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Laughlin, Nevada

June, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Iíve been to Reno twice and enjoyed the laid-back, high-country atmosphere. Unfortunately, my yearly excursions to Nevada now have only Las Vegas as the destination. But this trip and mission were different, coming just a few months after my most recent annual January visit in which I discovered Tenaya Creek Restaurant & Brewery in the northwest suburbs. Not wanting to retread tired territory, and with a few hours to kill before a red-eye flight home, I headed south to Laughlin where the weather is always five to ten degrees hotter than Las Vegas. A two-lane highway through the desert, as straight as a 70 mph ruler, took me there in seemingly no time at all.

Hard on the shores of the Colorado River, Laughlin has its own strip called, what else, Casino Drive. It only took a second to locate Colorado Belle Hotel Casino Microbrewery for, behind the expanse of a hot asphalt parking lot, rested a bigger than life paddlewheel riverboat. In the stern of this earthbound vessel, with its below-deck 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea decor, resides the 5,000 square foot Boiler Room Brew Pub.

Owned by the same corporation that owns Mandalay Bay and Circus Circus in Vegas, the casino portion of Colorado Belle opened in 1987. The brewery wasnít commissioned until June 18, 1997. Two open kitchen areas were immediately visible against the right wall. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, they focused on five shining serving tanks located behind a slick marble-topped bar, duly equipped with annoying video poker monitors. Copper duct work was suspended from the ceiling, coursing as if it actually played a roll in the brewing process. The rough waters of the Colorado River rushed by, visible from dining room windows.

Iíd barely started my sampler tray when brewer Steve Peterson arrived to answer questions. He just lives a few blocks away and the helpful bartender, sensing the importance of such a distinguished guest from North Carolina, roused him from his computer to come and greet me.

Steve got the brewing bug in California as a helper at La Jollaís Hops! in the early 1990s. Not long after he started homebrewing, he found himself in Chicago enrolled in Siebelís brewing course. Steveís first professional assignment was opening Orange County Brewing Company in Irvine, CA for the Bayhawk/Wilamette Brewing group. Next he zoomed off to Grayís Brewery in Wisconsin where his beers won numerous awards. And then he found Laughlin, where life is slower paced than Vegas and the mild, rain-less conditions make the ďbest winter weather in the US.Ē

Steve, known wherever heís been for his stouts, walked me through my sampler tray. Golden Lager was a crisp, thin and very flavorful Helles Lager. Amber Ale played moderately malty. Its medium body revealed a long lasting sweet yet dry aftertaste. Malty with a slight sour effect, Red Lager had a thick tongue-coating effect, while Hefeweizen, a seasonal served with a huge lemon slice, was dirty gold. Citrus rush yielded to a faint malty taste without yeasty or clove overtones. And then the Stout, which benefited from a Cellar Master nitrogen fix. Full bodied with rich dark chocolate flavor, this opaque black beauty was succulently smooth escorted by bittersweet aftertaste.

During dinner, Steve revealed a personal note or two. Happy at his job and in love with Laughlin, the experienced brewer can no longer drink beer or any carbonated beverage due to a stomach condition. Heís lost 150 pounds, down to a well-proportioned 250 for a big man, and is learning to enjoy wine. I encouraged him to try some near-fizzless cask-conditioned ales. Heís been invited to judge at Londonís Great British Beer Festival this August, a prestigious invitation for an American. And has his sights on 2004 when Las Vegas will host an international symposium and convention for the 120-year-old Master Brewers Association and, probably, the World Brewing Congressí Expo, which will attract over 3,000 brewers worldwide.

Not bad for a riverboat trapped in the desert. Colorado Belleís beers revel in the exuberance and experience of brewer Steve Peterson. If you canít have Reno, Laughlin isnít a bad second choice.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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