The dish: Sally froth
Spicy, sassy and sour: The new breed of small-batch brews will challenge your palate — and deliver a good buzz, too
It’s August in Las Vegas. The sun is hot and effulgent in the sky. Throats are parched and thirsty. It’s time for a cold beer! But this is the modern Mojave. There’s more to reach for than major-label lagers canned in faraway Milwaukee or even pilsners bottled by heavyweight West Coast “microbreweries.” Now is the ideal time to explore unique local offerings for refreshing pints.
Right here in the metro area, there’s a new breed of beer creators such as Joseph James Brewing Company, Bad Beat Brewing and CraftHaus Brewery. These artisanal enterprises have caught up with the drinkable trends in other cities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. The latest buzz? They’re focused on singular types of grains, varieties of hops and strains of yeast that have become selling points for hometown imbibers in-the-know. Best of all, their efforts are yielding excellent and eminently enjoyable results. Here are my notes from some recent recon crawls to find some of the valley’s more intriguing beers.
A growing grainRecently, I’ve been ordering sultry-season happy-hour pints of Citra Rye Pale Ale at Joseph James (jjbrewing.com). This is a definitively sharp-tasting beer due to the grain in the name. Many craft beers are largely based on malted barley, which has a sweetish character. But it’s far from the only cereal that can be poured into water-filled fermentation tanks. Rye, a hardy grass seed with a pronounced flavor, is becoming a popular ingredient in the brewing world. It’s familiar to many from pumpernickel bread. In beers, rye lends a bitter edge. But a growing crowd of avid imbibers is actively seeking this flavor profile.
Because rye is so powerful on the palate, surprisingly little of it is needed to make the pale ale sharp-tasting, says Kayla Callahan, Joseph James operations manager. She’s also a certified cicerone, beer’s equivalent to wine’s sommelier. “Nine percent of the grain is rye, so it’s not that much,” she says.
There’s a scientific reason why Joseph James’ pale ale isn’t completely rye-based and is mostly bubbled up with barley. “Rye is not 100-percent fermentable,” explains Callahan. “So you still have to use your base grains to be able to produce alcohol.” It seems that notions of sugar ratios in the endosperm of a rye kernel is definitely a turn-on in contemporary Las Vegas. Rye is going over very well in these desert environs. “Locally, it’s our number one selling beer, by far,” Callahan adds.
Botanical blendsBeer requires hops to be palatable, whether rye, oats, wheat, sorghum or barley is on the ingredient list. Hop plants grow in climbing, ivy-like tendrils. Their perennial flowers impart appealing flavors in beers, plus antiseptic and preservative properties. These tight blossoms transform what is basically fermented gruel into a delicious quaff. Each hop hybrid has its own unique essences and aromas and comes with a nomenclature as specific as a prized American Beauty rose. For instance, Cascade is a citrusy cultivar. Chinook has a nearly smoky aura. Citra, an exciting darling that was introduced in 2007, comes with tinges of gooseberry, passion fruit and lychee. There are dozens of other hops currently in use in the brewing industry.
In Henderson’s Booze District, I’ve cottoned on to short glasses of a Bad Beat Brewing ( badbeatbrewing.com) mainstay: Hoppy Times India Pale Ale. While the beverage can be swirled with up to five different types of petals in the tank, a tried-and-true trio forms its backbone. “Primarily, the hops we use to make Hoppy Times ‘Hoppy Times’ are Cascade, Chinook and Citra,” says Weston Barkley, head brewer. This florescent triad is so important to glass-tipping cognoscenti that Bad Beat lists each hop on its website. “People are kind of drawn to them.”
Dynamic biologyBeer, of course, is more than just grains, hops and water. It needs yeast, that microscopic, single-celled, eukaryotic critter that excretes alcohol when it eats sugar. Yeasts also instill distinct flavors. CraftHaus’ ( crafthausbrewery.com) flagship Evocation Saison, for instance, is a slightly sour, lightly effervescent nectar that matches Las Vegas’ scorching temperatures exceedingly well.
At the microbrewery’s tasting bar, Dave Forrest discusses Evocation Saison’s yeast-driven characteristics. “We use a Belgian-style yeast,” he says. Forrest co-founded and co-owns the business with his wife, Wyndee.
He describes how yeast cultures from different geographic regions and even micro-locales have their own savors based on their genetics. And savvy beer consumers are keen on the carefully perpetuated organisms that bring Evocation Saison to chemical life. “They bring out esters — some banana flavor, some clove flavor,” Forrest adds.
Joseph James, Bad Beat and CraftHaus beers are all available in retail stores plus an expanding roster of drinkeries around town. Other local brewers including Banger Brewing, Tenaya Creek Brewery, Barley’s Brew Pub and Triple Seven Microbrewery are concocting draughts to meet summer desires, too.
Drink that! Eat this!
Citra Rye Pale Ale, Hoppy Times India Pale Ale and Evocation Saison all go well with edibles easily prepared at home this August. We queried local culinary experts for their proposed pairings.
• Sean Mayhew, executive chef at Made L.V., pairs Joseph James’ pale ale bitterness with even more rye on the plate.
“My first thought, rye? … A nice turkey Reuben,” he says. “Sauerkraut, a good homemade Thousand Island, some crispy rye bread.” A cold strawberry gazpacho would also be a fitting accompaniment.
• Alexandre Brard, a certified beer server and sommelier at Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro, suggests a robust but fresh salad to match the rye’s undeniable touch. “Arugula, feta cheese, walnuts, some dried cranberries,” lists Brard. “The dressing should be raspberry vinegar vinaigrette.”
• For the overtly floral Hoppy Times, Mayhew looks to the dessert course: “A nice grapefruit panna cotta.” He also says crispy-fried kale leaves would be a good salty snack on the side, pre-dinner.
Brard has a ringer to go with Hoppy Times. “Anything with pesto,” he says, especially roasted pork loin or grilled lamb chops.
• The puckery but airy Evocation Saison brings fresh, summery food to the minds of both culinary pros. Mayhew goes for fish, including a crudo plate of smoked lox, sliced cucumbers and crème fraîche. He also favors sea bass ceviche. Similarly, Brard goes old school mollusk — oysters on the half-shell with mignonette sauce. GT