Sarah Johnson Interview – The Final Word When it comes to Beer

Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world and that means a plethora of jobs that are likely to leave you envious. How about being the driving force behind bringing beer to a new level in Las Vegas and all that entails? Well then you might just wish you were in the shoes of Director of Food & Beverage at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and Cicerone, Sarah Johnson.

Sarah’s has been a long and winding road that began in the Pacific Northwest before moving to Las Vegas and working as a prep cook at Mix. The peculiarities of life then pushed her to help figure out how to integrate systems as MGM and Mirage merged; she then went on to financial analysis before finally taking her passion of beer and turning it into her career. With the certification of Cicerone, it means Sarah is the equivalent of a Sommelier when it comes to beer. Translation: if she suggests a beer, you probably should give it a try.

"The industry in Las Vegas has grown a lot in the last few years. We have become a legitimate beer town, and part of that is just getting the beers here," Sarah said. "You can find a beer or dinner event once a week around town, and now the industry is willing to support Las Vegas and Las Vegas supports the industry."

Director of Food & Beverage at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and Cicerone, Sarah Johnson at Franklin

Sarah has the trying task of traveling around the world looking for the latest and greatest when it comes to beers. Not to mention working in an office that is on the FedEx and UPS list for constant deliveries of beer samples. While it certainly sounds like fun and games, becoming the first female Cicerone and putting that title to work bringing Mandalay Bay guests a unique beer menu is a never ending task.

"I think back to my grandfather who thought IPA's were the grossest thing in the world. He drank his bourbon and scotch, but maybe he really had a bad IPA," Sarah emphasized. "If you get in front of people, it can be challenging enough to get them to try something new; as retailers, it is our responsibility to get it in your glass as close to what the brewer intended as possible."

In a world that is dominated with Miller and Budweiser products – along with wine and an ever growing lineup of spirits – trying to get that first craft beer in the consumer’s hands and helping them find what they might enjoy can be a challenge.

"I'm always careful to tell people what they are tasting in anything, because you know there is something they can identify, there is something there but the verbal association is challenging," Sarah said. "I like the romance that the wine world cornered. Talk about the beer itself, the people who made it. Ask what flavors they normally like, what food do they like, and find a flavor hook."

From the BEER weekend, which took place last September, to beer pairing dinners with a five-course menu, Sarah has been able to bring an elevated beer experience to the casino floor, bars and restaurants in Mandalay Bay as well as special beer events. These incredible events are not only a treat for beer lovers, but for anyone who can appreciate flavors in any fashion.

"Fleur is awesome because (Chef) Hubert (Keller) is so supportive. Our first beer weekend last year took over the whole property, and beer for breakfast was the final event, and he has just continued that," Sarah said. "Pairing beer with food is a no-brainer."

Mandalay Bay has really embraced beer, from providing a craft beer selection on the casino floor, to the restaurants that offer beer pairing selections, and, of course, the bars. If you want to experience one of the most beautiful bars in Las Vegas, Franklin at Delano is a true delight. Not only a stunning spot, but they have a great selection of craft cocktails and beers and one lone tap that always feature a memorable beer.

"This bar (Franklin) especially is all about craft selection, a special experience that we feel comfortable about changing often, and they are typically specialty kegs," Sarah said. "I love Franklin and Fleur and of course Burger Bar, but any of our bars and lounges are great and you can get a great beer anywhere in Mandalay Bay."

Next time you are out for dinner or just a drink and you are looking for a change of pace, a craft beer is a tasty option. Beer has gone beyond the backyard barbeque or just for watching a game; it has evolved into as much of an experience for your palate as fine dining or a great glass of wine. If you aren't sure what to try, simply ask and if you are in Las Vegas you can be sure that Mandalay Bay is a great place to begin your beer journey.

For more information visit: Mandalay Bay

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