Beer competition in the desert - World Beer Cup 2024 in Las Vegas

Gambling Capital of the World, City of Lights, Sin City - Las Vegas in the US state of Nevada has many names. There is definitely no such thing as boredom in this city! It's busy around the clock, especially on the famous "Strip" and the hotel casinos located there. With several thousand rooms, the hotel complexes along the Las Vegas Boulevard are among the largest in the world. In addition to the obligatory casino, each hotel offers a wide range of leisure activities - including various shows, concerts, restaurants, bars, stores and boutiques.

The second judging phase of this year's World Beer Cup took place in this glittering metropolis from April 19 to 21 - still the largest international beer competition in the world this year with a total of 9300 beers entered. Over 2000 breweries from a total of 60 countries took part. The samples submitted were tasted by almost 300 judges over two phases.

As soon as you land in Las Vegas, it becomes clear that this city is unique. The brightly lit buildings and hotels along the Strip can be seen from afar. While Las Vegas airport was still far outside the city limits when it was built, today it is right in the middle. The transfer to "The Venetian" hotel, the venue for this year's World Beer Cup and the subsequent Craft Brewers Conference, only took a few minutes.

Consisting of three towers, The Venetian is one of the largest hotel complexes in the world with over 7000 suites. The name says it all - the entire interior and exterior design is in Italian style. The sights of Venice are recreated in and in front of the hotel, including St. Mark's Square, the Campanile and the Rialto Bridge - complete with escalator. It is even possible to take a ride on a gondola through replicas of the Venetian canals - singing and the smell of chlorine from the water included.

Campanile, Rialto Bridge...
…and Doge's Palace provide Venetian flair in Las Vegas.

Impressive figures for the World Beer Cup 2024

After an initial exploratory tour along Las Vegas Boulevard, the second phase of the World Beer Cup 2024 kicked off on Thursday afternoon with the Judge Orientation. Chris Williams, Competition Director of the World Beer Cup, presented impressive figures: With 9300 entries from over 2000 breweries from 60 participating countries, the World Beer is the international beer competition with the highest number of participants. Over the two tasting phases, the submitted beers were tasted and evaluated by almost 300 international judges in a total of 14 sessions. Over 300 pairs of helping hands ensured behind the scenes that the tasting ran smoothly.

Following the official Welcome Reception for the World Beer Cup judges, we went back to the Strip to experience the atmosphere there at night. The musical fountain in the huge pool in front of the Bellagio are particularly famous. Every quarter of an hour, perfectly choreographed water fountains set to different pieces of music can be admired here. This and other spectacles attract a large number of bystanders as well as street traders and artists. Of course, because where there are lots of people, there are also business opportunities. As is the case almost everywhere in Las Vegas: there is nothing that does not exist! However, the number of Elvis impersonators was somewhat disappointing: only one tried to impersonate the songs and looks of the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

The famous "Strip" in Las Vegas is actually called Las Vegas Boulevard.
After dark, the musical fountain in front of the Hotel Bellagio can be admired every 15 minutes.

From the tasting table to the Hofbräuhaus

The next morning, the first tasting rounds awaited the assembled judges. It felt like every table was allowed to judge the Juicy or Hazy IPA category on these days - the strongest category at the WBC 2024 with 326 entries. In general, the first tasting day was characterized by preliminary rounds. For the first time, the samples were evaluated using a specially developed digital tasting tool. The tool was self-explanatory and simplified the evaluation procedure enormously. Technical difficulties were quickly resolved, enabling a calm and concentrated evaluation of the beers.

As some European Beer Star judges were also represented at the World Beer Cup, the invitation by the Association Private Brauereien led us to a special location on the evening of the first tasting day. As our association is based in Munich and within walking distance of the famous Munich Hofbräuhaus, we practically HAD to visit its counterpart in Las Vegas. After a warm welcome, we were allowed to take a seat in the covered beer garden (the outside temperature was around 35 °C). The Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas is a faithful replica of the Munich original. The kitchen serves traditional German food and the beer is imported from Munich. A good opportunity to recalibrate your tongue after a day of hoppy beers.

A nice evening at the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas.

Professional tasting ambience meets brightly lit Sphere

Tasting day two started again with preliminary rounds, followed by the first intermediate rounds. The first final was then held in the afternoon. Similar to the European Beer Star, it is always amazing how a table full of judges tastes and evaluates quite uniformly despite their different professional backgrounds in the international brewing industry. The tasting was always professional and characterized by mutual appreciation among the judges. After a total of 6 tasting rounds, including German styles such as Dortmunder/Export as well as various ale categories, the second tasting day came to an end.

In the evening, it was time to admire the newest and probably most impressive attraction in Las Vegas - the Sphere! This spherical event hall is part of the Venetian hotel complex. The outer facade of the spherical structure is fitted with almost 60 million LED dots, making the Sphere a shining landmark of the city at any time of day or night.

The Sphere by day...
…and night.

Time for the finals

On the third day of tasting, it was time to get down to business. The preliminary round of the German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock category already offered excellent beers that were a pleasure to taste. The subsequent final of the South German Style Weizenbock category was then a complete delight. Outstanding beers across the board competed for gold, silver and bronze in the final round. The brewers behind these beers deserve great praise, as they impressively demonstrated that they understand their craft. The final beers in this category showed the entire aromatic spectrum that is possible with this beer style.

After the lunch break, there was an intermediate round of Robust Porter and the final of Australian-Style Pale Ale. Here too, all the judges gathered around the table agreed on which beers should be awarded a medal.

And so ended the second phase of the WBC Tasting 2024 in Las Vegas. At the end of the three tasting days, a photo of all the judges at the Word Beer Cup in Las Vegas was of course a must.

A colorful bunch: the judges of the WBC 2024 (Photo: Brewers Association)

Starting signal for the Craft Brewers Conference

The official Welcome Reception in the ballroom of the Venetian Hotel marked the start of the subsequent Craft Brewers Conference. Various craft beer bars and finger food got everyone in the mood for the upcoming conference and trade fair. At the event, there was plenty of opportunity to meet old acquaintances and get to know new faces.

Traditionally, the Brewers Association always provides the latest figures on the US craft beer industry at this event. The number of active craft breweries continued to rise in 2023, reaching a new all-time high of 9,761. There were 495 new openings and 418 closures of breweries over the course of the year.

US craft breweries produced a total of 23.4 million barrels of beer in 2023 - the equivalent of around 38 million hectoliters. This corresponds to a decline of around 1.0 % compared to the previous year.

Bart Watson, Vice President for Strategy and Chief Economist at the Brewers Association, commented on the current situation for US craft breweries as follows: "2023 was another competitive and difficult year for small and independent breweries. Nevertheless, while growth has slowed, small breweries have proven to be quite resilient, as evidenced by the increasing number of breweries, relatively low closure rates and growth in local sales and jobs."

Full house at the Welcome Reception of the Craft Brewers Conference

To round off the week in Las Vegas, the first US award ceremony of the European Beer Star on in the United States was on the agenda on the first day of the trade fair. As many successful US winners of EBS 2023 were unable to travel to BrauBeviale in Nuremberg last November to receive their awards in person, we made up for this without further ado in Las Vegas!

A big thank you goes to our partner BarthHaas, who provided us with a wonderful location above the rooftops of Las Vegas for this award ceremony.

Benedikt Meier and Victoria Schubert-Rapp from the Association Private Brauereien congratulated the breweries in attendance once again and presented the certificates and awards to their rightful owners.

Congratulations again to:

  • River North Brewery from Denver, Colorado
  • Hinterland Brewery from Green Bay, Wisconsin
  • Athletic Brewing Company from Milford, Connecticut
  • Deschutes Brewery from Bend, Oregon
  • Alaskan Brewing Co. from Juneau, Alaska

Many thanks also to our partners Brauwelt and MicroMatic who also attended the US award ceremony.

For the first time, an Award Ceremony for the European Beer Star took place in the United States. Congratulations!

This was followed by a tour of BrewExpo America with all its exhibitors, including some companies from Germany. From raw materials to plant and process technology to marketing, everything along the value chain could be found.

The week in Las Vegas ended with a convivial evening in a beer bar on the Strip - including a volcanic eruption in front of the Mirage - before heading back home on Tuesday morning.

In front of the Mirage, a volcano erupts every hour after dark...

Viva Las Vegas - an impressive journey

Special thanks to the Brewers Association for inviting me to be a taster at the World Beer Cup. I will always remember a smoothly organized and professionally conducted tasting. It is anything but easy to prepare over 9000 different beers for the tasting. A big compliment therefore also goes personally to Chris Williams, the tasting manager of the World Beer Cup, and his team!

In addition to the tasting, the unique location of Las Vegas as the venue will of course be remembered. This city is difficult to compare with other cities. The gigantism of this city, with all its positive and negative aspects, is second to none. Packed with leisure activities and attractions of all kinds, Las Vegas is a kind of "fantasy land". Perfect for escaping the daily grind from time to time - something that some visitors to the city have made extensive use of, especially at the weekend. True to the well-known saying "Viva Las Vegas!"

Benedikt Meier

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