Quote #2: "You don't have to shovel the heat."
So you know (though not that it's particularly relevant), these quotes are in chronological order.
Quote #1 was the rallying cry from hockey purists after Las Vegas received an NHL franchise on June 22, 2016 - a team that would begin in the 2017-2018 NHL season. The reason I suspect many Canadians may have been upset was that Quebec City, which also had a franchise bid in, was declined that same day. I gotta assume most American hockey fans wouldn't give a rat's wet fart if Quebec City got a team or not. Granted, I wanted both cities to get a team but if only one could, I gotta be honest, I was hoping for Vegas because any excuse to catch a plane to Sin City works for me. That's not to say that "no hockey in desert" quote only came from Canadians. Let's not rule out our northern American hockey fans, who, weather-wise, frankly, have a lot more in common with Canada than the NHL fans in, say, Florida, Arizona, California, Texas and now Nevada.
So you know, Quote #2 absolutely came from a fellow Canadian when I was in Vegas last October. This gentleman from Wasaga Beach, Ontario and I both found ourselves having a morning smoke and a coffee outside Excalibur Resort and Casino on a beautiful sunny morning. He was recounting how when he just left his scenic town, the snow was falling for the first time last year. So basically, the same Winter we're still in but technically, Autumn of last year when we were talking. After taking a sip of his coffee, he looked at me and said, "The best thing about Vegas is that you don't have to shovel the heat." Indeed, it was gorgeous out, even at 9 am, sitting 22C (72F) and destined to get warmer as the day rolled along.
Well, at this point, I have to say both quotes are factually incorrect. You see, I was in Las Vegas from February 12 to 20 to see the Maple Leafs battle the Golden Knights on my birthday - February 14th. Some of you may recall last year I also traveled down there to see my Maple Leafs play the Golden Knights for the first time ever on December 31, 2017. I love going to Las Vegas and I especially love watching my Maple Leafs in Sin City. After my son, my two biggest loves. And to be frank, it is far easier for me to get a ticket to see the Leafs down in Sin City than it is to see the Leafs play any team - even the shitty ones - up here in Toronto!
|My man, Justin, gives a double thumbs-up to my|
choice of a Big Sky Brewing (Missoula, Montana)
Shake-A-Day IPA at the Yard House in The LINQ
Esplanade beside the hotel. The 6.5%, 75 IBU beer
has a great fruity nose and pine back-end. Tasty!
But the reason the two opening statements are factually incorrect is this. On the night I flew home, it snowed in Vegas. So much for the hot, dry desert theory. Further to that, in some parts of the higher elevations around the city, they got as much as eight inches. So much for the not shoveling theory. I'm glad I beat the snow by about six hours because flights were delayed two and three hours. Beyond that, I went to Vegas to get out of the goddamn snow!
Okay so let's get the hockey portion of this out of the way. The first time I went, Vegas whomped my Leafs by a 6-3 score. This time, we thumped Vegas by an exact same 6-3 margin. In a city built on the phrase "The House Has The Advantage," that's about as Even Steven as it gets. And I love the enthusiasm of the Vegas fans, always cheering, always applauding, just happy to be at the NHL Party Table. And the pageantry? Holy shit, they have a lot of fun in the T-Mobile Arena during a game. They have knights on skates, a whole section on the north end of the arena is a platform with ongoing entertainment throughout the evening - kings, queens, royal proclamations, just wild stuff. A great environment, lots of families, lots of kids. This IS a great hockey town! Their fans kill it!
|The happy Leaf couple were all smiles after the big 6-3|
win in the T-Mobile Arena on February 14th. And hey,
a pretty nice birthday present for old Donny Boy, too!
The best thing about Vegas having a team is that the tourists come from everywhere to see their team play. The day I landed, Arizona was playing and there were Coyote jerseys everywhere. On the weekend, Nashville was in town and the casinos were flush with Predator sweaters. And, of course, on my birthday, Leaf jerseys everywhere in town!! I swear there were almost as many Leaf fans in the crowd as Vegas fans. In fact, with the Leafs up 5-3 and about three minutes left in the third, I decided to hit the john before the end-of-game rush. While I was in there, there was a humongous roar and cheer from the crowd (meaning goal scored) and I thought, "Oh shit, it's 5-4. Vegas is making it tense." Nope. The Leafs had scored to make it 6-3. That's how many we numbered in the crowd. In fact, where the hell are these vocal Leafs fans in Toronto at the ACC-Scotiabank-Whatever-It's-Called-This-Week Gardens? Half the time it sounds like a damn library in there. But my last boss, Dave, a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan, called it after Vegas' improbable Cinderella story run at the Stanley Cup last season. He said: "It's like the Golden Knights are everyone's second favourite team now." Indeed.
But let's get to that beer. My Beer Adventure actually started at Pearson Airport in Toronto. I got there very early for my flight because it looked like freezing rain might bugger me up. A full third of the flights had been cancelled that day but mine was showing all systems go. Looking around, I found a place called the Red Rocket Cafe that served a beer called "Toronto Style IPA". Ordering some food, I got a pint of it. The glass was branded Henderson UPA, as in Toronto's Henderson Brewing. It was pretty damn good, especially being surrounded by macro taps. Turns out Toronto Style IPA is how the brewery describes it, noting that the train from Union to Pearson passes by them every six and a half minutes, thus they made it 6.5%. Nice pine on the nose, solid pine and malt on the back-end, the brewery did a great job. However, I remembered a long ago girlfriend, who worked in a hotel for the Summer, told me never to use the room glasses. Why? Because in some places, they use the same cloth to clean the glass as they do the sinks, counters, showers... and toilets.
Where do I start? Okay, at the beginning, I guess. Once I had landed and cabbed my way over to The LINQ Resort and Casino, (highly recommended) it was time to set up shop and get my flop-pad in order. That means a few things. Pulling the blankets and sheets loose from their confinement (I feel like a damn mummy when I get into a properly-made hotel bed), unpacking
Wandering into The LINQ's in-hotel tourist trinket store, I found a healthy selection of craft but hey, I was so impressed with Sam Adam's NEIPA the last time, I went with the slam-dunk while setting up shop. It takes me roughly one beer to get my room ready. I ain't playing games here. It's Las Vegas. You don't hang in your room. But back to Sammy A's New England IPA. I was always happy to drink the brewery's Rebel IPA on the strip and have countless times. But damn, this New England IPA (which I'm kinda surprised took them this long because Boston is as New England as it gets) is good. Like, damn good. At 6.8% and a low, low 35 IBUs, this, like many east coast IPAs, has wheat malts blended in on the back-end but cranks up the Hop Heat with Galaxy, Simcoe, Mosaic, Citra and Cascade in the mix. Orange and pineapple all up in this hood. Jeebus, that's a good brew.
Now as soon as I was set up, I did what any rational and sane man would do. I went down to the esplanade between The LINQ and The Flamingo Resort and Casino (home of Donny and Marie!) and immediately walked to my favourite Vegas craft beer bar, Yard House.
|You want showgirls? Trust me, they're up and|
down the Vegas strip. You want beefy cowboys?
Yeah, they're hanging out there, too. That's the
thing about Vegas. There's something there for
everybody and anything goes. It's kinda nuts...
And there was little doubt I was going there. While I have had the odd pint there, I go for their half-yard glasses of beer. And I always post those pictures on Twitter. After one of those postings, Beer Bro Glenn (not so happily freezing his arse off in Canada) asked me how much was in a half-yard? I replied, "Well, it's... I don't know." I have literally had dozens of these at the Yard House over the past year and never once thought to ask. I guessed a little more than a litre so 34 ounces or so? Before long, Yard House jumped in to answer the question, telling the pair of us that it's 32 ounces so a couple of tall boys or the exact same as a proper Oktoberfest stein. Suddenly, I realized why I've never had more than one during a sitting because given the high octave IPAs I drink there, I would, in fact, have to remain seated. In fact, the bar gives you a plastic take-out Solo cup if you can't quite finish it. I've never taken that option. I don't like leaving any projects unfinished. But man, a half yard at the Yard House and you return to the strip with a warm glow, that's for certain. So my first half yard of this trip? Dogfish Head Brewing's (Milton, Delaware) Flesh & Blood IPA. Boy howdy, this kicked off the Yard House portion of the trip nicely. Tons of apricot (so good), citrus and strong orange in this 7.5%, 45 IBU beauty. Definitely was one of the best, if not the best, IPAs on this trip.
And while we're on the topic of Dogfish Head, thanks to copious amounts of craft beers in their Walgreens and CVS supersize drug stores on the strip - including one having a humongous walk-in beer fridge - I got a chance to try 60 Minute IPA and 90 Minute IPA side-by-side. This taste test was done in The LINQ Casino under the supervision of no one except myself and perhaps Odin, who watches over all the denizens of Midgard. Well, one young waitress came over and sweetly asked if I needed anything. I had two Dogfish Head beers directly in front of me on a slot machine so thank you but no, Miss, I'm hella good. I was in my Happy Place. So which is better, their single (60) or their double (90) IPA? Okay, keeping in mind this is just one man's opinion (though Odin may be subtly influencing me) but I believe it's the 60 Minute IPA. Granted, the minute I posted pictures of both on Twitter, the opinions were flying fast and furious on the pair. Both have huge fan-bases so really, Dogfish Head, you have very little to be worried about because I suspect it was keeping you up at night. Just keep making both. You'll be fine.
But the challenge of Vegas isn't finding craft beers. They're everywhere. It's finding new craft beers! Two I came upon at exactly the same time were Elysian Brewing (Seattle) Dayglow IPA and Sierra Nevada Brewing's (Chico, California) Hazy Little Thing IPA. Elysian was snapped up four years ago by Anheuser-Busch (I forgot to #SeekTheSeal - my bad) while Sierra Nevada is still independently family-owned so their board meetings probably sound like a lot like this... "Shut up, stupid!" "I'm not stupid. You're stupid!" (I'm just guessing here and actually just basing it on my family's Thanksgiving dinners. Sierra Nevada's meeting are likely far less chaotic. Or not.)
Okay, both of these were really strong offerings. The Dayglow IPA at 7.4% had beautiful fruit notes with a nice wheat malt back-end while the Hazy Little Thing IPA at 6.7% was 10 beautiful shades of melon. I enjoyed them back-to-back and if I'm not mistaken, I'm fairly certain this was my Breakfast that day.
Late into the trip, I wandered into The LINQ's in-house convenience store (great staff, always happy and chatty - I was Donny Canada to them and was greeted thusly - I loved that) to pick up a brew or two and right beside the Ballast Point Brewing (San Diego) Sculpin IPA and Grapefruit Sculpin IPA was their Fathom IPA. Because the can is not their traditional gold and white colours and I am, in fact, colourblind, meaning I always look for colour markings familiar to me, I missed it until, oh, Day Seven? Yeah, you'd think the huge Ballast Point logo would be enough. Trust me, it never is. Okay, also back in 2015, this brewery was bought by Constellation Brands (Corona, other popular meh beers - except Ballast Point - and a lot of spirits) for $1 billion. I get it. Hard to say no. I couldn't. But help a Canuck out here! Ownership be damned, this was really good. Totally west coast (no haze here), this 6%, 50 IBU hoppy bugger has orange on the front, malt and pine on the back and is a damn solid beer. Better than Sculpin IPA? Well, let's not get crazy here. But hey, a pretty good one.
Okay, a couple more brews and then let's wind this little vacation story down. Another pair I grabbed at the same time (though photo folder evidence shows I had also enjoyed them during my October trip) Saint Archer Brewing's (San Diego) IPA and Stone Brewing's (Escondido, California, baby!) Tangerine Express IPA. The amount of Stone beers on the strip is phenomenal! As Beer Bro Glenn and myself like to say, "Stone can brew no wrong!" We often yell it. At small babies and puppies.
Okay, so *sigh* to begin, Saint Archer was bought by MillerCoors in 2015. I don't know for how much but at this point, I want to say $100 kajillion so I don't feel badly. I seriously can't keep track of the buy-outs down there but it's a lot. That said, the beers still seem to be really top-notch. It does seem to be hands-off ownership - at this point, anyway. Craft is 12% of the American beer market and the big guys want that piece of the financial pie. So anyways, the Saint Archer IPA is junked up the cake-hole with Amarillo, Mosaic, Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, Simcoe and Citra hops. (I hope MillerCoors paid a pretty penny for them, too.) But this is a clean-cut west coaster - 7%, 66 IBU, tropical fruit and citrus. Tasty-ass beverage, too. I'll happily drink it again. I'd steal it as a finger to the big guys but, you know, Vegas... cameras everywhere.
And then there's our good friends at Stone, fiercely independent, one of the best ever, just a buncha crazy-ass mofos having fun.
The Tangerine Express was dynamite. The brewery says there's a solid backing of pineapple. I didn't catch that all that, to be honest, in this 6.7%, 75 IBU orange dream. But shit, this was good. Tart, not sweet. Another favourite by these guys.
Okay, let's finish this off with some fun Vegas notes. Prostitution is, of course, also legal in Nevada. Every casino on the strip seems to be a circular bar in the centre and that's where they gather at night. The escorts are very young, attractive and seem quite sweet.
And while sexism in the craft beer industry is being looked at under a harsh spotlight here in Ontario and, of course, almost everywhere else... maybe not so such in Las Vegas. Case in point: Sin City Brewing. This was the only craft brewery I saw here when I first came to Vegas in 2007. I was drinking MGD at the time so I didn't pay much heed to them.
|If you are waiting for political correctness to land|
in Vegas, don't hold your breath. The strip is built
on three things for adults - money, gambling and
sex. This is what I was told when I asked anyway.
But I love Vegas for two reasons. Great American craft beers plus the noise, the buzz and the lights. This town is always alive, even at 4 am. Yard House, my good friends, I'm coming back May 6th to 14th. Tell the Golden Knights to still be in the playoffs because this place is crazy when they are and I'll hopefully be watching my Maple Leafs on some humongous 25-foot screen in a casino. Best way to watch the NHL playoffs ever! But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Back soon with... *checks notes"* oh geezuz, the Sparklepuff Triple IPA controversy. Why would I do that to myself? Until next time, I remain...