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
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