Beer usually stands alone. You might stick in a lemon or lime wedge or pour a shot alongside it, but that’s about all. However, as brewing and its products become more polished and unique, it’s natural to take the next step in treating beer like a wine or liquor and mix it up.
Public House (3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 407-5310) at the Palazzo is one of the most popular places in Vegas for out-of-town beer connoisseurs, although lager-loving locals also turn up. Something about serving many beers seems to invite a form of decorative clutter, and Public House is lined with bookcases and tchochkes, with portraits of George Washington and a monkey in a suit taking pride of place. The bar/restaurant carries hundreds of beers, from Helles to Dunkels, Ambers to Stouts, with new ones tapped every day.
Such a varied palate invites mixing, and Public House has an evolving menu of beer cocktails, most of which are invented behind the bar — in a place like this, the computer drink list isn’t pretentious, but necessitated by a constantly changing menu. The B and B&B is Firestone IPA, Benedictine and Brandy with orange peel — it’s got a bit more complicated taste, a little like a Manhattan in beer form. Public House also offers a fine rendition of the classic Black & Tan. It’s a combination of Guinness and sparkling wine that lies in umber and gold stripes until you get partway down the pint and the two liquids blend – most places make it with cider, but here they get it right.
The best approximation of the beer cocktail as girly drink would be the Chef’s Shandy, a blend of lemonade, strawberry puree, Solerno blood orange liqueur and Hoegaarten beer. It’s a light, summery blend that enhances the Hoegaarten’s fruitiness and comes garnished with an elaborate culinary-school strawberry rose. This could lure the convention wives away from those big balloons of Merlot and into something a little less predictable. Public House draws a lot of guys in town for this week’s acronym, sipping a Kapuziner Black Weisse or a Goose Island Matilda as they tuck into a jumbo-sized pub burger. Public House also does a good bit of cooking with their brews: The ale-brined chicken wings are moist and dripping with chili glaze — the tzatziki sauce on the side cools it off a bit, but not so much that you don’t want another beer …
Drawing beer lovers off-Strip is Aces & Ales (3740 S. Nellis Blvd., 436-7600), another room lined with taps and refrigerator cases and neon signs of the glorious beverage. It’s a low-key place during the day — singles and doubles sitting around the bar sipping beer and poking desultorily at the video poker — but it fills up with larger, livelier parties as dusk falls. The daily menu updates come on plain ol’ paper, but sometimes the old ways are the best. On-tap options might include Joseph James Thai Chili IPA, a lighter brew with a weirdly pleasant kick of heat on the end, or Big Bad Baptist, a rich, dark-as-death stout.
Aces & Ales makes beer cocktails that are deceptively, dangerously tasty — the kind of drinks one could happily suck down three or four of without even realizing how much you’re drinking. The Balls to the Wall is Angry Orchard Cider with a shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky poured in — the cinnamon taste of the whiskey gives a kick to the cider that brings out the best in both flavors. I can only describe it as cinnamon apple pie soda, but it’s better than that and from here on out, I do not want to drink cider any other way. The Shot in the Dark has a base of oatmeal stout, spiked with Zing red velvet vodka and Marie Brizard chocolate liqueur: The result is something like chocolate cake in a glass.
If Aces & Ales seems heavy on the ’80’s metal references on the drink list, it’s because one of the owners plays guitar for Alice Cooper: There’s also a Metallica Lovers’ pizza and Slayer scramble. Beer also finds a place on the recipe list — onion rings with Arrogant Bastard Ale batter are enormous and fluffy, with the same beer finding its way into the chili and the steak marinade. Between the fine libations and tasty food, it’s no wonder Aces & Ales has plenty of regulars and just opened a new outpost on the west side. If that oft-quoted Benjamin Franklin bit about beer being God’s way of showing that he loves us and wants us to be happy, well, isn’t it best to spread the happiness as far as possible — even into a cocktail glass?