Las Vegas - Craft beer brewers want to tap sports venue sales
By ALAN SNEL
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Alex Graham was in Denver for a recent beer show and attended a Broncos football game, where he enjoyed Colorado’s famed locally brewed craft beers. Graham, sales manager for Las Vegas microbrewery Tenaya Creek, loved that Denver’s football stadium showcased the homegrown brews.
But when it comes to drinking a Las Vegas area microbrew beer in sports venues in Las Vegas, Graham is shut out.
Sure, Graham can drink an out-of-town craft beer at Cashman Field or the Thomas &Mack Center. He just can’t drink a locally produced craft beer.
And that’s the rub for Graham and others in the small yet growing microbrewing industry in Las Vegas.
They want a shot at having their craft beers consumed by fans at local sports venues. The local craft beer brewers say fans are growing more sophisticated and discerning when it comes to beer tastes and are seeking alternatives to mainstream and dominant Budweiser, Miller and Coors products.
“I’d start with just a cart with two (Big Dog’s) beers at Thomas &Mack,” said Nick Tribulato, Big Dog’s sales director. He noted his brewpub makes a “Rebel Red” amber ale as a sudsy ode to UNLV sports.
“We’re not asking for a Big Dog’s bar at Thomas &Mack,” Trubulato said. “We’d bend over backwards for that opportunity.”
Kayla Callahan, Las Vegas sales representative for Joseph James Brewing in Henderson, said beer drinkers want locally brewed brands. Joseph James, Las Vegas’ sole licensed brewery (there is no beer sold on the premises), is distributed in more than a dozen states.
“We would love to be part of the sports arenas,” Callahan said. “The people are asking for local beers at the local bars. It’s growing. We should be going after the bigger venues and arenas.”
Craft beer festivals seem to be hatching throughout the Las Vegas Valley, including events that were scheduled for Saturday in Lake Las Vegas and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
But local brewers says it’s a steep uphill challenge to convince food and beverage officials at local arenas to sell beer produced right here in Las Vegas.
Mark Lawson, craft beer manager for Nevada Beverage, which distributes local Tenaya Creek and Joseph James craft brands, said it’s up to local beer drinkers to request local microbrew products be sold at not only sports venues but at restaurants and casinos, too.
“Our mantra is that all you people out there, start asking for local craft beers at your local bars or sports arena,” Lawson said. “If they don’t hear the demand, they won’t pull the trigger.”
Lawson said Las Vegas’ craft beer market is young but developing. He said several casino companies are closely watching how things unfold at Mandalay Bay, where a pioneering food and beverage official, Sarah Johnson, has three California craft beers being sold on the casino floor.
“That’s a huge step for craft beer in this town,” Lawson said.
Lawson said another big step was when Thomas &Mack Center recently began selling Alaskan Brewing craft beer.
“They’re testing brands with national recognition, and if they get a following the next logical step would be to look at local alternatives,” Lawson said.
Cashman Field, home of the Las Vegas 51s minor league baseball team, does not sell local craft beers. Don Logan, the 51s president and chief operating officer, said hurdles include lack of demand for local microbrew products and whether there would be enough volume for a full season.
Logan did say he would be open to talking with Nevada Beverage, which distributes Budweiser and other beers at Cashman, about local craft beers at the ballpark.
Same goes for Mike Newcomb, who runs the Thomas &Mack Center and Sam Boyd Stadium for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“The key to us is speed of service and what the customers want,” Newcomb said of the beer offerings at the 18,500-seat arena and the UNLV football stadium. “If we think (the local craft beer) will move, we’ll give it a shot.”
Lawson said the average Las Vegas beer drinker is still discovering craft brews.
Lawson described the local craft beer market this way: “It’s not as mainstream in Las Vegas as it is in Denver, San Diego, Seattle and Portland (Ore.). But it’s growing. Two years ago, Nevada Beverage didn’t have a craft department. Now you have four craft employees distributing 20 craft brands.”
To promote craft beer companies in the state, the Nevada Craft Brewers Association was formed to give a unified voice to the local brewers, said Robert Snyder, Big Dog’s chief financial officer and a brewers association board member.
“We’re trying to bring local breweries together to raise awareness of our products and a subgoal is to work together to get them in more places,” Snyder said.
There are hurdles. The Yard House restaurant chain, which offers dozens of draft beers, does not offer a single Las Vegas craft product. And even the Life Is Beautiful festival, which received high marks for its alternative music and food selections, did not sell any local craft beers because of its relationship with Wirtz, a beer distributor that provided nonlocal craft beers at the downtown event, Tribulato said.
Tim Etter, owner of Tenaya Creek, said it’s difficult to carve into a local sports market dominated by Budweiser, Miller and Coors.
But Etter did say the door is slowly opening for local craft beers, noting Tenaya Creek products are sold at places on the Strip such as the sports book at Bellagio and the Public House tavern in The Venetian.