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Sarah Johnson Gets You Pumped Up for Beer Weekend

Starting tonight, Mandalay Bay goes all in on the suds with Beer Weekend, three days of special events and menus blanketing the resort. Mandalay Bay's director of food and beverage and Nevada's first female certified cicerone Sarah Johnson put together the lineup for this event that includes a dinner at miX Restaurant with brewmasters; a craft beer panel discussion at Eyecandy Sound Lounge, led by Johnson; a beer festival at Mandalay Bay Beach featuring the country's best beers along with cuisine from Hubert Keller, Michael Mina, Alain Ducasse, Shawn McClain, Matthias Merges and more; and a beer brunch at Fleur by Hubert Keller. You can still find tickets here.

Johnson chatted with Eater Vegas about the weekend that includes breweries such as Firestone Walker, Brooklyn Brewery, North Coast, Goose Island, Lagunitas, The Bruery, Moody Tongue and a boatload more.

What does it take to be a cicerone?
Oh, boy. We have to drink a lot of beer, but also be very passionate about beer and all things beer. We have to know the history, how to hold it and serve it well, wholesaler distributor relationships. You have to love it enough to build a draft system. Right now I'm studying chemistry. I love drinking it and enjoying it so much.

A certified beer server can take an online exam. It's not too intense. A certified cicerone is more involved. There isn't any specific curriculum right now. The master level requires a two-day exam in front of a peer group. You present orally and then take apart a draft system. I'm studying that right now. I'll be focused on that for the next 12 months starting in October.

What can we expect from Beer Weekend at Mandalay Bay?
One that I will give you the scoop on is that Cascade Brewing sending beer down. They don't have distribution for this event. They're sending apricot and blueberry sour ales. I'm thrilled to bits. I jumped up and down when I found out.

The interesting part of this event is that it brings in all the brewers so they could come and meet all of us but also show them that Vegas is developing and worth sending their beer here.

Forty million people come here. We're not the No. 1 hospitality destination in the world no reason.

If you had to pick one event to attend, which one would it be?
That's tough. The beer dinner is going to be over the top and out of control. The price points have some people freaking out. The Oxford Companion to Beer will be gifted. Garrett Oliver won JBF for book. He'll be signing copies along with Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker.

Where all the beers are going to be is on Saturday night. At $75, it's a great value with unlimited beer and food samples. We're already tweeting out the beer list.

When you look at a beer menu, what important words are you looking for to give you an idea what to order?
A well structured beer menu has the ADV, style of beer name and brewery. Short of any tasting notes, if you have an idea of the style that will give you some clues.

We've been training our staff to speak to flavor profiles instead of styles. The old style of talking about beers was brand driven or label driven. We're thinking about a beer as an American lager or a pale ale. We've gotten good at that with food and wine.

Why doesn't Mandalay Bay have its own beer?
That's something we've talked about doing. We've been talking about breweries to make our own blends or just a collaboration beer like what Craig Schoettler has at Aria. I want to make sure it's the right thing and we can take care of it well.

Are there special beers at Mandalay Bay? What are they are where can we find them?
That's one of the first things we did with the new beer menu. We used to blanket the resort with the same beers in the restaurants. Since the cuisines are so different, we had to adjust a little bit. StripSteak has black IPA Stone Walker and porters, Aureole has more Belgian styles and saisons. Fleur put the first draft box on property with two handles to play with. I consult with Rick Moonen on special events.

Hubert Keller was one of the first chefs to bring a range of beers to his restaurant at Burger Bar. Have you found him to be a kindred spirit?
He most definitely is. I'm so thrilled he'll be spending more time here in Vegas.

What would you pair with his Rossini Burger?
I'd pair it with a Rodenbach Grand Cru.

Why not have an expensive beer to pair with that burger?
We always think about pricing with beers. People I think wouldn't accept an expensive beer. It's tougher for people to swallow.

Moody Tongue is from a friend of mine, a former Per Se expediter. Their first beer was a black truffle pilsner for $100 at Per Se.

Bad Beat Brewing, CraftHaus Brewery and Banger Brewing are just some of the new breweries that have opened in Vegas. What do you think of all the new breweries opening in Vegas?
The other two are just opening now. They love beer. I do think for Banger, the downtown corridor is really perfect positioning for them. They're off to a slower to start. They're not packaging either.

I'm on the other end of the world. Bad Beat and CraftHaus saw a lot of opportunity in town. I agree with them completely. Most cities our size would have double or triple the number of breweries. There's a lot of room for growth. Tenaya expanding downtown and Big Dog's rocking it up north.
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Mandalay Bay

3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Las Vegas, NV