A fresh Old School Brewing Co. logo has been stamped into the facade of an 8,500-square-foot building off Desert Inn Road and South Durango Drive, but large faded lettering behind it hint at its former life as a pizza restaurant.
Inscribed beneath the new logo, it reads, “Established 2014,” but the journey began years before.
“It’s been three years of constant questions in my own mind,” said Jim Wilson, brewmaster of Old School Brewing Co., which is slated to open in late September.
Wilson said he had “full-on management” practice working as a brewmaster for seven years at Barley’s Casino and Brewing Co. in Henderson before opening the brew pub with two partners.
The grandfather of four said he wanted a place where his grandkids could come and hang out. Years before becoming a brewmaster, Wilson had planned to open a different family-minded business: a movie theater. The theater would have opened in Pahrump, where he owns a home and where there wasn’t much to do, but those plans collapsed after a partner backed out, Wilson said.
Across the street from Old School Brewing Co. to the south is Desert Breeze Park, and across the parking lot to the west is the popular Madhouse Coffee. Walking distance from the brew pub to the north is restaurant/bar Porchlight Grille, but there’s a clear distinction between the two establishments, Wilson said.
Wilson insists that a brew pub can be family-friendly, despite the negative connotations surrounding beer and alcohol in general.
Ideally, Wilson would like to create an atmosphere similar to what he says he experienced in his home state of Oregon, where having a beer with friends doesn’t mean getting drunk.
But transitioning a family-friendly brew pub idea to Las Vegas won’t be easy, according to Sam Schaul, a retail real estate expert for the Las Vegas-area SCORE. Las Vegas is a different market from beer-centric cities in Oregon such as Portland, so flexibility will be key, Schaul said.
“If he isn’t able to bring the families on a continuous basis, then he’s got to make sure he has deep enough pockets to change his audience or go to a more ‘adult only’ kind of environment,” Schaul said.
One of Wilson’s draws will be the “twisty comfort food.” One of his favorite menu items is a beer-battered corn dog that’s deep fried and made with a quality bratwurst. Almost every menu item will be infused with beer, and the menu will have a guide so that patrons know which beers best pair with particular menu items.
Wilson said that, in the same way certain wines match up well with certain foods, craft beer is no different. Wilson is well-versed in which beers go with what, having taken the Beer Judge Certification Program, an exam that allows those who pass to judge beer competitions. The exam requires test-takers to taste beers and then complete a written exam describing them.
“You know how hard it is to write 10 pages in two hours,” Wilson said, “It’s even tougher when you’re drinking beer.”
The brew pub will serve food and drink 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The building was purchased for $1.4 million according to the Clark County assessor’s website. Wilson said the cost of renovations were $750,000, with $250,000 to purchase equipment such as chillers, filters, kegs and tanks. Another estimated $500,000 went toward a new transformer and electrical panel for increased electrical output, plumbing, painting and new upholstery.
After moving in, one of the first things Wilson did was remove the carpet. The old pizza theme saw fit to have green carpet with designs of little pizza slices, he said.
“I didn’t think it would make people want to drink beer,” Wilson said.
Wilson expects to hire 45 workers, including servers, line cooks and bartenders. He said employees will undergo training to better understand beer.
The restaurant has 272 seats, with 190 in the restaurant and 82 on the pub side.
There is a full-service bar on the pub side that will serve eight in-house beers on tap, a commercial hard cider and a local beer from another brewery.
“Brewers in this town are very supportive of each other,” Wilson said. “It’s not a competitive kind of environment; it’s very cooperative.”
Brewers in Las Vegas often lend a hand if someone needs extra grain or an extra tap, Wilson said.
“We don’t ever really feel like we’re competing with each other because the market is so underserved with craft beer,” said Matt Merino, president of the Nevada Craft Brewer’s Association. “The more breweries, the better, because it creates an awareness.”
Wilson is optimistic that by distinguishing between craft breweries and regular bars, “where people go to get drunk,” the same communal experience he remembers from Oregon can be replicated here.
“If you treat beer like food, you can have a brewery on every corner — well, every 1,500 feet, according to the county.”