Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I got to meet the brewmaster at Ellis Island!

Brewmasters.  When it comes to what a girl needs, they're right up there with mechanics and plastic surgeons, no? 

A couple of years ago when I was writing for Living-Las-Vegas.com I did this piece on one of my very favorite places to hang in Las Vegas, Ellis Island Casino & Brewery. If you’re a Vegas local I don't have to tell you, it's a gem.

4178 Koval Lane, just south of Flamingo
First, let’s talk about their steak special. It includes your choice of soup or salad, a huge hunk of filet-cut sirloin, a potato cooked the way you like it, garlic-buttered green beans, and a 20-ounce microbrew beer—all for $7.99. Can you imagine?

But you know me—it’s all about the beer. When I first moved to Las Vegas, beers were going for a buck apiece. Now they’re up to a whopping $1.75, which is still the best deal in town. And for the best beer in town.

Last week I got to meet Joe Pickett, the brewmaster at Ellis Island, the man who makes the magic happen. I asked Joe how he came to be a brewmaster. Like was it something he dreamed of becoming since he was a little boy?

Well, Joe started working for the Atlas Prager Brewing Company in Chicago when he was 17 years old. “I’d lift stacked wooden kegs, two high,” he told me. But that wasn’t his first exposure to beer cookin’. Nope. His father actually won a brewery in a card game!

Really. Joe’s dad was all set to attend Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, but then the young man's father died. To support his eight brothers and one sister, he took a job on a riverboat dealing cards and one night while playing cards himself, well, he won the Tube City Brewing Company. It was one of the first breweries to open after Prohibition.

So beer is pretty much in Joe’s blood.   He did take some time to pursue a degree in chemistry and microbiology and had a successful career as a food engineer in the chemical industry. But after the third or fourth time the chemical plant blew up, Joe must have figured beer was a much safer career choice and returned to brewing.

Beer making has taken Joe around the world and he told me of his travels to England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand (yeah, we know they can drink…) and China, to name a few. Joe came to Ellis Island 13 years ago and built their brewery—he’s their original brewmaster.

Joe Pickett, the magic man
Joe told me Ellis Island is one of the top 20 brew pubs in the U.S. and is the largest in the Pacific Mountain states, selling close to 1 million glasses a year. To qualify as a brew pub, 25% of the beer must be sold on site. Ellis Island sells 93% at their location on Koval Lane in the shadow of the Strip and 7% at the Village Pubs around town. Good to know, huh?

They offer six types of beer and a 100% natural root beer that rivals A&W. Joe also makes a no-carb, no-sugar hard lemonade, which boasts the highest alcohol content of all their malt beverages. I tried a couple of sips, but you know me—I’m a dark beer girl. 

(BTW, I asked Joe if he thinks women who drink beer are prettier, smarter, and all around more attractive and he said, “Of course!” So there you go.)

It was a real thrill to hang out with Joe—he’s a swell guy and super interesting—plus I got a free stout. If you’ve never been to Ellis Island, I don’t know what the heck you’re waiting for. For a $20 bill, you can have dinner, two drinks, gamble a bit, and take in some entertainment in their karaoke lounge. It’s a little more costly than the $1.50 hot dog special at Costco, but remember folks, Costco doesn’t serve delicious beer.

Many thanks to Joe for being so generous with his time last week. Is anybody thirsty? It’s five o’clock somewhere!

"Like" Ellis Island on Facebook.


Jay said...

Thanks LL. I think this should be a regular 'feature' in your blog. Finding and interviewing interesting Las Vegas figures...

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Good idea, Jay! There's no shortage of interesting characters in Las Vegas.

Tara said...

I've never been to Ellis Island in my adventures to Vegas. It's always on the list, but I just never manage to fit it in. Maybe this time.... Thanks for the excellent write up Linda Lou!

Julie D said...

Oh we are so going there for dinner when I get out there.

Minus Penny, who wouldn't be caught dead eating that steak. LOLOLOL

Liz said...

Man oh man, I love me some good beer. I've not had the chance to get over there when I've been to Vegas. I won't be back for about 2 years (when my middle neice turns 21) but I'm getting over there on that trip!!

I also think you should do regular features on some local "characters."

Hurricane Mikey said...

Having sampled many of the beers in Vegas, I have to slightly disagree on one point.

The best beer in Vegas is found at Chicago Brewing Company, out on the west side.

Of course, CBC doesn't have near the character, or characters, that Ellis Island has...

The Vegas Flea said...

Very cool!

I Hate to Weight said...

does Joe have a single son? heck, Joe sounds pretty good, himself.

Anonymous said...

I must hit that up the next time I'm out that way!

Josh said...

Nice post about Joe. I had the opportunity to meet, and interview Joe last October. My blog post about Joe can be found on my blog Vegas Manvens. The beer is good, but it is the homemade root beer that is an absolute must for me.