Sarah Johnson: Beermeister Extraordinaire

With the new director of F&B over at the Mandalay Bay getting all sorts of attention for being a Cicerone (the beer version of a sommelier, for those not in the know), the beer-loving eyes of the food community have been waiting for a little insight into what Sarah Johnson has in mind.  Those of you who have been obsessively glazing over this year’s schedule of events for Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncork’d will have already noticed a new event among the Robuchon Luncheons and conspicuously consumed caviar, a BEER GARDEN!  I’ll give you all a second to fish the monocle out of your champagne.


Yes, Hubert Keller talked himself into another DJ set, but this time his beatboxing ministrations will be to the tune of an Alsatian Brasserie menu by himself and consistent partner-in-crime Chef Laurent Pillard.  PROBABLY going to be the coolest of the events, and no less cool for the help of the main beerographer, Sarah Johnson.  The smart and witty and sexually attractive people who read my stuff may remember a very cool pairings dinner where Sarah and Aureole Sommelier had a fun little competition of the pairings sort.

So I thought, “Hey, let’s talk to Sarah Johnson.  Get inside her dome-piece.  Slowly assimilate her life Write a cool little interview, innocently.”  Here’s the straight dope, people.

MW:  Ok, Sarah, Brass Tacks: Your plan of action for the Las Vegas beer culture.  What are you changing, what are you starting, and what are your obstacles?

SJ:  More beer, obviously.  At Mandalay Bay, we’re positioned to promote beer and I have lots of support from the President of Mandalay. Lots of people are doing single outlet, I want to do this property-wide.  Anywhere on-property you can get a beer I think people would appreciate having a good selection, even main service bars and cafes.  The guests are really happy about it, and I’m getting great feedback.  It’s a lot to get done.  We’re even talking about a Beer weekend, like how Aureole has a wine weekend.

MW: You spent some of your career in Portland, the Mecca that beer nerds like myself pray towards.  Do you think our beer scene can ever get anywhere even near theirs?

SJ:  We can get close.  If you look at the Las Vegas food scene in the past, which basically was just a 5.99 buffet, who would have known how fine dining has blown up.  We have some local brewers making amazing beers, and more diners are catching on to the beer scene.  One of the things that attracted me to the beer culture, is the good people.  I like what’s going on locally, and I want to play on that more.  Beer lovers always check out regional beers when they travel, and we have a phenomenal opportunity to capture that when people come through.  There’s fun stuff all over, and we can really capture them and give them a voice.

MW:  Tell me what you can about the Bon Appetit event.  The people want to know!

SJ:  Ticket sales are out of control, there’s a ton of interest.  I’m still locking down the beers, talking to the brewers, so that’s still a secret.  There will be take home things, beer stations, entertainment, band, communal tables.  It’s all taking place in the center bar, Mizuya.  This is their first beer specific event, so I want it to come out perfect.

MW:  Lets say you become the Royal Matriarch of New Las Vegas.  The bombs have dropped, the world is a wasteland, except for this glittering walled city.  Your brutal tyrannical government runs the only brewery supplying 7 million subjects, and there is only enough equipment for one style of beer per season.  Give me TWO of Queen Sarah the First’s beers.

SJ: Oh no!  Well, I’d have to do a real hop-bomb imperial IPA.  Just tons of hops, a real tongue cringer.  Like seriously, I can’t feel my tongue.  Then for our long summers, a nice saison.  Tart, maybe a bit hop bitterness, and super funky.

MW:  Last question.  Favorite restaurant?

SJ:  A place that has a really solid menu and beer list, Sage in the Aria.  I usually just go for whatever the chef is doing on the seasonal or tasting menu, and I always love it.

Well there you have it folks.  I know I’m looking forward to this event, the Grand Tasting, and Vegas Uncork’d at large.  In some circles, it’s a far far better thing than the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, and the Lower Oakland Roller Derby Finals all rolled into one. Keep an eye out!  This, Sarah J’s beer program, and certain upheavals in good Japanese-fusion are the indicators that the wind of change is a-blowing.

Queen Sarah the First, Arbiter of Barley and Protector of the Hops.

-Your Pal,

Mitchell Wilburn

1 thought on “Sarah Johnson: Beermeister Extraordinaire

  1. Awesome article Mitch… informative, funny and creative..and Sarah looks so pretty with her bling!

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