HopCat Grand Opening

0729162035bThe beer behemoth HopCat has opened in the Highlands, and I managed to get into the VIP “soft” opening. All I’ll say is this: That’s a lot of damn beer. Inside, the place feels exactly as it should, with just the right kind of shtick, from vinyl albums on the ceiling to velvet paintings to a wall adorned with 1980s album art.

In addition, there are three bars, including a massive bar in the middle of the first floor with beer taps as far as the eye can see. The feel of the place is somewhere between a New Orleans hotel and a riverboat, if that makes any sense. Lots of wood, brass and classic adornment make HopCat a fabulous place to have a beer with your friends. Or five beers, whatever.

While HopCat does have 132 taps bubbling over with craft brews and ciders, it was the Local 20 that took center stage at the VIP party – that being 20 local and regional beers that are the unchanging staples of the HopCat beer list. From Against the Grain’s imminently drinkable Sho’ Nuff to Monnik’s mysterious His Dark Materials, there’s a bit of everything. In fact, that’s kind of the point – if you walk into HopCat and aren’t sure what you want (an understandable problem), the bar and wait staff will do their best to help you find what quenches you on the Local 20 list. Serving up good beer while also promoting local breweries? Not a bad combo.

Yes, parking was a pain in the pants, and that has been the outcry for the non-believers since the HopCat concept was proposed. This is a warranted complaint, as my buddy and I had to park a good four blocks away. Of course, that area of town – HopCat is located at 1064 Bardstown Road, at the corner of Grinstead – is always crazy busy on Friday and Saturday nights. Just plan on walking four blocks instead of two, and you’ll be fine. (Better yet, take Uber. Because, as I said, there’s a lot of beer to be had at HopCat.)

This post was originally published by Men’s Best Guide.

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Two new brewery bus tours about to launch in Louisville

Beer flightMike Stokes was never a beer guy until about nine years ago when he went to a beer tasting at Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati. He was sampling Goose Island beers with the original owners of the brewery when it hit him.

“I tried all these fantastic beers, they told us about the process for brewing them,” he tells Insider. “It just fascinated me.”

The experience propelled the former banking professional to not only explore the depths of beer like he never had before, but also to launch a side business: Cincy Brew Bus. It started as a part-time side endeavor with a tour that included 12 people, and it has grown into a full-blown business. Multiple bus tours every weekend carry 150-200 people.

And now Stokes is bringing it to Louisville in the form of Lou’s Brew Bus. The first public tour takes place this Saturday, Oct. 24; it launches at Gordon Biersch downtown with stops at Great Flood Brewing, Goodwood Brewing, Against the Grain and Flat 12 Bierwerks.

Riders will get a pint or a flight at each stop; the cost is $50 per person, but part of the deal is that for first-time riders, there is a code for one free Uber ride included, as well as a discount at the Hyatt Regency downtown for people who want to stay downtown and not drive home when the tour is over.

Of course, what Stokes wants to avoid is Lou’s Brew Tours becoming what he calls a “party bus.” In other words, this bus tour isn’t about drinking for drinking’s sake; it’s about appreciating good beer. As such, the tours will include Louisville beer history, historical site stops, as well as tours at most of the brewery stops, tips on proper tasting techniques, trivia, prize giveaways and more.

“We’re going to talk beer all day,” Stokes says of the tour. “We’ll talk beer and we’ll talk Louisville.”

While he is a Cincinnati native, Stokes’ interest in Louisville comes in part because his grandfather is a Louisvillian. In addition, Stokes last year began reading about Louisville’s brewing history and became intrigued.

“Here, you have the bourbon empire of the world, but nestled underneath that is this brewing industry that flourished for decades,” he says. Adding some history to the tour “only enhances the experience.”

Stokes believes Cincinnati, which has a rich brewing history of its own, and Louisville are a lot alike in that way, making his expansion into this market an easy fit.

“The two cities really parallel each other,” Stokes says.

While he owns buses that shuttle customers in the Cincy Brew Bus tours, he says he will rent buses here until he knows the business is sustainable.

Brewery tours are not a new concept for Louisville; Mint Julep Tours does brewery and distillery tours, and other such tours have begun to spring up sporadically as well, but the city has yet to get a permanent tour. Stokes wants Lou’s Brew Bus tours to run every weekend, barring holidays or harsh weather.

“If there are people there,” he says, “we’ll run it.”

Derby City Brew Bus logoMeanwhile, Derby City Brew Bus is eyeing a Friday, Nov. 13, launch. This fledgling operation, which is the creation of Keith Joy, will start with a street bonfire in front of the Falls City brewery on 10th Street. Joy says the event, which will run 5-9 p.m., will include several breweries and food trucks.

Joy is already conducting private, by-appointment tours; the first public Derby City brewery tour will happen the day after the launch event, on Nov. 14 at 2 p.m., with stops at Falls City, Akasha and Goodwood.

“We will basically tour the operation,” Joy says. “People will get a chance to talk to the brewers and see how their beer is made.”

From there, Joy hopes to have tours every weekend, including Fridays at 6:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Brewery stops will always be rotating, much like with the Lou’s Brew Bus tours.

For Stokes, brewery tours are simply a natural evolution of the craft beer scene, not just here, but everywhere.

“Every good brewing town has a brew bus,” he says. “It’s already a thing to do in Cincinnati. I only see it getting bigger.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

Floyd County Brewing brings Medieval food and fun

FCBC1Walking into Floyd County Brewing Company in downtown New Albany is a bit like walking into one of those faux taverns at a Renaissance Festival — there are coats of arms decorating one wall, a giant battle helmet in one corner, a bow with arrows on a side wall, and arched doorways that allow visitors to peek into the brewhouse. (Heck, the men’s room even pays tribute to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”)

The only thing missing is a tightly cinched beer wench and a weekend minstrel whose voice carries just a little too far.

But what one finds after settling in for a few minutes is that the playful presentation is all part of a warm and inviting atmosphere where the servers and bartenders are friendly, the food is comforting and the Medieval-themed beer is fresh.

The brewery features six house brews and four rotating guest taps, liquor (in case someone in your party doesn’t like beer) and a menu that pays homage to British pubs. In fact, I was thrilled to find that one of the requisite side dishes with the fish and chips at Floyd County Brewing is a dish called “mushy pea.” When I’ve been to Liverpool, England, I’ve found mushy pea pretty much comes with everything you order — and it isn’t even on the menu.

But I decided to take my time and start with an order of the house chips and beer cheese to go with a flight of four, which was served to me in a small wooden box.

The chips were thick cut and would be a fine snack or side on their own, while the beer cheese was a thick, creamy concoction with an interesting flavor. The dark orange dip had the cheesy tang one expects, and just enough spice to let your palate know it’s there, but there is something else. And then I tried the amber ale — with which the cheese dip is made — and it all came clear.

The beer — or “Froth,” as the menu dubs it — at Floyd County Brewing tends to take on its own personality, with a Belgian bent and some interesting flavor choices. The ArrowSmith Amber Ale (is that a nod to the band Aerosmith? It almost has to be, doesn’t it?) features “hints of orange and coriander,” according to the menu. It’s actually quite an interesting and drinkable beer, but it tripped me up in the beer cheese.

FCBC4Meanwhile, the Dungeon Deeds Irish Stout is mostly typical to the style, with a deep dark black color but a surprisingly light body with a bit of a bite to the finish and possibly even a hint of fruit. The Belchin Serf Saison veers away from lighter versions of the style to a lightly acidic profile with plenty of fruit derived from Belgian yeast. It’s almost a little funky, like beers brewed with wild yeast, so if you like esters in your beer, you’ll like this one.

The Hoppy Jester IPA is nicely balanced with a citrusy, floral nose, with less bitterness than its 100 IBU suggests. And the Brewess Blonde Ale is a hazy, golden beer with a big Belgian flavor (more Belgian yeast). And the BarBEARian Belgian Brown is exactly what you think it is. Head brewer Jeff Coe isn’t afraid to utilize Belgian styles.

While I was drawn to the fish and chips (with mushy pea!), the Renn Faire feel finally got to me, so I ordered King Louie’s Drumstick for dinner — it’s a giant turkey leg served with rice and a vegetable medley, presumably to help balance the meat onslaught of a piece of bird that huge.

Seriously, it was gigantic, and I got through about half the meal before asking for a to-go box. The turkey leg, which was tender and almost dripping but with a tight, almost crunchy skin rubbed with spices, nearly didn’t fit inside. The rice was tender and delicious, and the vegetables were fresh, flavorful and maintained a bit of crispness.

Other interesting-looking entrees include Bangers and Mash, Nimwit’s Pot of Gold (a pork and seafood steam pot), and ArrowSmith Chicken Skewers. Some tempting appetizers included Nutty Knights Pork Hammers (pork ribs) and Able Archers Pretzel and Cheese. You can also get salads, soup, sandwiches and burgers, and there’s a kids menu for family-friendliness.

Appetizers range from $7 to $12, while entrees top out at $13, and most sandwiches are $10. My only real complaint was the price of the beer, which rang in a $6 per 16-ounce pint for Floyd County Brewing beers and $7 per pint for guest taps. Six bucks a pint is well above pretty much every other brewery in town, and what I found strange was that a growler fill, which basically includes four 16-ounce beers, is only $10. The discount for taking it home is so great, it very well might deter people from hanging out in the bar.

Overall, though, it’s a fun premise and is situated in a rising part of downtown New Albany that caters to people coming to and from Horseshoe Casino. The prime location and attentive service will only help. There is also live music sometimes (maybe that’s when the minstrel shows up). And, hey, they have mushy pea.

Floyd County Brewing Company is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday. It is located at 129 W. Main St. in New Albany.

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

Homebrew: Craft beer before craft beer was cool

Photo courtesy of LAGERS.

Photo courtesy of LAGERS.

The mustachioed 20-something sips away at his IPA of the week as he peers around the bar. All around him, people drink beers of all styles, colors and creeds. “Craft beer” is the buzz term of the 2010s thanks to a beer-drinking public that has increasingly demanded more and more from its beer than a 12-ounce, ice-cold bottle of “Corporate Light” can muster.

But good beer has been around for centuries. And it’s been around Louisville since the city was settled in the late 1700s and even after the fall of commercial brewing here in 1978. Home brewers kept the boilers burning in small batches during Prohibition, and they kept them burning even when light beers became the American fancy and the boilers at Falls City were turned off. At that point, the only beer Louisvillians — and most Americans — had available to drink was what many beer enthusiasts now call “corporate swill.”

So it was that a group of brewing enthusiasts came together in 1989, before the first microbrewery would open in Louisville, to form the Louisville Area Grain & Extract Research Society, or LAGERS. The founding members were making “craft beer” back when it was still just called “beer.” In other words, they were making craft beer before craft beer was cool.

Bob Capshew was a founding member of LAGERS, and he’d been brewing at home for several years prior, having been a member of homebrew clubs in Houston (The Foam Rangers) and Salt Lake City, a club which he and wife Maureen illegally founded in their living room. The name? ZZ Hops. He would come to Louisville in the late 1980s with a mind to brew, but no homebrew club existed then.

He attended an American Homebrew Association meeting at the now defunct Oldenburg Brewery near Cincinnati and met some homebrewers from Louisville, which is how the kernel of LAGERS was formed. He began talking with brewers such as Eileen Martin (who brewed for Silo Microbrewery and Browning’s), David Pierce (Silo, Bluegrass Brewing Company and New Albanian), Deneen Hooper (a past LAGERS president), Brian Kolb (Silo) and Rick Buckman, among others.

“We just started talking,” Capshew said.

Pierce had been brewing for a number of years after learning the craft from his father while using a book called “The Beginner’s Home Brew Book,” by Lee Coe, which was published in 1972.

“It was your typical, you know, three-pound-can-of-malt-and-10-pounds-of-sugar homebrew recipes,” Pierce said in a 2014 interview. “But Lee got into some different styles. Back then there were no styles of swill.”

Photo courtesy of LAGERS.

Photo courtesy of LAGERS.

The small group had been meeting at a restaurant in Portland called Toll Bridge Inn, but Pierce was one of several interested in forming an official homebrew organization. Capshew sent out a notice to the homebrewers he knew, and so it was that Robin Garr (long before he was LEO’s food writer) wrote a blurb in The Courier-Journal’s Scene magazine inviting brewers to meet and potentially form a club.

A restaurant owner named Martin Twist saw the ad as well and offered the group a meeting and brewing space. It was at Charley’s Restaurant, located at Sixth and Main Street (today it is Los Aztecas), that the LAGERS began regularly meeting and brewing. One of the beers brewed was even sold to customers, as Charley’s had a brewing license.

“You don’t hear much mention of [Charley’s] because we only brewed about 15 gallons of beer,” Pierce said. But among the homebrews LAGERS created was that small batch that was sold on draft at the restaurant for a short time.

The beer that was brewed, Pierce said, was basically a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone that he, Capshew and a brewer named Herb Roderick made; Pierce had found a recipe in a Compuserve beer forum, cultivated some yeast from a bottle of Sierra Nevada, and the LAGERS created the beer. Oddly, he said, it was sold under the name “Charley’s Cream Ale.”

Not long after, another homebrew club formed in New Albany, Indiana, called Fermenters of Special Southern Indiana Libations Society (FOSSILS) and it would make its home at what is now New Albanian Brewing Co. The club started with just seven members primarily as a beer appreciation group, but grew to as many as 200 members and crossed over with the LAGERS group. FOSSILS still meets at New Albanian and will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a cookout in September. Capshew was and is an active member, along with Roger Baylor, co-founder of New Albanian and, as it was known then, Rich O’s Public House.

“We have about a half dozen folks who are still members that were original members 25 years ago,” current FOSSILS president Richard Rush said. “I’ve got to imagine that 25 years ago when those guys were getting started it was hard to go somewhere and get anything but Budweiser or Bud Light. They were definitely ahead of the curve; Bob has probably forgotten more about homebrewing than most people know about it.”

WHAT’S IN A HOMEBREW CLUB?

Homebrew clubs don’t just sit around and brew (and drink) beer. Sure, that’s part of it, and sharing one’s fermented concoctions is a big part of the fun, because brewers can then exchange secrets, tips, ingredients and general knowledge.

But it’s also about camaraderie, education, competition and charity. LAGERS is a supporter of the Kentucky Humane Society, and has raised more than $6,000 through recent fundraisers such as Yappy Hour at Apocalypse Brew Works, which is owned by LAGERS members Leah Dienes, Bill Krauth and Paul Grignon.

Current LAGERS president Christopher Owen said the members get together roughly twice a month, once for a regular monthly meeting and usually once for some sort of event, be it a fundraiser, a holiday party or a competition. He said the membership now is around 120, and he expects it to grow. He said there are roughly 1.2 million homebrewers in the United States now, and noted that there are 45,000 members in the American Homebrewers Association, a number that is increasing by 10 to 15 percent each year.

“It’s definitely still growing,” Owen said. “A lot of people are starting their own commercial breweries, but people have been coming into the hobby just as quickly. Homebrewing is very strong.”

Owen, who has been brewing since 2010, took over as president three years ago. He said every meeting features some sort of education — along with good beer.

“Whether it’s a tasting, an experiment, a comparison or a basic how-to,” he said, LAGERS members can expect to learn something at a meeting. “Everything else we do is pretty well balanced between learning to brew for competition, or brewing in a competition to get your own beer served somewhere around town.”

Yes, that’s one of the great features of a homebrew club like LAGERS; the club often does competitions in cooperation with local breweries (it is doing one currently with Bluegrass Brewing Company), with the winner getting to work with the commercial brewer to create a large batch of his or her beer that will be sold on draft. It’s like an amateur writer getting an article published or an aspiring singer getting her song on the radio.

“You get experience brewing on professional systems,” Owen said. “I think we’ve done five of those now. Basically, the idea was … the winner got to go to a brewery and brew with the professional brewer to brew their recipe. When we had the tapping event, the proceeds from that day went to charity.

“But it’s bragging rights. You get to tell your friends and family, ‘My beer is being served on tap in three or four restaurants in the city; get it while it’s around, there’s just one batch.’ It’s fun, plus it’s good exposure for the club.”

LAGERS also fosters brewers who want to compete at the Kentucky State Fair’s homebrew competition. The group is also heavily involved as organizers and judges. Owen said there were around 500 entries last year from across the state and southern Indiana. LAGERS also recently participated in a national competition that featured 3,800 brewers and 8,000 total beers judged.

In fact, LAGERS boasts five nationally certified beer judges in its ranks, including Owen and Dienes, and offers classes to train members to become judges. In fact, perhaps one of the most prominent beer judges in the world lives near Louisville in Pekin, Indiana, Dibs Harting, a member of FOSSILS, who was one of the early members of the Beer Judge Certification Program. He, Dienes and brewer/beer historian Conrad Selle recently collaborated on the style guidelines for Kentucky Common, a beer that was invented in Louisville in the 1800s and which is now an internationally recognized beer style.

But perhaps what’s most interesting about a homebrew club is the personalities — brewers are a balance of scientist and artist, which usually makes them interesting and sometimes quirky people — not to mention a lot of fun. The FOSSILS and LAGERS used to hold an annual picnic on the property Capshew and his wife Maureen own, and they were the stuff of legend. The Capshews later built a “barn” on the property which is basically a private bar that includes a walk-in cooler and a production space for not just beer but cider, wine and other products. It is often a gathering place for area brewers.

And the soft-spoken Dienes is not only a nationally-certified judge and co-owner of Apocalypse Brew Works, but she also is a multiple-award homebrew winner both at the state and national level, taking best of show at the Kentucky State Fair in 2003 and 2010, and earning a medal in the national homebrew competition in 2010 as well. She recalls her first LAGERS meeting, which she attended with her father in the early 1990s, with humor. She was in her 20s and had recently moved back to Louisville from Boston.

“We walked in and there was a whole room full of people,” Dienes said. “Here are these crazy women, Eileen and Deneen, with jars of pickles and smoking cigars. They were sharing beer and smoking cigars, and I thought, ‘What kind of people are these?’”

Owen has an answer to that question: “A lot of times, it’s a do-it-yourself crowd. People like crafting with their own hands; they like experimenting with whatever ingredients they’re into in at the moment. You take pride in your own beer and make it the way you want it.”

And while local homebrewing and, to an extent, LAGERS, was born of a lack of good beer, the massive availability of such beer today hasn’t turned off homebrewers. If previously the Pierces and Capshews of the world brewed out of a desire for something other than Bud Light, now it’s a deeper commitment to craft. As Owen noted, it’s a DIY mindset.

“I would consider myself a foodie,” FOSSILS president Rush said. “I love to go to new restaurants and I love to cook. The fact is that in Louisville we’re blessed with an abundance of awesome restaurants, and I enjoy patronizing them. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy cooking at home.”

Similarly, he said, “There’s no shortage of places where I can go find very unique beers. But that doesn’t change the fact I still want to make my own.”

THE ADVANCES OF HOMEBREWING

It doesn’t hurt that homebrewers these days have many more options than when LAGERS and FOSSILS began. Ingredients in the 1980s and 1990s weren’t easy to come by, so creativity was limited. As beer’s popularity grew in the 1990s and into the 2000s, however, that began to change.

“Our homebrew wasn’t that great at the time, but it got better and better,” Capshew said, recalling the early days of LAGERS and FOSSILS. “It was nothing compared to what people are doing nowadays. There were maybe three or four types of hops. We did the best we could.”

And that’s an important point. Owen pointed out that the economics of brewing dictate that homebrewers can have more fun than commercial brewers these days, and that’s a big factor in keeping the homebrewing craft growing. For one thing, it’s cheaper to make your own beer as a homebrewer, in part because you don’t have to brand or share profits with a distributor or retailer.

But ingredients are a key, too. Owen points out that there are dozens of malting companies around the world that will sell their products to homebrewers directly. If you’re a commercial brewery, you’re buying large amounts of grains because you are making big batches, because buying in quantity saves money, and profit is necessary to stay alive. But the homebrewer can often buy in single-batch quantities.

“We have a wider range of styles we can play with because we buy smaller scale,” Owen said. “There’s a lot of flexibility; you can really dial into styles. We’re buying malts from Patagonia now that have a really interesting flavor; you can’t always s get that at the local beer store. [Commercial breweries are] bound by a lot more market forces than we are.”

He likened it to making wine — since grapes are basically the sole ingredient in making wine, it’s extremely important where the grapes are grown and what the soil is like. It’s the same for grains and hops. That offers an advantage to homebrewers when it comes to experimentation and creativity.

“At the same time, you can go down to Liquor Barn and they have 2,000 beers,” Owen said. “So it’s good all around.”

Bill Krauth. Photo courtesy of LAGERS.

Bill Krauth. Photo courtesy of LAGERS.

But even commercial brewers have to start somewhere, and that is typically at home. That’s why most breweries are operated by former (or current) homebrewers. Some join clubs, but some simply learn the craft on their own. However, the art of brewing translates from home to brewery differently than one might think. To open a commercial brewery, the homebrewer must keep in mind the palate of the public and the price of the aforementioned specialized malts and hops.

And so it is that when a homebrewer opens a brewery, he or she begins chasing a different drinker. It becomes a necessity to sell beer, not just impress friends and family. If a brewery wants to expand, it is necessary to find a way into the limited number of taps around their home city, and that means going through a distributor that is contractually bound to other established breweries.

Apocalypse’s Krauth started off with a brewing kit in the early 1990s and his interest grew from there.

“I think everybody starts off with a kit,” he said. “Looking back on it, it probably tasted like shit, but everybody else said it tasted good.”

But at the time, even the commercial breweries didn’t have the same standards to live up to, he said. There were fewer varieties in the U.S., fewer expectations. Commercial brewing and homebrewing alike are advancing because of heightened expectations. And moving from the homebrew realm into commercial brewing necessitates sacrifice. Why?

“Because of the customers demanding better quality beers,” Krauth said. “Homebrewers are broadening the horizons in the craft industry. In the commercial world, there’s no such thing as a good and a bad beer. They consider everything, if it’s sellable and marketable, as a good beer. If you can’t market it and sell it, it’s a bad beer. On the homebrew side, everything has to meet the BJCP style guidelines. And if it doesn’t meet the style guidelines, it’s a bad beer.”

That’s not to say commercial beer is homogenized because of these constraints. There’s plenty of experimentation going on, from barrel-aging to ingredients to usage of exotic hops. If Apocalypse can make watermelon beer and peanut butter beer, it’s clear brewing is not lacking creativity. And just take a look at the beer list at Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse on any given day — there’s certainly no shortage of creativity going on there.

In addition to more ingredients, the availability of information now versus the late 1980s when LAGERS and FOSSILS began is important. It gives homebrewers options and empowers them with knowledge. It offers aspirations of commercial brewing. Of course, the BJCP guidelines are ever present, but perhaps unnecessarily so in the pro ranks. Dienes is a multiple award winner, but most of the beers she brews for Apocalypse are accessible, sessionable (lower alcohol content) beers.

“The bottom line is does it taste good when you drink it?” she said.

The LAGERS slogan is, “We brew it, we drink it, we talk about it.” These are people who take beer seriously, and yet don’t. They do it because they love it.

“We love all parts of beer,” Owen said. “It’s a fun group of like-minded individuals and craft beer lovers.”

This post was originally published by LEO Weekly.

Against the Grain Brewery joins governor on trade mission to Canada

Photo courtesy of Sam J. Cruz.

Photo courtesy of Sam J. Cruz.

Canada is Kentucky’s biggest trade partner — in fact, the commonwealth exported more than $7.6 billion in products and services to our neighbors in the north last year, topped by motor vehicles, auto parts and aerospace products; iron, steel and ferro-alloy; resin and synthetic rubber; and machinery.

Kentucky Gov.  Steve Beshear leads Kentucky Export Initiative trade missions to Canada, and this year he chose a local company to be a representative during the May 25-30 venture. That representative? Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse.

Why is this so important to a brewery that is already distributing products in dozens of U.S. states and in Europe? Well, for one, because Canadians love beer, in particular many of the barrel-aged products in which Against the Grain specializes, according to brewery co-owner Sam J. Cruz.

But it’s also not easy for a company that makes alcoholic beverages to get their products into Canada, he adds.

“It’s a monopoly,” Cruz says. “The government decides what products go in, so it pretty much eliminates competition. We were able to connect personally with the people who are making those decisions and can now eliminate that barrier or wall that acts to keep competition out. I would say that’s a priceless thing to make that connection.”

What it means is that now Against the Grain will be able create an export packet to present its products for approval by the appropriate governing body. A process that might have taken two years previously (if it worked at all) can now be completed in just a few months, or possibly even less.

Basically, Cruz and fellow Against the Grain owner Adam Watson toured Canadian cities Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto with a handful of other participating Kentucky businesses, building relationships that will help foster future trade agreements.

One beer Cruz identified as a potential export to Canada is called Coq de la Marsh, an easy-drinking saison-style beer, but the aforementioned signatures such as Kentucky Ryed Chiquen also are prime candidates. He notes, however, that the higher the alcohol content in Canada, the higher the price, so the saison is a perfect first step as a market entry product as it’s a mild 5.8 percent ABV.

“By giving them something in that middle range, they can keep the price down,” Cruz says. “But they also want all of the crazy big barrel-aged beers, and we can give them that.”

In addition, Cruz says the initial product offering shouldn’t take long: “Realistically, within five months, we will be in Montreal. And that’s a really conservative estimate.”

Cruz says the opportunity essentially came about as a result of Kentucky breweries establishing a relationship with government officials in Frankfort during the House Bill 168 battle earlier this year. He believes that in addition to being a small victory for bluegrass brewers, it will continue to provide inroads.

More than that, Against the Grain’s presence on the mission trip will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the breweries in Louisville and around the state. Essentially, breweries can use Against the Grain’s presentation as a template to promote their own beers, and Cruz and his partners can make sure those packets get to the appropriate representatives.

Against the Grain is committed to helping other small Kentucky companies, Cruz says, and “part of that is putting Kentucky brewers on a national stage. We can take the information … and package it in a way so they can take it forward themselves. We can be advisors. In this case, we’ll feel really good about doing it in a foreign country.”

Of course, that is a big part of the mission.

“Canada is the largest destination for Kentucky-made products, but there are many additional opportunities for our small businesses to build partnerships with our neighbors to the north,” said Gov. Beshear said in a press release announcing the trip. “This trade mission will give Kentucky businesses the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings, form relationships to increase sales and explore international markets.”

Of course, it wasn’t all meetings and pressing flesh. There was beer consumed, and there were luncheons and other gatherings that involved simply meeting people to present what Kentucky business owners are really like — putting a face to the products, if you will.

“It might have been good for them to meet brewers,” Cruz says, chuckling, “maybe dressed down a little bit, with tattoos.”

Ultimately, it is an extension of what is going on not just in Louisville or around the commonwealth, but everywhere: Craft beer is a hot item.

“Quite frankly, internationally it’s booming,” Cruz says. “Everybody’s excited about good beer. I was really amazed by that and the interest our government officials who met with us had in craft beer. And the ambassador to Canada was really into talking about it.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

Against the Grain Named to RateBeer’s Top 100

louisville beer - against the grain logoThose guys over at Against the Grain get a lot of accolades for their beers.They just got another really, really impressive one. Here’s the press release:

We are excited and honored to announce our being named to RateBeer’s top 100 brewers in the world!
In addition to the prestigious honor of being on the ‘top 100’ list, AtG was also named for being the ‘Best Brewer’ and producing the ‘Best Beer’ (our very own 70K barrel aged imperial  milk stout) in Kentucky!

RateBeer is one of the largest and most respected beer forums in the world. Millions of people have posted beer reviews on the website since it launched in the year 2000. The ‘Top 100′ list is released annually, and brings notoriety to a brewery that makes the list.

The top 100 brewers in the world are according to reviews taken last year and weighted by performance within and outside of style, balanced by indicators of depth. The winners are presented by top 10 and country of origin and reflect the top performing brewers of over 19,000 listed at RateBeer.   (For complete results of this years RateBeer’s best, follow this link.
Against The Grain Brewery was established in 2011 by brewers Adam Watson, Jerry Gnagy, Sam Cruz and Andrew Ott.

In our short life thus far we have made a profound impact on the way Kentucky beer is enjoyed and perceived not only on a local level, but also on a national and international level. AtG, for short, is Louisville’s most innovative and progressive brewery.  Focused on quality, without compromise and a cavalier approach to producing beers for educating and enriching the local beer scene, Against The Grain beers have become a staple of Louisville beer aficionados conversation.

In our short life, AtG has been able to build a global market presence that allows us to boast our world class brewery and smokehouse located at Slugger Field, as well as launching a new, state of the art production facility in the Portland neighborhood of Louisville, KY.

After 15 years, Cumberland Brews releases its first bottled beer

Cumberland3For nearly 15 years, Cumberland Brews, the cozy little brewery in the Highlands, has been tucked away from the limelight — even with the insane surge in popularity of craft beer, Cumberland has mostly stayed quiet, serving up good food and good beer to the neighborhood.

So, to say it was a surprise when Cumberland suddenly announced the release of Hopop Hetbot in 22-ounce bomber bottles would be a major understatement. Why now, after a decade and a half of primarily selling beer out of the taproom at 1576 Bardstown Road?

“Well, there is no rhyme or reason to why now,” Cumberland founder and owner Mark Allgeier says. “We’ve had a bottler for, gosh — I bet we’ve had our bottler for six or seven years. The only time we’ve ever bottled before was to send it to GABF (Great American Beer Festival). We stay really busy doing what we’ve been doing.”

But now there’s a Cumberland specialty beer available at the taproom and coming soon to liquor stores around the state — except in Louisville. In addition, Hopop Hetbot will only be available in bottles; the idea going forward is to brew specialty beers for bottling rather than bottle its usual brews that can be bought by the pint or growler.

Brewers Cameron Finnis and Evan Blanford both had wanted to bottle for quite a while, Allgeier admits, but the owner felt the market for bombers has been saturated. And let’s face it, there’s only so much shelf space.

And so, Heidelberg Distributing Co. will pick up about 20 cases in the coming days, with another 20 to 30 cases set to be bottled and made available. How much more gets brewed beyond that depends on how quickly the beer sells. And there is already a second brew in the works for a second release, although Allgeier was not willing to go on record about that one just yet.

One interesting note about Hopop Hetbot is that nowhere on the label — which features a sketch of two skeletons in a hot tub on a starry night — is there a sign of the Cumberland logo. There is a nod to the brand hidden in the artwork, but the only other mention of it is in teeny-tiny print just above the mandatory Surgeon General’s warning. That wasn’t an oversight.

“That was on purpose,” Allgeier says. “What we’re trying to focus on here is not so much our logo, it’s the beer.”

That said, the beer is a hybrid of sorts, blending a Belgian-style ale with a dry-hopped pale ale. At 7.0 percent alcohol by volume, it’s got a bit of gravity, but it’s plenty drinkable. Meanwhile, at 30 IBU (international bittering units), it’s not hophead-level bitter, but there’s just enough spice and bite from the Hallertau and Tettnang hops to get your attention. And the combination of barley and wheat bring a creamy-meets-crisp Belgian profile to the beer.

It’s sort of a cross between Cumberland’s Moonbow, which is sort of the brewery’s answer to Blue Moon, the popular Belgian wheat beer people like to drink with an orange slice in it, and Cumberland’s traditional pale ale.

“This is something Cameron wanted to make for a while,” Allgeier says of Hopop Hetbot, which retails at $7.50 per bottle. “We were trying to hit on the person who likes Belgians and who also likes hoppy beer. If you’re a fan of either/or, you can drink this. It was kind of the feeling of, instead of making two different beers, make one. We just thought it was a good beer to begin with.”

When it’s all said and done, Allgeier says what he and his brewers want is for each of the bottle releases to be something just a bit different — maybe even something extraordinary. And while craft breweries all over Kentucky crank out more and more interesting beers each week, Allgeier is content to continue being the little brewery in the Highlands — just with a new twist.

“I think we’re at the point now we’ve got a few beers in our minds and we’re thinking we could do this really well,” he says. “We’re not real interested in trying to keep up with (other breweries). It’s about us being able to make that special beer and release it to the following we have, maybe even grow that following a little bit.

“I don’t know where it’s going to take us; we don’t see the path clearly. That’s kind of fun for us.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

8 Beer Gear Items for Brew Nerds

personalized-growler-set-printed-32-300x300You just don’t know what kind of beer to get that craft beer nerd in your inner circle. Hey, it’s cool – I don’t know what Super Smash Brothers games my girlfriend’s son has either.

But you know your craft beer enthusiast would grin from ear to ear if he or she opened a cool brew-centric gift. But what to get? It isn’t any easy question to answer, given that person probably already has t-shirts from their favorite breweries in their closet and hundreds of pint glasses in the cupboard.

Thankfully, capitalism has an answer. Anytime something gets as hot as craft beer, someone not in the beer business is going to see an opportunity, and that means an easier shopping season for you. In that spirit, here are our top eight beer gear gift ideas for your favorite beer aficionado:

  1. Beer Makes Me Happy T-shirt: From TeeSpring.com comes one of many craft beer t-shirts now on the market. This one, however, has a nice flavor of snark. “Beer Makes Me Happy,” it reads. “You, Not So Much.” It says, “Greetings, I’m a beer connoisseur,” while also saying, “Don’t bother me. Can’t you see I’m drinking craft beer?”
  2. Personalized Growler Set: I sort of hope my girlfriend is reading this, because a personalized growler and pint glass set is a pretty cool gift idea for a beer fan such as myself. Sure, I have a collection of growlers from breweries from Louisville, Ky., to Nashville to Detroit, but I don’t have one with my own name on it. And this set is designed to look, well, like it’s your own damn brewery. It’s the stuff of dreams. Oh, and hey, beer.
  3. Personalized Coasters: In the same vein, here’s a neat gift idea from PersonalCreations.com that lets you make personalized bar coasters. And it doesn’t just stop at memorializing your faux fantasy brewery, it actually delves into different beer styles – they look like labels lifted right off the bottles as they roll off your imaginary bottling line. I sure hope that pale ale is dry-hopped.
  4. Wooden Brewfest Six-Pack Holder: This is more than just a six-pack holder – this cool gift idea from PorterHouseCrafts.com enables the beer lover on your list to do a private sampling for him or herself or for others at a social gathering. You get the beer caddy, two paddles and six five-ounce tasting glasses. Get a mix-and-match six-pack at the nearest beer store and go to town.
  5. Tap handlesChalkboard Tap Handles: You probably know the couple with the kegerator in their basement, right? Every time you go to their house, they have a new home brew for you to try. Well, here’s an ideal gift for those friends, courtesy of HomeWetBar.com: Chalkboard tap handles. Whenever they tap a new brew, they can simply scribble the name of it on the tap handle and start pouring. Everyone wants to write “Brad’s Bad-Ass IPA” on a tap handle, don’t they?
  6. Joe Sixpack Beer Belt: Laugh all you want about a belt made for canned beer, but canning craft beer is very much in vogue. In fact, IPAs taste pretty darn good when poured from a can – or, heck, even quaffed straight. And with this contraption from GroomStand.com, the beer geek on your list can pack six of any quality wherever he or she pleases.
  7. Everyday IPA Beer Making Kit: Everyone can’t be a gung-ho homebrewer, but with this Brooklyn Brew Shop Kit, brewing a nice, drinkable IPA in your own home is within reach. Hopped with Columbus and Cascade hops, this easy-to-use kit will make your favorite beer nerd a merry one. (Comes in other styles as well.)
  8. Merry Craftsmas Shirt: Yes, one more shirt from TeeSpring.com. This one is part tee, part ugly sweater, bearing the greeting, “Merry Craftsmas and a Hoppy Brew Year.” Seriously, what better way to enjoy the holidays than wearing this monstrosity with pride?

This post was originally published by AlcoholProfessor.com.

12 Days of Beer Gifts

IPA_craft-beer-baskets-for-men-and-women_HR_Fotor_grandeI grew up singing with my classmates and family a song about partridges in a pear tree, and a bunch of other weird gifts over a 12-day span leading up to Christmas. In those days, I was perplexed why the song didn’t include things like action figures and video games, while strongly endorsing go-to presents like eight maids a-milking. How much milk does one person need?

As an adult, I could still skip the milk maids, but I wouldn’t mind some beer. So let’s leave out the pipers piping and the ladies dancing. Let’s concentrate on the beer lovers drinking.

Here are 12 wet and wonderful beers and beer gift packs that should make that beer lover on your list light up like the proverbial Christmas tree or menorah.

  1. Beer of the Month Club: That’s right, once a month, the recipient will be blessed with a twelver of a select craft beer, oftentimes a hard-to-find a limited release, chosen by craft beer lovers at AmazingClubs.com. You can choose a full year or three-month, six-month or seasonal memberships. Packages start at $33.95 per month. When that person’s birthday rolls around, maybe you can look into a liver-supplement-of-the-month club.
  2. Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale: A time-honored classic, Winter Welcome is a winter warmer best consumed while snuggling in front of the fire. Made with Fuggle and Golding hops, it is actually a malt-forward beer made just for the winter season. Bear skin rug optional.
  3. Sweetwater Festive Ale: Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing Company has been spreading its tentacles, and this is one of those that is making the rounds. A strong ale brewed for “winter coat season,” it is rife with black, chocolate, Munich and other malts witha taint of cinnamon and mace to keep you warm and toasted all winter long.”
  4. Deschutes Brewery Jubelale: A garnet colored strong ale, this one also features special artwork each season – this year’s is original fiber artwork by Lisa and Lori Lubbesmeyer, showing a winter landscape with a pair of sledders. The beer within reveals hints of chicory, dried fruit and toffee notes with a hoppy kick to finish. Put another log on the fire.
  5. Sam Adams holiday porterIPAs of the U.S. Gift Basket: Here’s a different spin on a holiday gift idea, since not everyone likes the spicy, thick Christmas beers that are the stuff of tradition. If the person on your list just wants to hop it up, this is a selection of India pale ales from Coronado Brewing Company (New York International Beer Competition 2014 California Brewery of the Year), Peak Brewing (NYIBC 2014 Maine Brewery of the Year) , Breckenridge and Ballast Point, as well as the oh-so-delicious Jai Alai from Cigar City Brewing in Florida. This on also comes with a variety of snacks to pair with the beers.
  6. Schlafly Christmas Ale: This is another winter warmer featuring sweet caramel malt, with notes of orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves. Inspired by holiday classics like wassail, it’s a surefire way to ring in the holidays with nary a chill in the bones.
  7. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale: First brewed in 1981, this is a true American Christmas tradition, although it isn’t a winter warmer – this is actually credited with being an early version of an American IPA, made famous for its intense citrus and pine aromas. Celebration is indeed a bold and intense beer, featuring Centennial, Cascade and Chinook hops. If nutmeg isn’t your favorite beer lover’s thing, this might be the ideal gift.
  8. Great Lakes Christmas Ale: This beer is brewed with honey and spiced with ginger and cinnamon and is poised to pair nicely with that fruitcake your mustachioed aunt will inevitably bring to the family gathering. Roasted barleys make this one a warmer, and Mt. Hood and Cascade hops give it a spicy kick.
  9. Samuel Adams Winter Favorites Variety Pack: Sometimes you just can’t choose. Enter Samuel Adams and its 12-pack of winter goodness, featuring two each of the classic Sam Adam Lager, Winter Lager, Old Fezziwig Ale, White Christmas and (prepare to start salivating) Chocolate Bock. This is a great one to pack to your holiday work or family gathering for sharing or, hey, for hoarding at home with your sweetie. No judgment here, just prepare for a wide variety. (There’s also Samuel Adams Holiday Porter, sold separately, if you’re feeling more focused.)
  10. Rogue santas_private_reserveRogue Santa’s Private Reserve: This is the one Santa probably drinks. A double-hopped red ale that is a variation of the well-regarded Saint Rogue Red, this one goes straight for a big roast finish and a hint of spruce for just a nod to the holiday season. Made from a wide and eclectic variety of malts and hops, plus proprietary Pacman yeast, it’s moderately bitter at 65 IBU and imminently quaffable at 6 percent ABV. It’s Christmas: the redder, the better!
  11. Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper: Talk about a winter warmer – this is an imperial porter to the max, with a flavor emphasis on dark cocoa and roasted coffee, with sweet crystal malts and light hops. This is a big one at 10 percent ABV, but imagine how good Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies are going to taste dunked in this Christmas winner? You can give it as a gift, but how could you let go of it? It’s OK to be a little selfish at Christmas.
  12. Three Floyds Alpha Klaus: A cousin to Three Floyds’ popular Alpha King, this beer pours jet black with a nose of chocolate, pine and citrus. The chocolaty flavor profile also gives way to a surprising hoppiness, setting it apart from many winter warmers. Many say it drinks more like a black IPA than a Christmas porter, but that makes it no less festive. And at 6 percent ABV, there’s no reason the beer lover on your list can’t enjoy more than one.

This post was originally published by AlcoholProfessor.com.

Beer Magnets: Just What Your Fridge Needed

BottleLoftFrom the “What Will They Think of Next?” file comes an invention called bottleLoft, a simple refrigerator upgrade that enables beer drinkers to do something they could never do before – suspend their beers from the ceilings of their fridges!

Creator Brian Conti of Charlotte, N.C., funded his invention with a KickStarter campaign that yielded $60,597 – more than three times the amount he sought for startup money.

Working via Strong Like Bull Magnets – a super-strong magnet product and another of his inventions that was funded by KickStarter – Conti merely wanted to solve a confounding issue.

“One day I opened a beer and the cap went under my kitchen island,” Conti said. “I was having a hard time retrieving it, so I grabbed a magnet to retrieve it, and the light bulb went off.”

The fact that whenever he bought a few six packs, his fridge space was nil further inspired him – why take up shelf space, when you can just hang ’em? And, sure, any bottled drink with a metal cap will work with bottleLoft, but with the boom of craft beer, the bottleLoft is a natural for the beer nerd in your life.

And think of the benefits: That shelf space now consumed by a plethora of hoarded craft beers can now be used for things like, say, leftover pizza.

Conti experimented, created prototypes and then created more prototypes. Once he had the design he wanted, KickStarter did the rest. The size and power of the magnets had to be tested, and mounting obviously posed an issue. Each bottleLoft is affixed to the fridge ceiling with a special 3M adhesive strip made for lower temperatures. Each strip is rated to hold 110 pounds per each square inch.

“Design is an iterative process,” Conti said. “There were definitely iterations of magnet size and spacing, and various iterations of the general geometry of how the magnets are held and secured.  Also testing of various adhesive grades and amount took place.  So, about five rounds of prototyping to get to the final configuration.”

Interestingly, the magnets are powerful to the point that, if simply affixed to a large piece of metal, they could hold as much as 50 pounds. But the bottle cap is so small and such a small part of the bottle itself, that a very precise magnet was needed.

“A typical 12-ounce bottled beverage weighs 1.2 pounds,” Conti writes on his website. “However, the magnet needs to have a much stronger pull ability as the bottle cap is the only metal the magnet can ‘grab’ onto … and a bottle cap is a pretty thin piece of steel.  The magnet in bottleLoft is designed to attract a standard bottle cap and hold up to an additional 3.6 pounds.”

If you ever get to the point you no longer want bottleLoft in your fridge – or if you, for some insane reason, stop drinking beer – the adhesive can be scraped off with a putty knife.

Conti said once he fulfills the Kickstarter orders, he will begin offering bottleLoft to the public. Look for it on the Strong Like Bull website in January.

This post was originally published by AlcoholProfessor.com.