Turns out it will take more than a worldwide pandemic to quell the Beer Zombies invasion. The rapidly expanding “craft beer lifestyle brand” kept busy this past year breaking ground on its flagship Las Vegas brewery and extending its draft room and bottle shop footprint, which includes locations on Warm Springs Road and Dean Martin Drive, to Salt Lake City and Dallas.
A long-awaited bar and restaurant in Downtown Summerlin is slated to debut at the end of the month, marking the first standalone Beer Zombies outpost. Before the opening the team will resume beer festival hosting duties, albeit cautiously, with a sold out gathering on April 20. Capped at 100 people per two sessions, attendance will be a far cry from the more than 3,500 revelers who partook in the previous Beer Zombies fest, held just weeks before the state shut down nonessential businesses last year in March to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
Though the brand’s instantly recognizable logo, a dead-eyed walker sporting an impressive hop cone beard, is the indelible face of the franchise, the brains behind the operation is founder Chris Jacobs, who has managed to transform a social media hobby into a fledgling suds-soaked empire. In between gigs as a bartender at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and freelance artist, Jacobs launched Beer Zombies in 2013 as an outlet to express his hopped-up fanaticism. A fixture in the small but tight-knit Las Vegas beer community, he was accustomed to spreading the craft gospel, organizing his now legendary bottle shares and boozy brunches that helped pave the way for what would become a thriving brewing landscape in Sin City.
His influencer status carried over online as fans flocked to the Beer Zombies blog and Instagram account, drawn to Jacobs’ knack for tapping into the beer zeitgeist as well as his unique artistic sensibilities that appear to reflect a peek into the mind of Night of the Living Dead filmmaker George A. Romero after a few too many IPAs. With thousands of new followers, he decided to go the business route and branch out into merchandise, testing the waters with a case of 24 branded pint glasses. “I remember picking them up and thinking I’m going to be sitting on these glasses for two years,” Jacobs recalls. “I put them online and they sold out within two minutes.”
Jacobs made the fortuitous decision to hawk his in-demand wares at beer festivals across the country, a move that would not only elevate the visibility of the Beer Zombies brand, but also allow him to forge inroads with several breweries and keep up to date with industry trends. These relationships and insights proved to be invaluable when Jacobs partnered with SkinnyFats owner and founder Reed Allen Slobusky to open the first Beer Zombies Draft Room & Bottle Shop in 2019 with a commitment to exclusively sell fully independent craft beers including homegrown gems from breweries such as Able Baker Brewing and Astronomy Aleworks along with out-of-market rarities. The shoebox sized-bar next to the Warm Springs location of SkinnyFats quickly gained a cult following, which included Jacobs’ longtime friend, chef Marc Marrone, who was brought into the Beer Zombies fold last September via a partnership with his Graffiti Hospitality group and SkinnyFats.
“Chris is very attuned to what people want,” Marrone says. “Aside from his beer knowledge, he’s a phenomenal bartender. He takes a lot of those skills he learned in hospitality and he carries it over into his business and it works.”
Staying true to its namesake, Beer Zombies keeps pushing forward with no relent.
Beyond the Summerlin opening, a Nashville location is in the works with plans to expand further nationwide. Merchandise has grown to include everything from hats, candles, bandanas, and even hop-scented beard balm (all natural, of course).
Though the brewing facility is still months away from completion, the team officially launched Beer Zombies Brewing Co. in 2020 with a focus on hazy IPAs (current releases are brewed at Mason Ale Works in San Marcos, California). Available on draft and in cans adorned with Jacobs’ eye-popping horror-themed artwork, the beer is earning high marks from the popular beer rating app Untappd, becoming a hot commodity among collectors.
The brewery’s out-of-the-gate success is a particular point of pride for Jacobs, whose longtime fandom has finally come full circle. “The first time I saw a Beer Zombies beer up for a trade and someone was in search of it, that was awesome,” he says. “Coming up through the social media world of beer, where it really started booming, those are things I strive for. I want people to seek out Beer Zombies.”