Artisans of Henderson’s Booze District Are Poised to Pour

Meet the tenants of this emerging epicurean neighborhood

The Bad Beat crew (Hall, Barkley and Dominiak) | Photo by Jon Estrada

The Bad Beat crew (Hall, Barkley and Dominiak) | Photo by Jon Estrada

“Take me to the Booze District!”

These words are music to Las Vegas Distillery owner George Rácz’s ears. He’s the unofficial mayor of the burgeoning neighborhood, which makes its home in the industrial complex near Interstate 215 and Gibson Road in Henderson. And he would like to see this collection of artisanal manufacturers become a destination in the way that Downtown’s Fremont East Entertainment District has. But instead of barcades and rooftop parties, this district will offer you flights of fresh, locally made beer and a growler fill-up to go; a case of your own private-label wine; chocolate bars the size of license plates; and bitters for your home bar. Walking tours of the Booze District (tagline: “We make it, we love it, we share it”) will soon guide guests from one business to the next. But until then, here’s the latest:

Las Vegas Distillery

“Professor” Howe with Rácz | Photo by Jon Estrada

“Professor” Howe with Rácz | Photo by Jon Estrada

Never one to sit still, Rácz just kicked the tires on the distillery’s first cocktail menu offered at the Hooch, a wooden bar inside the working distillery. He also just debuted Nevada 150 bourbon in honor of Nevada’s sesquicentennial. But Rácz’s next project isn’t liquid—well, not for long. Inspired by his son, Rácz will get his Wonka on in September, inviting guests into the Chocolate Makery, where they can set tempered chocolate into the mold of their choosing and add any of up to 400 toppings to their own foot-long (or 21-inch-long!) chocolate bar.

Just back from a chocolate conference, Rácz says his goal is for the Makery to eventually be a bean-to-bar operation—that is, roasting its own beans, making its own chocolate—a more than $200,000 investment. Till then, visitors will have their choice of white-, milk- or dark-Belgian, organic or Madagascar chocolate.

Also tucked away in a corner of the distillery is Mr. Fredrickson’s Artisan Bitters lab, where bartender Cody Fredrickson makes scratch bitters using Rácz’s high-proof grain alcohol. Expect to see them going into your Manhattan by December.

Bad Beat Brewing

Can you taste it? The district’s first microbrewery opens with a ribbon cutting at 5 p.m. July 11 just a few doors down from the distillery. This poker-themed brewpub (“Drink to win!”) started cooking a few weeks ago, and on a recent visit was positively hopping with activity. Owner (and former pro poker player) Nathan Hall brought on former Joseph James brewer Weston Barkley and general manager Mike Dominiak to bring his vision to life … and also to help him hand-sand, stain, frame and hang the intricate, rustic pallet-wood walls inside his 55-seat taproom. The spot comes complete with shuffleboard, darts, Nintendo and Cards Against Humanity.

Hall, also a former homebrewer, will open with a five-beer, year-round menu ($5 per pint; $8 flight of five) as well as one seasonal, including Ace in the Hole Basil Pale Ale, the super-roasty Gutshot Dry Irish Stout, Hoppy Times IPA, Daily Grind APA, Ante Up Amber Ale and Bluffing Isn’t Weiss Hefewiezen. Hall has an immediate eye toward distribution, and has signed on with Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada to get Bad Beat brews to your fridge.

Crafthaus Brewery

Not yet open, Crafthaus already made its contribution to Nevada history when owners Wyndee and Dave Forrest got the state to separate gaming from the Brew Pub License, allowing them to open Crafthaus without mandatory video-poker machines. All the better for downing a few pints and chatting up the new brewing team from Australia, Steph Cope and Steve Brockman of Head brewer Cope is, to our knowledge, Nevada’s first female head brewer. The Forrests recently got the keys to their 5,524-square-foot office and warehouse, which will be demolished and renovated into a 48-seat taproom. Despite the fact the Forrests were the first brewery owners to join the Booze District (they crowd-funded the project using Kickstarter to raise more than $25,000), theirs is slated to be the last of the three breweries to open, probably in late August.

The makings of Mr. Fredrickson’s bitters | Photo by Jon Estrada

The makings of Mr. Fredrickson’s bitters | Photo by Jon Estrada

Vegas Brewing Co.

Of the Booze District’s three breweries, Vegas Brewing is the dark horse, a one-man show. And that man is Sean Geer, a former brewery consultant out of L.A. who is currently humping lumber around himself to build a huge, 72-seat taproom in his 5,426-square-foot space. On his 10-barrel system, Geer will make West Coast-inspired brews, including his signature Zythopsychosis, Triple Nut Brown Ale and Sad World Summer Ale. Like Crafthaus, Geer also launched a Kickstarter campaign in May to offset licensing, build-out and equipment costs, but with a deadline of July 5 to raise $12,000; at press time the campaign had earned just $515. But his 100 barrels for aging and plans for a brewing school say he means business regardless. “Come here in the next two to three months,” Geer says. “This place is really going to explode.” He expects to be cooking by late July.

Grape Expectations

The Nevada School of Winemaking opened in 2007, but moved just around the corner from Las Vegas Distillery in August 2012. Happy in their new home, general manager Mike Schoenbaechler and “the Professor” KJ Howe continue to do the Lord’s work, making winemakers out of wine drinkers for whom mere appreciation is no longer enough. Students essentially buy a barrel for $2,800. Over nine months, and four fun classes—crushing/destemming/pressing, barreling, racking and bottling—they make their own red wine to fill it, yielding 240 bottles of their own private-label wine (comes out to roughly $11.50 per bottle). Try to beat that with a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck!

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