The most impressive craft beer bar in Las Vegas isn't inside a hotel or casino along The Strip, but rather in a tiny strip mall near the airport.
Freakin' Frog is the name of the place, and while it may not look like a world-class beer bar from the outside, as the saying goes, it's what inside that counts. And while you won't see any freakin' sharks with freakin' laser beams inside Freakin' Frog, you will find loads of great beer, from the fairly common to the extremely rare.
The bar shares space with a handful of other shops in a tiny retail outlet that is about a 15 minute drive from the Vegas Strip. It's directly across the street from the University of Nevada Las Vegas dorms (a wise business decision). It's a bit difficult to see from S. Maryland Parkway, the bar's official street, as it's tucked behind a vacant lot that's surrounded by a chainlink fence.
Owner Adam Carmer is a gregarious, bespectacled fellow with neatly cropped hair and the type of memory that can only be compared to an encyclopedia. He came to Vegas in the early '90s to work as the maître d'hôtel for Treasure Island and never left. Carmer's worked as a hotel sommelier for the Mirage Resort & Casino and was named Steve Wynn's first hotel sommelier. Aside from owning Freakin' Frog, Carmer also teaches courses at UNLV in beer, wine and spirits. The guy knows his stuff.
What brought me to Freakin' Frog was an invitation from Terence Reilly of Quesada Cigars for a pre-IPCPR gathering. A true beer geek, Reilly and I have traded beer recommendations for some time now, so I knew the bar had to be good.
When I walked through the front door, the standard wood bar greeted me. I'd find out later the bar has a 15-tap draft system that rotates through beers at a steady clip (lines cleaned every time a new keg is tapped). The inside of Freakin' Frog is sparsely furnished with a handful of tables with chairs and booths. A pair of pool tables and a small stage for live bands round out the interior.
Smoking is not allowed inside Freakin' Frog, though, so before I could order at the bar, I was whisked away up a set of stairs to Carmer's other bar-inside-a-bar, The Whisky Attic, where we were allowed to smoke since it was a private event. In the Attic, Carmer has amassed more than 1,800 whiskies from all around the world. While many of the partygoers, mostly retailers, were imbibing some sort of drink from this huge stock of spirits, my mind was on beer and the Casa Magna Tiberius that Reilly had somehow snuck into my hand.
While I toasted my cigar, Carmer plunked a bottle of Stille Nacht in front of me. Brewed by Belgium's De Dolle Brouwers every year for Christmas, Stille Nacht is a Belgian strong ale known for complexity and its ability to age well. My bottle was from 2012, and so all of the alcohol hotness that typically accompanies a 12 percent abv beer had disappeared, turning into bold flavors of fig, Christmas cake and caramelized brown sugar. The taste profile blew me away as it played well with the Tiberius, coaxing more chocolate and nut notes out of the cigar.
After that delightful brew, Carmer produced yet another diamond in the rough, La Luna Rossa. Inspired by the Flemish kriek beers (think Boon, Cantillon), La Luna is not from Belgium, but rather brewed by Birrificio del Ducato out of Italy. La Luna is a blend of beers, some of which have been barrel-aged for two years with morel and amarena cherries, and contains acetic and lactic bacteria as well as Brettanomyces. Wine lovers know "brett" to be a nasty, uncontrollable yeast strain, but in the hands of a skilled brewer, it adds a gorgeous set of barnyard flavors to the brew.
My bottle was from 2011, meaning it was from the first batch of La Luna the brewery ever made, an extremely rare beer.
"Where are these all coming from?" I asked Carmer. Rather than answer, he just signaled for me to follow him. We descended the stairs, took a left at the pool table, and I saw my answer: a giant cooler. One of my first jobs was a grocery clerk at my local supermarket, and so I recognized the walk-in industrial cooler. Only instead of keeping ice cream and dairy from spoiling, Freakin' Frog's cooler stores about 1,200 bottles of beer.
Walking through the rows, I saw they were divided by country and style. Carmer doesn't just stock one or two bottles of each brand, but entire cases. I saw not one, but a dozen bottles of Unibroue La Terrible, which isn't an easy beer to come by, especially in Nevada. And, there weren't just bottles of Duvel, but magnums, something I didn't even know was commercially available.
After I picked my jaw up from the floor, we returned upstairs. I had a couple more beers, and shared a pleasant conversation with a few other gentlemen who enjoy pairing cigars with beer. It was a truly freakin' great night.