As the craft beer trend produces crazy flavors and wacky trends, Bad Beat’s Weston Barkley aims to perfect the classics
Weston Barkley never considered brewing as a profession. The first beer he ever drank was an ordinary bottle of Budweiser, and his first major job — a service technician for a local car dealership shortly after graduating from Durango High School — was a stable and satisfactory gig that lasted for almost a decade.
But when curiosity compelled him to buy a homebrewing kit in 2008, his calling literally came bubbling to the surface. He began frequenting beer festivals, led a local home brew club and produced countless batches of hooch in his home kitchen — some more successful than others.
“I’ve had experiments that would blow up and redecorate the entire surrounding area,” he says. “Those usually involved putting some kind of crazy dessert flavor into a beer. There was a lot of trial and error involved. I’ve found what I like best is to focus on making classic styles of beer better.”
Confident in the progress he was making at home, Barkley eventually swapped cars for kegs. In 2012, he took on a shift brewing position at local brewery Joseph James.
“I was nervous taking the leap, but it was more a butterfly, happy nervous,” says Barkley. “I was extremely ready to leave fixing cars behind me. It was a feeling that I had finally gotten my chance.”
Now Barkley, 29, has an even bigger opportunity as he steps into his first-time role as head brewer at Bad Beat Brewing in Henderson. The fledgling brand, established by husband-and-wife team Nathan and Sara Hall, is the latest to set up shop in the “Booze District” — a small patch of Eastgate Road also inhabited by the Las Vegas Distillery and Grape Expectations (a winemaking school).
Barkley’s primary role is to execute and finesse Hall’s personal recipes for small-batch production. The two met through the Southern Nevada Ale Fermenters Union, Barkley’s local homebrew club.
“We’ve had some lengthy talks about how we want to approach the beers,” he says. “My job is to strike a balance of mimicking what Nathan was trying to create at home and making them commercially successful.”
‘Something to prove’
With its current set-up, Bad Beat can currently produce 700 barrels per year (with 31 gallons per barrel). The debut menu for its July opening featured six beers, including The Gutshot, a coffee-flavored stout, and Hoppy Times, a very drinkable and piney IPA. Barkley’s personal contribution to the poker-themed collection is Bluffing Isn’t Weisse, a light hefeweizen with a distinct banana flavor. As with most of his recipes, it has its roots in an old five-gallon homebrew experiment.
“I felt like I had something to prove when it came to the technical side of brewing the hefeweizen,” he says. “There is a lot of talk about underpitching, or stressing, your yeast to create more of those banana and clove esters. While that’s true, you also create more byproducts that are considered flaws. Many things suffer as a result: mouthfeel, head retention and, ironically, the esters.” Barkley strives for a product that leans towards subtle, and Bad Beat’s brand new facility gives him all of the tools for achieving that objective.
“Without getting long-winded and geeky, the equipment I use is specifically made to optimize the process of making beer. Certain changes that I make to home recipes are based on personal opinion of flavor, but others revolve around adding and subtracting ingredients to balance the efficiency of the brewing process.”
As a fellow brewing enthusiast, Hall appreciates that self-described geekiness.
“We became friends around the time he joined Joseph James, and I would always pick his brain about different techniques,” he says. “He was always very knowledgeable, and struck me very early on as someone I would like to have on my team.”
Ostriches and herbs
It’s fitting that the brewery’s name was inspired by Hall’s fondness for poker, because every day is a roll of the dice. Barkley’s responsibilities are ever-changing — one day he’s sourcing local herbs to infuse in a new pale ale; the next, he’s arranging for a local ostrich farmer to pick up spent grain for feed. It’s a far cry from his days as a grease monkey.
There are also bigger risks involved. First, there is no telling whether the Booze District, which is situated on the easternmost end of the 215, will become a popular drinking destination. Beer-drinkers who prefer sitting on their couch will have to depend on local wine and spirits store Khoury’s to provide retail bottles. Distribution deals with local bars are also in the works. Second, Bad Beat must disprove a common complaint that local craft brews are subpar.
“I understand how the general public could form that opinion,” he says. “Quite a few breweries in town are more than just breweries, whether they also double as a restaurant or casino. If food and gaming pay the bills, the beer becomes a novelty.” Not here. Barkley accepted his position at Bad Beat for the fact that the taproom’s only forms of entertainment are shuffleboard and Cards Against Humanity. “All we do here is make beer, and we know that’s why people come. That allows me to take risks and work on unique and dynamic flavor profiles.”
With the support of his wife Amber, who tends bar in the taproom, and a newborn daughter, Hannah, he’s all in on his dream. He expects to produce a thousand barrels by Bad Beat’s first anniversary and already foresees the brand’s growth beyond Las Vegas.
“It’s not like I’m trying to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “I don’t want to find the secret to making a beer taste like birthday cake. I just want to take traditional beer and make it beautiful in a way that respects those before me and excites those after me.”
May we recommend...
Bluffing Isn’t Weisse
This fruity wheat beer, adapted from Barkley’s personal recipe, was an unexpected hit on opening weekend. Expect a light body with aggressive (and pleasantly surprising) notes of banana and spice — a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation. Look for the cloudy haze of yeast that is characteristic of a good hefe. “I love its soft and fluffy body,” says Barkley. “I bet if you paired it with ice cream it would mimic the flavors of a banana split.”