What happens when you get two local beer-scene luminaries together at Pub 365 inside the Tuscany Suites and Casino and ply them with some of their own wares? When it’s old friends Clyde Burney, VP of Beer and Business Development for Southern Glazer’s in Las Vegas, and Mike Shetler, Nevada Craft Beer Business Development Manager for Breakthru Beverage, ranting and rabble-rousing about beer will ensue …
How long have you guys been in Las Vegas?
Clyde Burney: I’ve been here for about 28 years. I got here in 1989 with Steinlager, selling a beer from the South Pacific. It was the only beer I knew.
Mike Shetler: I cut my teeth in this town running the front-of-the-house and beverage program at Rosemary’s. That’s what brought me to Vegas in 1999. Truly we were a desert of beer culture back then. There was no such thing as craft beer in Las Vegas in 1999, but there were import beers, and Clyde was the one who brought those beers to this town. Clyde worked with me to bring in some unique and crazy stuff such as Schlenkerla, a smoked rauchbier from Germany.
What was your first beer?
MS: Dubuque Star, my grandfather’s brand. I grew up in Dubuque, Iowa, and it was a local brewery. My grandfather would give me a nip every once in a while, and I liked it from the first time I tried it. I was about 7 years old.
CB: I think the first beer I had was Lion Red with one of my brothers when I was about 13. It had a great tagline behind it: “The measure of a man’s thirst.” It’s a nice amber lager.
What beers would you like to see hit Vegas that aren’t here now?
CB: Wiseacre. And Bell’s is doing some good stuff.
MS: For me it’s Russian River. I’m talking strictly from an enjoyment standpoint. And I’m not a big hazy guy, but I do like the Trillium beers.
What beer trends do you see forthcoming?
MS: The trends I see happening are the established regional breweries, the guys who know how to do it, that have been through the ringer, that understand business as well as brewing. The Odells of the world, the New Belgiums, the Sierra Nevadas, the Boulevards. Those breweries are going to be where the future lies for consistency and for profit on our side of the business. And at the end of the day, they offer enough beer to satisfy consumers needs.
The “shiny new toy” mentality is going to start to wane eventually, and retailers need to understand that, as well. You can’t have 20 handles with 20 new beers every single week and expect to have repeat customers.
CB: You bring up a good point, Michael, about rotating beers, even though it wasn’t your point. A Lee’s Liquor opens up, a Whole Foods opens up, a Sprouts opens up, and what a lot of people fail to realize is when you’ve got to fill those stores—when you’ve got to fill those stores with something interesting—all of a sudden, you’re 50 beers short. What I’m getting at is, just when we think it’s too much, as a beer consumer, you cannot live in a better country than America for beer.
Let’s talk sours …
MS: The difference between European, particularly Belgian, lambics and sour beers and wild beers, compared to American, is night and day. Centuries of artistry and knowledge and perfection and tradition in Belgium, compared to a very short period of time in America. There are a lot of very good wild/sour beer brewers here, but nobody can brew a lambic in America, even though they try to emulate it. They don’t have the technique; they don’t have the history.
CB: They don’t have the yeast strains.
MS: They don’t have the terroir to do it. Also in America, I hear this at festivals, at tastings: “Oh, that beer isn’t very sour.” Well, just because a beer is sour doesn’t mean it’s a good sour. It usually means the brewer f*cked it up, especially if it’s very high in acetic acid.
We like stories. Tell us a good beer story.
MS: When I was still at Rosemary’s, I was invited to Beer Camp at Sierra Nevada. It was an illustrious crew—Chris [Black] from Falling Rock, Sang [Yoon] of Father’s Office, Dave [Alexander] from Brickskeller in D.C., Dave [Keene] from Toronado, Tom Dalldorf of Celebrator. That experience was quite memorable, hearing other people’s perspectives about beer and how it changed their lives. And Sierra Nevada was a beer that changed my life. It was the first beer I tried in the ’80’s that changed my perspective on beer—that you could have flavor and complexity in a drinkable format that was something different than Budweiser, Miller High Life or Stroh’s.
That’s what got me interested in beer. Sierra Nevada led me to Chimay. And Duvel. And Celebrator. Imports. That’s what led me to study beer and learn about beer and really understand that beer is just as complex as any other beverage in the world.
CB: When I came to the United States [from New Zealand] to sell beer, the first guy I met was a guy called Dan Holland, who ran Mission Beverages in downtown Los Angeles in 1989. The best thing I ever did was walk into his office and say, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m Clyde Burney.” To this day, my mentor in the beer business is Dan Holland. I saw Dan two weeks ago, and he said, “Clyde, the beer business is real simple: You’ve just got to work harder.”
MS: Quality is a big problem in this town. Either it’s maintaining the draft lines, serving the proper temperature, clean glassware, paying attention to details …
CB: Beer is a sh*tload of work for a small profit. I’m very proud of what we do, but when you look at the labor that goes into beer, beer is a bloody beast of an animal.