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MGM tapping into craft beer festivals

For the past year, beer festival organizer Motley Brews in Las Vegas has cornered the local beer fest market.

Motley Brews drew 5,500 suds lovers to the East Fremont Street district for its Great Vegas Festival of Beer in April, and another 3,000 brew fans are expected to descend on its Downtown Brew Festival at the county amphitheater this month.

But now there is a new 800-pound beer-guzzling gorilla on the block.

And it’s MGM Resorts International, the heavy on the Strip partnering with the nationally known, Portland-based Oregon Beer Festival to throw an inaugural craft beer festival at MGM’s festival lot across from Luxor on Sept. 27.

MGM’s new Blvd Brew Fest — complete with the high-profile Kings of Leon band — is being tapped just one week after Motley Brews holds its annual Downtown Brew Festival on Sept. 20.

Beer-tasting events are hardly new to Las Vegas. But what is new is the growing scope of the beer bashes in Sin City and the fact that a Strip power like MGM Resorts has thrown its bottle opener into the brew-fest ring.

MGM’s event lot is playing host to three dozen Oregon brewers, including powerhouse brands such as Descutes Brewery of Bend and Rogue Ales of Ashland.

The opening of a half-dozen craft beer microbreweries in Southern Nevada this year combined with the advent of the large beer festivals shows that Las Vegas is adopting West Coast traits ranging from becoming more bicycle-friendly to opening downtown co-working business centers.

WELCOMING THE BIG PLAYER

Motley Brews founder Brian Chapin doesn’t mind MGM entering the beer festival scene because he sees the new Strip beer event as advancing the craft market in Las Vegas. Having a major player on the Strip staging a big beer festival validates the notion that craft beer now has traction in this market, he said.

“Anything to push the craft beer movement is fantastic. What we’re trying to work on is complete acceptance,” Chapin said. “Oregon is considered beertopia.”

MGM’s business strategy differs than Motley Brews’ because the hotel-casino company is also using its inaugural beer festival on the Strip to drive traffic to its 11 hotel properties on the Strip.

It’s also part of MGM’s strategy to offer its hotel guests more outdoor options, such as the park plaza between New York-New York and Monte Carlo now under construction. It will lead to its 20,000-seat arena, slated to open in spring 2016.

MGM is also teaming up with its local event organizers Sonny Barton and Chris Hammond for another festival in October: a wine and music festival called Wine Amplified on Oct. 10 and 11.

For Blvd Brew Fest, Hammond expects 60 percent of the attendees to be local, while 40 percent will be tourists. Barton said they are advertising in the Southern California and Phoenix markets to lure brew fans to beer on the boulevard.

Besides lining up a high-powered musical act like Kings of Leon, Barton and Hammond is also setting up a second stage in the opposite corner of the MGM festival lot to feature bands from Southern California and Utah.

“It’s Vegas, and you got to go big and you have to do it right,” Hammond said.

At the Downtown Brew Festival one week earlier, Chapin projects 85 percent of the attendees will be locals.

“We give an alternative event to the Strip,” he said.

Tim Etter, owner of Tenaya Creek Brewery in Las Vegas, said he welcomes the Oregon beers coming to the Strip because the majority of those brands are not distributed in Southern Nevada.

“It shows you what’s happening in Las Vegas. We’re catching up with the rest of the country,” Etter said.

“It’s a great thing for those Oregon breweries that can showcase their beers in front of the locals and also the tourists on the Strip,” Etter said.

“It exposes them to an audience that might not be familiar with their brands. More than half of those brands don’t distribute beer to Las Vegas. They’re not available here.”

LOOKING FOR LOCAL

Mark Lawson, Nevada Beverage Co. craft brand manager, said it’s great to have a big name like MGM spotlighting craft beer in the Las Vegas area, but he was hoping more local distributors and brewers could have been participating.

“Anytime you have a focus on craft beer, that’s a good thing. We need all the help we can get in this market. When someone like MGM puts an impetus behind it, people say, ‘Hey, maybe craft is viable.’ But it would also have been nice to also include our local guys to show the Oregon guys here’s what we’re doing here,” Lawson said.

Big Dog, a popular Las Vegas brewery, participates in many beer festivals in the Las Vegas area and holds its own festivals throughout the year at its locations.

Big Dog will be at the Sept. 20 Downtown Brew event but as of last week has not heard from the Blvd Brew Fest.

“Beer festivals are a lot of fun, but it’s a workday for us, and we’re out there promoting our brand,” said Robert Snyder, Big Dog chief financial officer and treasurer of the Nevada Craft Brewers Association.

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.

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