Las Vegas old-timers might remember Der Baron’s inside the Meadows Mall.
Years ago it was the one place in Las Vegas where you could find 100 beers from around the world. The restaurant even offered customers a check list to help keep tabs on their progress in tasting every brew.
Clyde Burney fondly recalled Der Baron’s.
During his career in the Las Vegas alcoholic beverage industry, Burney sold various imported beers to the Bavarian-themed restaurant.
Der Baron’s has been gone for almost two decades. Beer drinking, however, has experienced a renaissance in Las Vegas. Today, hundreds of restaurants and taverns offer selections of beers from around the world that would dwarf Der Baron’s offerings.
“There is an incredible range of beers available right now,” said Burney, who is the vice president of beer and trade development for Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada.
He joined the company in 2001 after spending several years with J.W. Costello Beverage Co. When he started out in the business, Burney said he had a portfolio of between 50 and 80 beers. Today, the portfolio tops 1,200 beers from around the world, which doesn’t include the popular seasonal brews offered by many of the breweries.
Restaurants and taverns, especially the outlets within the resort industry, need to have hundreds of beer offerings to satisfy the appetites of consumers who want to sample new and different products.
Burney, a native of New Zealand who retains a strong accent despite spending more than 20 years in Las Vegas, has done his part to increase the level of beer awareness in Las Vegas.
Earlier this year, Burney helped hire two beer experts — Russell Gardner and Samuel Merritt — to expand Southern Wine & Spirit’s craft beer program.
Gardner was the first person in Nevada to become a certified cicerone — the beer equivalent to a wine sommelier. Merritt was New York’s first certified cicerone.
Burney also plans to begin a program that will certify every Southern Wine & Spirits employee as a level one cicerone to help improve the city’s beer scene.
How has beer drinking changed in the last decade?
What’s changed is that the younger generation of brewers have become a force and are very competitive. There are some tremendous beers being brewed in America. There are probably 2,500 breweries in America, large and small. There are more breweries today than ever in our history. Nowadays, there isn’t brand loyalty among the younger beer drinkers. The Millennials who visit Las Vegas want to try any and all brands, so your bar needs to have a wide selection. We believe it’s our job to offer a tremendous selection of beers to the market.
Where are some of the best imported beers coming from?
Scotland has all of a sudden produced some great beers. They are barrel-aged and quite good. Belgium will always continue to produce great beers, as does Holland. We’re lucky that we’ve invested in some good people who can keep up with all the changes and the new beers that are coming into America. That’s important for our customers, especially the hotels which want to make sure they have what their customers are drinking.
How are American beers received worldwide?
What has kept great craft beer brands in the game is that they have earned the right to be there. Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, for example, used to be considered small brewers, but they have been around for more than 30 years. You see brewers in different parts of the country, such as the Northeast and the West, that have had a huge impact on the American brewing industry.
Is ordering beer with a meal much like ordering a type of wine with a meal?
There are many styles of beers that blend well with so many styles of food. It’s very much like ordering a white wine or a red wine with a meal. You can really get into it.
Do you have a favorite beer?
I have a few, but you can’t go wrong with a Chimay. It’s a Belgium brewery and it’s been around forever, something like 500 or 600 years. They brew a Trappist beer, and there are very few of those around.