I’m not what you would call a beer connoisseur, nor am I very experimental with my beers. Once I find something I like, I generally stick with it.. But I live in a state where craft brewing happens on practically every corner, where tourists actually visit to drive the Brew Trail and where this year’s annual Vermont Brewer’s Festival sold out in 11 minutes. So I guess you could say I’ve picked up a fondness for craft beers due to constant exposure.
For fun, I’ve developed a habit of sampling local brews everywhere I travel. It’s become a hobby-within-a-hobby. They’re not always craft beers or draft beers, but they must be locally brewed. So in New Orleans, I sampled Abita beer, in San Antonio, it was Lone Star and Shiner Bock, in Hawaii Kona Longboard Lager, and so on.
Up until the past few years, Nevada has been surprisingly quiet in the craft beer world (Triple 7 at Main Street Station being one of the more visible exceptions). Now, though, I feel as though Nevada’s craft brew scene is on the cusp of exploding. I visited one of the hottest new breweries in town, Banger Brewing, on my recent trip, and I have to confess I’ve never tasted better beers in my life.
Banger Brewing has a storefront in Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas. Here, you can sample their various brews and take a free tour, which they offer daily, every hour on the hour from 6pm-10pm. I signed up for this tour on my first night in town. As it turns out, I was the only person on the tour, so I got to pepper the co-owner, Mark, with lots of questions without fear of sounding stupid to anyone but him.
The brewery is a small space, but the information is interesting. I wouldn’t be able to repeat everything he told me (I wasn’t taking notes), but it was pretty fascinating to see how beer is made. He took me through the grain room, where they store the hops and other grains, then took me into the brewing room, where Banger himself was mixing up a batch. There are huge vats in there (I had to stand on a step stool to look inside), and Mark described the process of making the beer. Unlike wine, it doesn’t take a long time to make a drinkable product.
Then we went into the super-cold walk-in cooler, where they line the kegs up on a shelf on the other side of the bar wall. So when you order a beer at Banger, what they’re tapping is coming straight from those kegs. You’re getting very fresh product.
I asked Mark what he thought their best beer was and he answered without hesitation: “El Jeffe.” I was a little dubious. This is a Jalapeno Hefeweizen, which made me think it might be too hot and spicy. Mark assured me it was not. He was right. It was fantastic. You could definitely taste the jalapeno, but without the uncomfortable heat of a pepper.
In addition to that, I sampled the following (listed from lightest to heaviest as per my taste buds):
- The Lemon Rang – This is a blonde shandy. I enjoyed this one, too. It tasted light, refreshing and lemony. It’s a great hot weather beer.
- The Sandia – This one tied El Jeffe for being my favorite beer. It’s a watermelon wheat beer–and yes, it does have a watermelon taste to it. It was very refreshing and a delight to drink.
- 9am – This is a session pale ale. It was also very good, if not as creative as the others.
The last two (listed below) were dark beers. I was game to try them, but the truth is, I’m not a fan of dark beers in general, and that did not change during this visit. I didn’t care for either one; they were too strong for me. I’m more of a pale ale/light beer gal.
- More Cal-Bel – This is a hybrid Belgian/IPA.
- Black Eye PA – An Imperial IPA, this was by far the darkest in color and strongest in taste. I couldn’t take more than a couple of sips.
(Please note that if and when you visit Banger Brewing, these beers may or may not be on the menu. They’re constantly rotating beers. They also feature “guest” craft beers on the menu.)
The bar itself is small, but has a very laid-back, fun vibe to it. (There’s also outdoor patio seating.) It’s definitely for beer lovers. It felt like a place you could pick up and transplant easily to Vermont and it would fit right in. It’s very solo-friendly: I made a couple of new friends here and went out to dinner with them after we finished our beers.
Mark told me Banger Brewing hopes to expand to distribution at some point, but they want to make sure they’re doing everything right first. So for now, the only place you can enjoy their delicious beers is in this storefront at Neonopolis (and occasionally, the Downtown Container Park). And I highly recommend you do so, if you consider yourself even remotely a fan of beer.
Before I left, I put a bug in Mark’s ear that their next flavor needs to be maple. His immediate response: “Maple and what?”
“What do you mean, maple and what? Just maple.”
“Really? You don’t want to add anything to it?”
He didn’t realize he was speaking with a Vermont maple purist. I shook my head. I suppose maple and bacon might be cool, but that’s probably overkill. Just maple would go down real smooth, especially in the winter. Don’t you think?