Five thoughts on the 2013 Great Vegas Festival of Beer

Brian Chapin, founder of Motley Brews Beer Festival, is shown in the Tenaya Creek Brewery in Las Vegas Tuesday, April 16, 2013.
Photo: Mona Shield Payne

1. It’s exciting to see a gathering like the Great Vegas Festival of Beer gain momentum, but Saturday’s third annual fest at Sunset Park suggests the suds celebration just might be getting too big for its britches. Organizers Motley Brews could’ve benefited from some better organization themselves, starting with parking, which hit capacity a little over half an hour after the festival opened to the public. As a result, traffic cops were forced to redirect parking to the surrounding subdivisions (which you can bet the neighbors were thrilled about) and then help festival-goers jaywalk across Eastern to get back to the park.

Though plenty of parking lots surrounded the festival grounds, the designated lot couldn’t have been any further from it, requiring a 20 minute trek in 90 degree heat along a dusty dirt path that triggered flashbacks to the parking hell of Coachella. By the time I passed a banner reading “Great beer lies ahead!”, all I wanted was some water.

Inside, brewery tents seemed to be placed at random, each with a long line snaking out of it and often into or across other lines. Motley Brews would be wise to move next year’s event to the Clark County Amphitheater, whose wide, circular, intuitive layout helped make their Downtown Beer Festival in October such a success.

2. Enough with the IPAs, already: I love a great IPA as much as the next hop-head, but brewing one doesn't give you automatic street cred as a great craft brewery. This fact was lost on the majority of vendors at the fest. Where hefes, saisons and cream ales should’ve abounded in anticipation of the sun-kissed months ahead, attendees were instead met with IPAs, Double IPAs, rye IPAs, white IPAs. (Blue Moon, meanwhile, incomprehensibly rolled out yuletide treats like Gingerbread Ale.) If you want to stand out, try challenging customers with a sour (not one at the whole festival!) or a fruit-infused porter.

3. Three cheers for local beers! While the festival’s much-ballyhooed local collaboration, the Pyrite Pale Ale, neither disappointed nor impressed, Nevada gave the out-of-staters plenty of competition. Henderson-based newcomers Crafthaus may still be funding their operation via Kickstarter, but they showed plenty of chutzpah in their Evocation saison and the hazelnut-infused Tantalus brown ale. Similarly, Carson City’s High Sierra emerged as a pleasant surprise; their OMG IPA lives up to its name, more crisp and clean than most IPAs without sacrificing flavor or complexity, making it one of the few hop-heavy brews that left you feeling refreshed in the heat. You won’t find them in Southern Nevada yet, but rumor has it that’s set to change soon.

While not from Nevada, keep your eyes out for Redlands, California-based Hangar 24, who just started selling here two weeks ago. Step up your game at your next summer barbecue by bringing over some of their signature Orange Wheat; their Double IPA is another clean-but-complex choice to get your hop fix (and then some) in summer.

4. Heavy-hitters like Magic Hat and Lagunitas really phoned it in this year, barely bothering with booths that featured little more than a cooler dispensing the same IPAs etc. you’ve been drinking for the past year. Come on guys, we know you don’t need the hype, but even Sierra Nevada tried harder than that. Kudos, however, to Dogfish Head, who rolled out a trailer of beloved and tantalizing (not to mention seasonally-appropriate) specialties like the honey wine-inspired Midas Touch and the Theobroma, brewed with Aztec cocoa power.

5. Is there some unspoken rule that beer festivals must always feature mediocre ska-reggae bands? My "chill vibe," which was doing just fine with the Beck and Pharrell the DJ had going, needed no enhancement from a ska cover of Fastball's "The Way."

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

Tags: Booze
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