Certified Cicerone Russell Gardner grew up here in Vegas, and has a degree in art and commercial photography. Like many Las Vegas hospitality professionals, once he started working in the industry, he found he enjoyed it, and stayed there. His love of the craft beer industry bloomed just when the craft beer scene started to explode here in Nevada.
He started in the restaurant world at the age of 16, worked his way through the remainder of his years at Chaparral High School and through his college years as well. While working at Margaritaville, he became an intern at a local brewery, Joseph James Brewing, and his career path made a sharp turn toward beer. Eventually he became the head brewer at Joseph James. He had a hand in crafting Joseph James’ Hop Box and Red Fox beers. He went on to work for Block 16 Hospitality helping Holstein’s and Public House create some of the best tap programs in the city. While working for Block 16 Hospitality, he took the certified Cicerone test* and is now a Certified Cicerone, and he was the very first in Nevada to achieve that title. Each level’s test is more involved and requires a great deal of preparation, in addition to knowledge. He is a trailblazer and set the tone for the beer servers in this town. Several bartenders, servers and bar owners have now become Cicerones as well.
Being a Cicerone helped him land his current job, and Russell has been the Director of Craft for Bonanza Beverage Company for three years. Bonanza is distinct in the beverage distribution industry in that they sell only beer. They do not distribute spirits or wine, and they are a family-owned and -operated local concern, serving Southern Nevada exclusively. Russell’s job is multifaceted, including everything from sales and marketing to menu and recipe development. He says the part of his job he enjoys the most is the education aspect and loves teaching people the ins and outs of tasting events and helping others learn about craft beer. Assisting bars and restaurants create a “balanced tap list” is one aspect of sales and marketing that aligns with the education aspect. A “balanced tap list” according to Russell is paramount to having a great beer program. It’s important to have a little of everything from light and crisp to big and heavy, because beer drinkers are more knowledgeable than ever, and their numbers and knowledge grow every year. He admits that the more handles you have, the easier it is to create that balance, but it is possible to have balance regardless of the number of tap handles. With all of the great choices in the craft beer industry right now, he has fun!
In addition to his regular duties at Bonanza, you can expect to find Russell at every beer event in town, whether he is working or not. Just look for his trademark handlebar moustache and walk up and say hello. In fact, the accompanying photo was taken at the Brews Best Craft Beer Festival benefitting New Vista, a charity focused on helping the intellectually challenged. Both Russell and Bonanza are committed to local charities and participate in events several times a year.
When not selling, serving, or enjoying beer, you can find Russell on the ice. Hockey has long been a passion for Russell and he continues to play three times a week with former professionals at local ice rinks for enjoyment and fitness. He looks forward to the arrival of our Las Vegas Golden Knights at the T-Mobile Arena, as do we all!
*From Cicerone.org: The word Cicerone (sis-uh-rohn) designates hospitality professionals with proven experience in selecting, acquiring, and serving today’s wide range of beers. In case you didn’t know, a cicerone is akin to a sommelier for beer. To learn more about the Cicerone Program, how to participate, take the exams and become a Cicerone visit https://www.cicerone.org/us-en.