Beer is booming! But if you are reading this post, then that’s no surprise to you. With near fifteen percent growth for each of the last two years, many don’t know that the craft beer industry is one of the brightest sectors in a flimsy economy. Even in the sleepy Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, the sudsy trends are beginning to take hold. With two new breweries opening in the past year and two more slated for the upcoming months, Lexingtonian’s thirst for beer is emerging with force.
The collective patience that Central Kentucky portrays has impelled the beer scene. We who live here kid that we are always twenty years behind. What’s really happening is that we aren’t as swayed by rash trends or as adventurous as a culture as many in more progressive and daring cities. (Hell, we never even took sides during the Civil War.) This notion may explain why craft beer has been slow to evolve here, leaving our beer enthusiasts to revert to long travels, on-line trading or sales, or worse -- buying the industrial domestic products are marketed on race cars and billboards.
The mid-1990s saw the microbrewery trend catch fire with excitement, until they folded for similar reasons. The Oldenburg Taproom (Kentucky Brewing Company) and the Lexington City Brewery rose quickly and fell even quicker, mainly due to the large financial undertaking of the beers and facilities that their infant fan base could not support.
As the memories of those companies faded, many drinkers resumed their bourbon, wine, and cocktail trends. (It seems that the memory of those beers now is certainly greater than the support they got when they were open. The longer those breweries remain closed, the better their beers get!) What we didn’t know then is that eight out of every ten microbreweries were failing across the country -- not because the beer drinking populous was digressing, but because they were getting smarter. No longer were we supporting poorly constructed microbrews and their money-grubbing cheap ale producers. We started to understand the differences between a watery hefeweizen and a high quality Franziskaner. We turned from grassy IPAs in favor of Goose Island IPA, and similar examples span the 100 or so styles of beer that were available elsewhere.
When the Kentucky Brewing Company and Lexington City Brewery closed, it provided a void of local options. But that same void made Lexington attractive to the quality breweries who remained in the local market -- Goose Island Brewery, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Stone Brewing Company, Dogfish Head Brewery, and later Three Floyds Brewing Company and Founders Brewing Company. With free reign on a community of a highly educated, half-million population of largely young professionals with a thirst for beer, these breweries enjoyed great success. The bourbon-insired “loose” alcohol laws, no alcohol cap, and easy access along I-64/I-75 all made it easy for breweries to get their libations to Bluegrass connoisseurs.
Craft Beer Grows at the Pub Scene
Marikka’s Bierstube and Pazzo’s Pizza Pub became the conduit for getting the flavors to customers with dedication to the craft beer market and a pleasant atmosphere. In that ten-year span, a few existing pubs began adding quality bottles and taps to their portfolio while the Chase Taproom and a few chains like BHG’s The Pub and Old Chicago sprout up periodically. Still, the region had not dedicated itself to the building beer culture that was on full display in similar-sized towns like Eugene, OR, Boulder, CO, or Asheville, NC.
Alltech Buys In
Lexington Brewing Company, also known as the “Kentucky Ale” brewery, which was a resurrection of the nostalgic Limestone Brewery that closed a few years prior. Famed for their Hemp Ale and Limestone Ale, Limestone Brewery prided themselves in local limestone-rich water, indigenous ingredients, and surly personalities, however their quality and consistency never measured up. Thus, much of their beer was enjoyed as novelty and never really taken seriously.
The residual effect of the Alltech purchase was a microbrewery that operated according to older and more traditional brewing models. To pay homage to the frequently defiant Lexington Brewing Company, which had operated prior to, after, and actually during prohibition, Alltech’s operation took on the namesake for their brewery. Kentucky Ale came out first, followed by Kentucky Light (Kölsch-style ale) and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. These brands soon became flagships that Lexingtonians could call their own. With a sparse one-off release for the Pro-Am division of the Great American Beer Festival or a whimsical notion at trial-and-error, the brewery only timidly accepted the craft beer culture that was developing a local flare and the brewery remains somewhat remote and disconnected from their fans.
The Movement Accelerates
|The selection at Lexington bottleshop |
and beer bar, the Beer Trappe
Danville Makes Its Mark
|Source: The World In My Kitchen|
With growth, however, come growing pains. As the frenzy of craft beer escalated across the country, many breweries that enjoyed tremendous success in the region begin retracting their products -- not because the interest floundered, but because the demand for their products closer to home required that breweries shift their distribution. The exodus of Flying Dog, Great Divide, and others became a gleaming opportunity of a new breed of beer business owners. Now the time is right -- high interest and low competition fuels the opportunity for microbreweries to flourish in Lexington once again.
Lexington Gets Two New Breweries
Country Boy Brewing Company and West Sixth Brewing Company. Both opening within the past seven months, they now have a few locally produced beers of their own. Each of these breweries embrace the community in charming and unique ways. A visit to Country Boy’s taproom seems more like going over to your ole buddy’s garage to brew with him and take on a few of their highly experimental beers. They certainly celebrate the rural attitude of the farmhands around the Bluegrass while situated steps from the University of Kentucky campus. The West Sixth brewery is the artistic and streamlined brewery that occupies part of a funky and hip culture of beer and straddles your comfort zones with art and flavor. Both are best enjoyed at their respective taprooms, however West Sixth distributes cans of its flagship IPA. Both breweries keep the beer drinker’s attention with special releases and events that keep us all coming back.
A New Lexington Gastropub
The first of its kind, The Village Idiot, opened less than a month ago. The Idiot revels in its recommended pairings of gourmet burgers with American Brown Ales, duck sliders with American Pale Ales, savory date and bacon appetizers with Dopplebock, and bread pudding with Bourbon Barrel Ales. It’s no longer acceptable for a Sommeliers to tell you which wine to drink with marsala; now Cicerones explain the links and contrasts of the flavors in the dish to the flavors of the beer to create a culinary event that uses beer to heighten the sensation of taste rather than mindlessly accompany the plate. It’s a new way to enjoy beer in all its glory and Lexington has embraced it beyond measure.
More Breweries on the Way
Glenn's Creek Brewery, located in nearby Woodford County, and the Blue Stallion Brewing Company, which will focus on properly sculpted beers in the German and the British styles.
With all the chatter about more plans in the works, there seems to be no end to the enthusiasm and thirst among beer drinkers in and around Lexington. As someone who keeps a finger on the pulse of our local beer scene, I am asked daily if Lexington is nearing critical mass when it comes to our craft beer market. I excitedly explain that I don’t know where critical mass is, but I can’t wait to see what it looks like!
Kevin abandoned careers in both architecture and the U.S. Army in 2008 and 2001 respectively to focus on his passion for beer. When not writing beer related columns for various publications and websites, he can be found talking beer and pouring pints at The Beer Trappe where he is their Resident Beer Guide and weekend manager. He is a nationally ranked BJCP beer judge and a Cicerone Certified Beer Server. He teaches Beer School at The Beer Trappe, writes beer reviews on beeradvocate.com under the username BEERchitect, and tweets about the Central Kentucky beer scene on Twitter under the handle @BEERchitect.