Competently made craft brews can be found just a short walk from the Las Vegas Strip, Cheap, good food, too.
By Alan J. Wax
Amid the bright lights and crowds on the Las Vegas gaming strip, the odds don’t favor craft beer enthusiasts.
The hotels and restaurants that line this glittery Sin City venue offer little more than mainstream domestic and imported beers as I learned on a recent visit.
However, just a short distance from the Strip’s hubbub one can, indeed, find craft beer. I found it at the Ellis Island Casino and Brewery on Koval Lane, just off Flamingo Road, within walking distance of such hotels as the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo, Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas.
The Ellis Island Casino and Brewery is an unassuming one-story building with a brown and white façade opposite the parking lot used by employees of Bally’s and Paris. It’s tucked between a 7-Eleven convenience store and America’s largest Super 8 motel. On the inside, it has all the glamor of an Interstate truck stop, albeit one filled with all accouterments of a gambling hall. Open 24/7, it’s a place oft frequented by locals.
At mid-afternoon, one bartender scurried from side of the bar to the other to fill her customers’ needs. Video poker terminals built into the bar top leave little room for more than a glass of beer.
But the food is cheap and good. A sirloin dinner including a beer is just $9.99. And beer pricing can’t be beat. A 12 oz.-pour is $1.25, while 20 oz. costs but $2.
The brewery is found inside an addition to the main building and towering fermenters stand in the parking lot along Koval Lane. Inside, kettles and fermenters fill almost every inch. The brewery turns out about 6,000 barrels annually, the result of a recent increase in capacity, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.
The brewery opened in 1998 and Joe Picket, a Chicago native educated at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Siebel Institute, who also worked at Chicago’s famed Berghoff, has been at Ellis Island since the beginning. Picket also has established breweries around the world, according to his bio.
The Ellis Island beers are competently made. But for true aficionados they may come across as unexciting. Picket has often been quoted as saying he produces beers that appeal to regular people. ”We brew for the masses,” he told the Las Vegas newspaper, the Journal Review, last year.
Ellis Island produces seven brews and a non-alcoholic root beer. Hefewiezen is the most popular.
I sampled the six brews available during my recent visit. The Hefe was unquestionably my favorite. A quenching brew with a typical hefe nose and bubble gum, cloves and banana notes on the palate. I rated it 3.5* out of 5.
Ellis Island Stout was dark and murky with a muted nose, but the palate burst with roasted malts. It’s light and eminently drinkable. I rated it 3*.
The deep gold Ellis Island IPA was served icy cold, so its floral nose initially was hard to notice. Round and drinkable with bready malt and muted hop notes on the palate, it turns bitter on the finish as it warms. 3*
The summer seasonal, the deep copper Ellis Island Bock, offered up a medium body. It comes across as crisp, but offers little in the way of caramel notes one might expect in this style. 3*
Ellis Island Light Lager: the name says it all. More body and flavor than a mainstream American lager with a hint of hops. 2.75*
Ellis Island Amber, a light coppery brew, also is shy in the nose and offers just suggestions of bready malt on the palate. It’s crisp, but dull. 2.5*
Time didn’t permit me to visit Vegas’ other craft venues, but they’re on my agenda, if I return.