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How The Local Beer Scene Grew During A Pandemic

Chris Smith/Desert Companion

When the pandemic began last March, drinking spots all over the state were forced to close their doors, leaving the state’s craft beer industry concerned for its future. 

There were early casualties. Henderson’s Joseph James Brewing Company closed after 12 years of business. And Sin City Brewing Company also ceased operations, which included four locations on the Strip. 

But the local beer scene did what so many other industries did: They adapted. 

Bob Barnes is a local writer who has covered the Nevada beer industry since 1998. He said the industry had to pivot in how it sold beer and appealed to customers.

"I think the biggest change was moving from draft sales to package [beer], having more takeout, curbside pickup, deliveries and also having to manage their taprooms more like a restaurant than a bar."

Barnes said the brewers that he's talked to have also had to change the types of beers they make and serve. He said the brewers at Able Baker moved to make a more popular style of ale.

"In the past, they weren't a huge [India Pale Ale] producer, but now they're making quite a bit of hazy IPAs."

Barnes said the co-founder of the brewery told him that those sales now account for more than 90 percent of their sales.

The brewers at Ellis Island told Barnes they had to make smaller batches of specialty beers with fewer rotations of their core beers in order to keep the beer fresh.

Two new breweries actually opened in the Arts District in the midst of the pandemic, Barnes said, adding that they're hanging in there, but the loosening of restrictions on reservations at taprooms would help them.

Barnes said overall that Las Vegas' beer scene is much better than it was a decade or so ago, and will become even more so when the pandemic is under control.

"I see a lot of growth," he said. "I think there's going to be even more continued growth, especially after the restrictions are taken away. I think a lot of people have a lot of pent-up desire to go out and live their lives normally again."

Barnes said that Las Vegas' craft beer industry isn't as big as that of San Diego, Portland or Denver, but the quality of the products made here would stand up to any of those well-established beer meccas.

Another person helping expand the beer industry in Las Vegas is Chris Jacobs, the founder of Beer Zombies, which started as a social media marketing page on Instagram and Facebook, then venturing into collaboration brews and festivals, which eventually grew into brick-and-mortar taprooms.

"We encompass everything that involves the craft beer lifestyle from making beers, making merch, selling beers, etc.," Jacobs said.

The storefront on Warm Springs and Durango Drive just off the Southern Beltway has about 10 drafts that are rotated weekly and about 300 different package beers.

"We're a small spot," he said. "I like to say it's a beer clubhouse. You get to meet your friends and have a drink." 

The bottle shop on Dean Martin Drive and Post Road has 22 taps that rotate out and around 100 different packaged beers.

He is also opening another Beer Zombies in Downtown Summerlin that will include food pairings from local chef Michael Morrone. 

A Beer Zombies brewery is in the works, Jacobs said. He is hoping to have it open in February of next year. For now, the beer is brewed in cooperation with a brewery just outside of San Diego. 

Jacobs believes there is an appetite for more local beer in Las Vegas.

"You go down to San Diego and they have 300 breweries... and we're still under sub-20," he said. "No matter what is going on in the world, people always want a drink. So, there is always a good time for a beer."

Jacobs also changed up how he delivered that beer. It is common in craft beer circles for people to wait hours in line for a special release. It might sound strange, but Jacobs said he has met some of his best friends waiting in line for beer. 

But because of the social distancing needed during the pandemic, Jacobs created a drive-up can and bottle releases. People wait in their cars, drive up to the takeout table and get their special orders.

"We did a release from 450 North, which is out of Indiana, and we had people that came and spent the night. They were in line for about 25 to 26 hours, from Reno, from California, people who drove in from Arizona," he said.

Jacobs was so surprised by the turnout that he gave out donuts to everyone in line. 

Bob Barnes, local beer writer; Chris Jacobs, founder, Beer Zombies

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.