When Brewers Association director Paul Gatza arrived in Las Vegas in June 2012 for a gathering of Nevada brewers at Big Dog’s Draft House, he saw “a group that really didn’t have a collective voice that could support the issues of the brewers of the state.” Part of his organization’s mission is to encourage, unite and assist an increasing number of state brewers guilds; indeed there are 48 such associations today versus 25 in 2011.
At that time, the Las Vegas craft-brew scene still resembled the Wild West, with unofficial alliances, not-quite-nonprofits and carpetbaggers taking what they could, but not really concerning themselves with improving the local industry’s infrastructure. But with support from the Colorado-based Brewers Association, Nevada’s brewers have closed the chasm between North and South, and united formally to create the Nevada Craft Brewers Association (NCBA).
In its first year, the NCBA has been largely guided by Great Basin Brewing Co. owner Tom Young in the north and Big Dog’s Hospitality Group CFO Robert Snyder in the south. Gatza, a huge proponent of the Nevada beer scene, has watched the group develop, from its first official event in September 2012 at the inaugural Nevada Craft Brewers Festival in Reno to its participation in four more beer fests since then. It has also pulled off two collaborative brews.
What differentiates this group from other Nevada state beer organizations is that this one was set up as a 501(c)(6), a trade organization composed solely of Nevada breweries advocating for their industry.
With five fundraising festivals now under its belt, Snyder says the NCBA raised $25,000 in its first year, and has an ambitious plan for 2014 that includes the launch of a new informational Nevada beer website; a user-friendly app guide to Nevada beers; an associate membership level for enthusiasts; and the appointment of a full-time beer ambassador/advocate for the state.
And so far, the brewers are pleased with the progress. “The Nevada Craft Brewers Association is a great tool for all the Nevada breweries to promote and develop the craft beer culture in our state,” Tenaya Creek Brewery’s head brewer Anthony Gibson says. “It allows us one voice to help the breweries grow and be advocates for what we want to become. We were already a tight brewing community, and now we can use the association to further work together to one common goal.”
The year 2015 will have a somewhat different flavor, as the Nevada Legislature will be in session, and the NCBA has squarely aimed its long-term efforts at influencing beer legislation as it pertains to production and distribution. “Nevada’s laws could use some modernization. But we had a little bit of a victory this year,” Snyder says. The rural/urban production cap—formerly 5,000 barrels in lower-populated counties, 15,000 in higher-populated counties—has been balanced at 15,000 for all counties. But in 2015, the NCBA hopes to hire a lobbyist to ask, “Why cap production at all?”
“We’re just so far behind other similarly sized cities, even smaller cities,” Snyder says. But he’s not down about it; quite the opposite, in fact. “There’s so much room to grow, and that’s what’s cool about this industry—the more the merrier.” Or, as Ellis Island executive director of brewing Joe Pickett puts it so succinctly, “It’s a people business, beer.”