Las Vegas' first brewpub, Holy Cow! Casino, Cafe, & Brewery on "The Strip" at Sahara is a welcome refuge from this city's non-stop neon and slot machine bells. The street corner location is easy to find but the actual brewpub bar requires some navigating through a sea of slot machines. The center of the medium-sized room is occupied by a rectangular bar with embedded video poker machines and overhead televisions. While house beers were available, most gambling patrons were drinking "light" beers; Bud, Coors, Miller, Corona and Amstel. A ramp and steps on the right side of the room led to a small non-smoking dining area and to the smoky lounge. There, a 20 stool glossy dark wood bar featured a 9-tap milk can tower that poured the five house beers along side of Miller Lite and a nitrogen-pushed Guinness. Frosted glasses were the norm but room-temp ones were available upon request. Looking beyond the bar's brass rail, a full liquor selection was in evidence and five stainless steel vessels were visible behind the glass wall. These were but the serving tanks of the 10bbl Century brewing system whose brewhouse and fermenters stood on the second floor. The lounge area offered a half dozen tall circular tables with padded stools. The walls featured a touch of stained glass along with various cow designs over the bar. some collections of beer labels were framed and placed tastefully beneath the wood beams and white ducting of the 10 foot high ceiling. A chalkboard listed the currently available brews. One might almost forget that this cozy bar was in the heart of Las Vegas were it not for the distant sounds of slot machines paying off and the fact that Elvis was seen getting drinks at the bar. Around the oval-shaped bar were a few silent 31" TVs with music coming from the CD sound system. The upstairs walk-way offered a view of the gaming area below as well as the glass-walled brewhouse. The stainless steel brew vessels fed four 10bbl fermenters. The moderately hard Las Vegas city water requires a carbon filtration step but no other adjustments.
The Cream Ale was a light straw color with a white creamy head, medium body, smooth mouthfeel and equally smooth light hoppy flavor. The Amber Gambler Pale Ale was a clear amber color with a light head, nice hop over malt flavor, appropriate balance, light body, with a crisp mouthfeel, and a light hop finish. this recipe took the Gold medal at the 1993 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) for the Classic English Pale Ale category. The Rebel Red Red Ale was a clear dark amber color with a creamy mouthfeel and smooth malty flavor. The Vegas Gold Hefe Weiss appeared a hazy straw color and yielded a light clove flavor with a slight sourness, medium body and overall smooth character. The BrewMaster Special was the Pumpkin that took 500 pounds of fresh pumpkins. The clear dark amber brew started with a spicy aroma (nutmeg) and was followed by a similar flavor that was well-balanced with the malt, and it finished slightly on the hoppy side. The Rye had a clear amber color, creamy white head, malty sweet flavor, creamy smooth mouthfeel, and an overall nice balance. The IPA was a dark amber color with a hoppy aroma matched to a full body, hop over malt flavor, and hoppy finish. Not available were the award-winning Stout or English Brown Ale.
As is Las Vegas tradition, the food portions are generous, less common however, the food here actually had good flavor, and like the bar the kitchen is open 24 hours a day. On the menu were Appetizers ($4-$6), Salads ($3-$6), Burgers ($5-$6), and Entrees ($8-$13); chicken, fish & chips, steak, and walleye. Breakfast is also served.
Las Vegas' original brewpub is still going strong since its 1993 start up, thanks to its quality products and friendly staff. Prices were reasonable and serving sizes ran from small to large; sampler (4x4 $2.75), 10 oz, 16oz ($3), 23oz, and 1/2 gallon growler (to go). The crowd was 80% male on most nights and there were no drinking areas safe from wafting cigarette and cigar smoke in the lounge area. Besides their growlers, souvenir T-shirts and glasses are also available. The brewery currently supplies five draught accounts around town, not including the Holy Cow! bar at the Las Vegas Convention Center that offered COMDEX attendees a welcome reprieve from the tiring convention.
Holy Cow! Casino, Cafe, & Brewery
2423 Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, Nevada 89104
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - November, 1996