This article appears in the Winter 2014 issue of Louisville SWIG. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
Talk to local brewers and you'll understand the difference between beer snobs and beer nerds. For example, the master brewer at Against the Grain, Jerry Gnagy, keeps six cases of Miller High Life on hand. This from the same ATG folks who flush any beer they make that they consider marginal. The lesson: A beer nerd will drink swill. And Apocalypse Brew Works? They're not above testing out a buckwheat-based, gluten-free beer. With such openness to tastes, it's appropriate that the local brew biz is more community than competitive, trying neighbors' recipes and tapping into Kentucky's bourbon industry. Here, we round up the six players in town that have us craving a cold one.
Bluegrass Brewing Co.
3929 Shelbyville Road
636 E. Main St.
300 W. Main St.
660 S. Fourth St.
It’s hard to believe it’s only been 20 years since Louisville’s first brewpub, BBC in St. Matthews, made exposed mash tuns and kettles part of the city’s drinking and dining experience. Today BBC maintains two brewpubs (the second is at Third and Main streets) and another restaurant in Theater Square; plus, a separate company brews, bottles and turns out kegs of BBC’s half-dozen standard issues for sale to other bars and restaurants and maintains a low-key taproom at Clay and Main streets.
Most popular: Altbier (classic ale, alcohol by volume 4.2 percent)
Amber-colored, lightly wheaty and malty.
Staff pick: Bourbon barrel stout (using Four Roses bourbon barrels, ABV 9.5 percent on draft)
This brewer keeps 10 to 15 entries — including seasonals and specialty issues — going almost all year and has a particular knack for winter stouts, whether it’s the BB, the Dry Irish or the Heine Brothers coffee stout. The BB is rich with bourbon flavor and not overly sweet, with great chocolate and coffee undertones.
415 Bank St., New Albany
On a quiet, one-way street in downtown New Albany sits a boxy brick building that looks a bit like a three-car garage. Since 2009, the Bank Street Brewhouse has served as the New Albanian Brewing Co.’s hub. Shiny silver fermentation tanks stand guard next to the dining area, where customers often gorge on heaps of delicious pommes frites, a perfect partner for NABC’s craft beers. (The same team runs the NABC Pizzeria and Public House off Grant Line Road in New Albany, formerly Rich O’s.)
Most popular: Hoptimus (IPA, ABV 10.7 percent)
Staff pick: Elector (imperial red ale, ABV 7.5 percent)
This New Albanian staple is a darker cousin of Hoptimus, with just a touch of sweetness. Incredibly satisfying with devoured menu favorite the cheese plate.
1576 Bardstown Road
Cumberland Brews opened in 2000. Wait, hold on a sec: Cumberland has been around for 14 years? “I know, I hear that a lot. It surprises people,” owner Mark Allgeier, 44, says. “People forget. I think it’s because we’re kind of a small niche spot.” The brewery is basically a house on busy Bardstown Road, carpeted stairs leading to the cozy second floor and its fireplace. That’s for the wintertime. When the weather turns? No better spot in all of Louisville than one of the street-side tables.
Most popular: IPA (ABV, 7.7 percent) and red ale (ABV, 5.9 percent)
“The IPA is definitely hoppy, with a citrus finish,” Allgeier says. “And the red, I don’t know how else to say it: It is probably one of the hoppiest reds around.”
Staff pick: Meade (ABV 7 percent)
“We move a lot of meade,” Allgeier says. “How much honey do we put in that? It’s a lot. Like 10 gallons of honey per batch.”
Against the Grain
401 E. Main St.
“We’re small potatoes,” says Shane Benton, Against the Grain’s “senior manager/goat father” (yep, that’s on the business card). Yet at just more than two years old, ATG has a cult following that includes its beer club, Grainiacs, who get insider information on new brews and events. The spacious smokehouse (try the wings dipped in honey) includes a Victorian-style brewery, which means it is gravity-fed — no pumps. “For beer nerds,” Benton says, “it means the beer’s not getting beat up on a molecular level.”
Most popular: Bo & Luke (imperial stout, ABV 14 percent)
Aged in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels. “Whenever we tap it, it’s a party,” Benton says. “It usually sells out within a few hours.” Hours, people. Hours! Then you have to wait six months to taste it again so the beer can age.
Staff pick: 70k (imperial milk stout, ABV 13 percent)
This one’s aged in Angel’s Envy barrels. Bourbon plus sweet and creamy equals dessert.
Apocalypse Brew Works
1612 Mellwood Ave.
Apocalypse’s end-of-the-world theme is part intentional, part happy accident. A razor-wire chain-link fence encloses the parking lot, but after almost two years in business, co-owner and brewer Leah Dienes has no plans to take it down. “It keeps the zombies out,” she says, adding that dogs are allowed for the same reason: to protect against invaders. The brewpub takes it further, naming beers Fallout Dust and Atomic Amber. The fermentation tanks are made out of recycled equipment from the ’60s. In the future, Dienes says, “No one will be manufacturing anything anymore,” noting the impending decline of humanity.
Most popular: Hoptrocution (IPA, ABV 10 percent)
IPA is still alive.
Staff pick: Butchertown Brown (brown ale, ABV 4.8 percent)
A classic northern English brown with heavy malt.
Falls City Brewing Co.
Tasting room at 545 E. Barret Ave.
A reboot of a Louisville brewery that began in 1905, survived Prohibition by selling ice and “near beer,” then dominated the Ohio River Valley region long before Americans decided all beer should taste like Miller or Budweiser, gradually weakening its recipe until closing in 1978. Revived in 2010 with a formula meant to recapture the original, Falls City now produces a damn good pale ale. It also has seasonal brews, including a wheat ale and a black IPA.
Most popular: English pale ale (ABV 4. 5 percent)
A distant cousin to the Falls City pale ale from the 1930s but no kin to the more common Falls City extra-pale lager your dad or granddad drank.
Staff pick: English pale ale. The masses are spot on. Well done, beer drinkers. This pale ale is crisp, only modestly hoppy, with a hint of caramel and just stout enough to fill you up without discouraging you from having another. As good from the bottle as on tap.
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