Ahhh … The post-graduation trip. It’s become as much a college tradition as night-before-finals cram sessions, midnight pizza runs, and skipping Friday classes.
The usual routine: Walk across the stage, snag that diploma, spend a little time with family and friends, then make a beeline for the airport. Starting a career? No time for that now. There’s four (if not more) years of steam to blow off.
So in many ways, there’s nothing at all unique about Dave and Wyndee Forrest’s three-week visit to eight European countries, a jaunt that immediately followed their 2004 graduation from UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality. Well, except for this: During their grand tour, they discovered a passion that would ultimately lead to careers that neither in a million years saw coming when their plane took off from Las Vegas and headed east.
Fooled around and fell in love with beer
It’s the romantic tale you’ve heard so many times before: Boy from Canada meets girl from Southern California while both are working on a cruise ship. They fall in love, get married, move to Las Vegas to attend college, and spend the next four years working toward their hotel administration degrees — him with an emphasis on recreation and leisure studies, her with a focus on entertainment management.
Among the many things Dave and Wyndee had in common at this point in their lives: Neither loved beer. Which brings us back to that European vacation, the one that changed their lives.
“We weren’t big beer drinkers at the time, but when we got to Europe, we were immersed in a beer-drinking culture for the first time,” she said. “It opened our eyes to the fact that a beer could be full-flavored, and you could pair it with different foods that bring out different flavors and aromas. But mostly what we saw when we looked around was how beer brought people together. That’s what really hooked us.
“When we came home, we were looking for that same sense of community and those full-flavored beers. But there weren’t a lot of craft beer options in Las Vegas at the time, and none at all in Henderson. That’s when Dave started home brewing, which is when the passion took over. From there, most of our trips and vacations were planned around breweries we wanted to visit.”
One such trip was a return trek to Europe two years later, this time with their 18-month-old son in tow. When they returned home, Dave’s passion for home brewing intensified. And those close to him liked what they tasted.
“It wasn’t until I shared it with friends, family, and coworkers, and people started placing orders — ‘Hey, I’ve got a wedding; can I get a bunch of cases or some kegs?’ — that I thought, ‘Maybe this needs to be something more.’”
Still, the thought of opening their own brewery was beyond far-fetched. Wyndee had her hands full with a growing family (they now have three teenage children), and Dave had a full-time job as a hotel valet. But everything changed in 2010, when Dave entered a contest and was among 10 home brewers invited to a three-day “beer camp” at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s flagship brewery in Chico, California.
“I got to meet all the people behind Sierra Nevada and learn how much they were stewards of the environment, and how much they cared about the quality of their product and their community,” Dave says. “And I got to brew a beer. It was amazing.”
Upon returning home, Dave enthusiastically lobbed an idea to his wife: “Let’s move to Chico — we can work for Sierra Nevada!”
Wyndee quickly volleyed back a pragmatic response: “Dave, there’s not a lot going on in Chico. What if we try to open a brewery here?”
Soon, Wyndee went to work creating a business plan. In 2012, the couple approached the City of Henderson with their concept to open a brewery and taproom. Enter the mammoth hurdle: a $60,000 licensing fee, which wasn’t exactly in the Forrests’ budget.
Over the next 16 months, Dave and Wyndee worked with the city’s leaders and eventually swayed the City Council to remove the gaming component that was attached to all brewpub licenses. The cost of the new non-gaming license? A more manageable $10,000.
It was a huge win — and not just for what would in 2014 become CraftHaus.
“The whole ‘why’ of why we wanted to open CraftHaus was to build a community, which obviously has to include other breweries because you can’t have a community of one,” Wyndee said. “We knew for CraftHaus to succeed, we needed other breweries to join us.”
Building a crew for brew
Like most small businesses, CraftHaus gained traction — and a loyal customer base — through a quality product and strong word of mouth. Today, CraftHaus is once again thriving with 15 team members spread across both locations.
Also part of the team is Cameron Fisher, an ’09 BS Hospitality graduate who has been CraftHaus’ head brewer since 2018. Like his bosses, Fisher fell into the industry by accident. During his junior year, while pursuing his degree in food service management, Fisher learned about an off-campus home brewing demonstration. It was presented by a UNLV instructor.
“He invited his class — which wasn’t one I was taking — and not a single student showed up,” Fisher says. “So I got a one-on-one demonstration and got the homebrewing bug.”
After graduating, Fisher landed jobs at breweries in his hometown of Denver, and in Portland. Later, when he learned there was an opening for head brewer, Dave and Wyndee added a fellow Rebel to the roster.
While all three essentially stumbled into careers in the beer-making business, each is quick to note UNLV’s impact on their collective success. Fisher points specifically to learning about everything from food safety to bookkeeping to managing inventories. And Wyndee Forrest, who initially went to work in public relations and marketing after graduating, has applied those skills to spread the word about CraftHaus.
“I’m proud to say I’m a Rebel,” she said. “There’s no other university that has a hospitality program that is so thorough — not even Cornell, although they’ll argue that. It’s something that’s unique and distinct.”
The same could be said of the newest beer on the CraftHaus menu, a golden ale that Fisher perfected and the team dubbed Rebel Spirit in a nod to their alma mater. With a label that’s an homage to campus landmarks, Rebel Spirit is available in 16-ounce four packs and on draft at both the Henderson and Arts District taprooms, with a portion of the proceeds being donated back to the university
The partnership between CraftHaus and UNLV also extends to past and future university events where CraftHaus beers have been poured. And soon, undergraduate Hospitality College students will get the opportunity to visit CraftHaus to learn the ins and outs of the brewing process, how to operate a service industry-based business, and how to make a positive difference in the community.
“Our goal with CraftHaus was to bring the community together, and we know beer can be a catalyst for that,” Dave Forrest said. “And the idea of giving back to the community extends to our university. We would love to be able to cultivate fellow Rebels to become future brewers and business owners.”