Sergio’s World Beers: a Louisville Beer Mecca

louisville beer - sergio's world beersI’m a Beatles fan, and as such have made two treks to my Mecca – otherwise known as Liverpool, England. While in Liverpool, I imbibed many times on Cains beer.

Founded in 1858, Cains – as far as I had ever known – was only brewed for sale in grocery stores and via a few pubs in and around Liverpool. Imagine my surprise when I walked into Sergio’s World Beers in Louisville, Ky. recently, and found Cains Finest Bitter on draft.

“The pride of Liverpool,” the bartender, Cory, confirmed when I asked if it was the real thing.

I tell this story because if Liverpool is a Mecca for Beatles fans, Sergio’s is a Mecca for beer lovers. If you’re looking for it, well, walk into Sergio’s and chances are, you’ve found it. With 40 taps and roughly 1,500 total beers in stock, it’s a mind-blowing experience for lovers of craft and imported beers of all kinds.

Owner Sergio Ribenhoim is usually on hand to chat with customers and to tell them what’s new, what’s coming and make recommendations. Interestingly, Ribenhoim said “at least a third” of his patrons are out-of-towners who are beer lovers visiting Louisville or who have made the pilgrimage.

Sergio’s was recently named to Draft Magazine’s “America’s Top 100 Beer Bars”, and it’s no surprise.

louisville beer - sergio's world beers

Come for the beer, stay for the company. Well, and the beer.

Ribenhoim travels the world on beer pilgrimages of his own, and has developed relationships with brewers and exporters from Brazil to Belgium and most points in between. He visits traditional breweries as well as monasteries trying the best beers in the world.

Interestingly, Ribenhoim doesn’t come across like one might expect – tell a stranger this story and they tend to envision the guy from the Dos Equis commercials, complete with dashing smile and ascot. No, Ribenhoim can usually be found at Sergio’s sporting shorts, sneakers, a t-shirt and a baseball cap. And he’s no beer snob, either – the guy is a purist, a true beer lover. If you come in with no idea what you want, he’ll help you find something you like.

Sergio’s remains mysterious, nevertheless. Interestingly, there is no signage. The only décor in the front door and windows are international flags hanging there like curtains. Why?

“We don’t want people to pop in and say, ‘Hey, put the football game on,’” he said. “We are trying to cater to people who are truly interested in what we have to offer.”

Which is to say, a Bud drinker just looking for a place to wet his whistle might bristle at paying $9 for a b, a brown sour ale from Switzerland I tried during a recent visit to Sergio’s. And you won’t find Bud at Sergio’s.

“He’s really kind of word of mouth,” said regular customer Ken Solomon. “He’s not much into marketing.”

Another interesting aspect about Sergio’s is his pay-when-you’re-done policy, based entirely on the honor system. One would think such a policy would invite dishonesty and thievery, but Ribenhoim quickly refutes that notion.

“I got tired of people always demanding my [credit] card and holding on to my card as if I was going to run away,” he said. So, he doesn’t want his customers to ever feel they are under suspicion.

The bar is cash-only to thwart issues with card processing, which is how breaches can happen. Also, the 300 unique beer glasses from around the world are safe as well.

“We never, never have glasses stolen,” Ribenhoim said.

Another aspect of what makes Sergio’s so unique is that there are beer coolers everywhere, and customers are encouraged to help themselves. Browsing is part of the fun – in fact, a couple of the coolers are even in the kitchen, so you may well be perusing exotic German beers while the kitchen staff is making a burrito.

One standard, white home refrigerator in the dining area bears a sign that reads, “Open Door – Awesome Beers Inside.”

louisville beer - sergio's world beersHe first opened the business in 2007 in Shelbyville, Ky., and moved to the current location in a Louisville neighborhood known as Butchertown about four years ago. As to why he decided to create such a unique beer bar, he credits his other half.

“The day I told my wife I had 6,000 bottles in my collection is when she said I should do this professionally,” he said.

Asked why he loves beer so much, he answers simply, “the flavors.” But he expands his answer into talking about beer styles he loves, such as lambics and strong Belgian ales. He extols the virtues of the Trappist monks, who make his favorite beers.

“To see that type of sacrifice,” he said, “makes it worthy to enjoy their beers.”

At 60, Ribenhoim shows no signs of slowing down. Soon, he’ll be off to Frankfurt, Brussels and Barcelona for another 30-day trek. The irony is that while he’s off on his own pilgrimage, other pilgrims will be trekking to Sergio’s World Beers.

“One of the great things about [Sergio’s],” said Solomon, “is – and I’m here a lot – someone will come in and say, ‘Back when I was in Germany, I used to drink ‘this’ beer.’ And Sergio will go get it for him.

“It’s all about the beer for him. That’s it.”

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