Resident beer expert Roger Baylor takes a look at how far our local brewing has come…
The Kentucky Derby has taken place right here in Louisville every year since 1875. From 1979 through 1992, there was no locally brewed beer to celebrate the Run for the Roses, but when Sea Hero captured the race in 1993, a few hardy and pioneering microbrew fans could be found drinking Silo Red Rock Ale. Later that fall, Bluegrass Brewing Company was founded, and there Louisville’s present-day craft beer story really begins.
Bluegrass Brewing Company
David Pierce, left the Silo after a year to help the Hagan family open BBC’s original Shelbyville Road location. Among the many beers Pierce introduced during his 16-year tenure at BBC was Dark Star Porter, named f or the 1953 Derby winner. He began BBC’s tradition of bourbon barrel aging, for which BBC is the most recognized regional practitioner. In 2011, local beer geeks became very excited when former Dogfish Head brewer Jeremy Hunt came to BBC.
BBC’s on-premise locations now include two brewpubs and a third non-brewing restaurant, each with a full selection of BBC drafts, bottles and growlers for carry-out, and diverse, chef-driven food menus with classic brewpub burgers, salads, wings, nachos and pizza. There’s also a BBC production brewery at the Beer Corner of Clay & Main, where brewer Joel Halbleib oversees the brewing and packaging of BBC beers for outside distribution. It has a tap room but no kitchen; you can bring your own food, or have some delivered from nearby eateries.
The late 1990’s saw a handful of Louisville brewing start-ups, but none lasted until 2000 and the advent of Cumberland Brews, with its impossibly small 2-barrel brewhouse. There’s now a larger Cumberland brewing plant nearby, but nothing much else has changed, especially the company’s home-grown, hands-on approach as a true “neighborhood” restaurant and brewery. In addition to brewer Cameron Finnis’s beer staples like Cream Ale, Pale Ale and Nitro Porter, Cumberland Brews offers daily food specials, seafood, bison, and reliable vegetarian options.
Against the Grain
In 2011, Against the Grain inherited the stunning tower brewery within the walls of Louisville Slugger Field, once used by the defunct Browning’s Brewery. In a city filled with onetime BBC employees, Against the Grain surely has the most, including head brewer Jerry Gnagy, owners, chefs, managers and bottle washers. They have created an edgy, innovative vibe. Against the Grain keeps it both simple and complicated, all at once, by offering six broad beer flavor categories: Session, Hop, Whim, Malt, Dark, and Smoke. The house beers brewed to fit these categories change constantly; in essence, each brew is a new beer, and every one is a specialty. You’ll see classic styles, and boundary-breaking experiments.
Against the Grain’s kitchen holds a mirror to its brewery, and often elects to smoke what it sees reflected: Smokehouse staples like pulled pork and smoked wings, and also vegetarian and vegan options (seitan wings, anyone?), themselves frequently smoked.
New Albanian Brewing Company
In spite of his strident reputation, the author is modest, and seeks always to avoid the temptation to prattle about his own business. That said, I have a nice, chilled Miller Lite for us to share while noting NABC’s two locations in New Albany, located minutes across the Ohio River in Southern Indiana: The original Pizzeria & Public House on the north side, and Bank Street Brewhouse, a gastropub in the city’s revitalizing downtown.
First as Sportstime Pizza, than adding Rich O’s Public House, NABC has been in business since 1987. Brewing began in 2002, and with the addition of Bank Street’s larger system in 2009 – Pierce returned to Indiana shores to wield the malt shovel – it has escalated. Hoptimus, Elector and Yakima are the top brands, and other earlier beer-friendly components like the Pizzeria & Public House’s guest beer list, rated in the top ten nationwide by RateBeer.com in early 2012, have been retained.
Falls City Brewing Company
From its inception in 1905 to closure in 1978, Falls City was a regional old-school brewing legend. Later, it was contract-brewed elsewhere, and eventually became a synonym for “budget brand” before disappearing.
In 2009, a new chapter began when David Easterling acquired the brand and began a long-term revival. Falls City’s reformulated flagship beer, an English-style Pale Ale, is brewed and packaged outside of Louisville, but in 2012, the curtain will rise on a 7-barrel brewery inside the Falls City tasting room at 545 Barret Avenue. Easterling hopes to be brewing seasonals and specialties in time for Derby, and selling them at the tasting room.
BJ’s and Biersch
There is one national “chain” brewpub in Louisville, and another about to arrive. Clever progenitor of many a raised eyebrow (“My husband just loves BJ’s”), BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse does not brew at 7900 Shelbyville Road in Louisville, but rather ships in house beers from facilities in the western United States. Downtown, work has started on a Gordon Biersch outlet at Fourth Street Live. The food and beer themes at Biersch primarily are German, and trade journal want ads for brewers suggest that the Helles, Bock and Hefe-Weizen will be brewed on site.
Apocalpyse Brew Works
In an era of ancient Mayan prophecies, it will come as no surprise that 2012 is the year of the Apocalypse: Apocalypse Brew Works, a small brewery and taproom under construction at 1612 Mellwood Avenue. Founders Leah Dienes, Paul Grignon and Bill Krauth are homebrewing lifers, promising 10 beer styles on tap, ranging from classic to experimental. Apocalypse hopes to be operational by early May.