BBC 20th Anniversary Ushers in Heine Brothers Coffee Stout

louisville beer - BBCIt’s just as tasty as you remember, that Heine Brothers Coffee Stout from Bluegrass Brewing Co. BBC unveiled it, along with a handful of other new beers, yesterday as part of its 20th anniversary celebration and third annual Dogtoberfest event at the St. Matthews location.

My buddy Nick and I stopped in for dinner and to take advantage of some throwback pricing, meaning $2.50 pints between 6 and 7 p.m. And the first brew we ordered was the aforementioned coffee stout brewed with Heine Brothers coffee. As expected, it is thick, rich and wonderful, with a big coffee nose and a nutty flavor. In short, it’s an enduring classic. We didn’t get around to trying the Stout Toby Bourbon Barrel Stout, but we can only guess that one is just as delicious and with a potentially more complex character.

We also tried a pint each of Rye IPA, a medium-bodied ale with a big rye flavor and plenty of hop bitterness. In fact, the rye bite might have even outdistanced that of the hops. This is great stuff, and went well with the chili I enjoyed for dinner.

BBC has a couple of other seasonals on tap right now at the St. Matthews pub, including Cream Ale and Rough Service IPA. Maybe next time …

BBC to Celebrate 20 Years

louisville beer - bluegrass brewing company logoThis was originally published by Insider Louisville; here are a few paragraphs to get you started, along with a link to the rest of the article.

The popularity of craft beer grows ever stronger, with new microbreweries popping all over the United States and around Kentucky and southern Indiana. But only one local microbrewery can claim to have been at the forefront of that growth: Bluegrass Brewing Company.

Pat Hagan found himself traveling all over California back in the late 1980s, where he fell in love with the hoppy beers brewed by places out west such as Sierra Nevada. When he returned to the Louisville area for good, well, he started getting the itch to move beyond home brewing.

And so the original BBC, in St. Matthews, was born.

Did he envision it still thriving after 20 years?

“No, I didn’t, really,” Hagan said. “At the time, that was really the first time I was getting into the restaurant/brewery business. I probably didn’t know exactly what I was doing or what I was getting into.” …

Read the Full Story.

exBEERiment at Louisville Science Center

louisville beer - exbeeriment louisville science centerEveryone knows there is a science to beer; most people just don’t know how it works. The making of beer has fascinated us for centuries, and exBEERiment is here to keep that fascination alive.

This second annual event at the Louisville Science Center happens next Wednesday, Oct. 17, and will offer not only tastings but sessions on the science of home brewing, ingredients and how to cook with beer. You’ll also see a few familiar faces, as exBEERiment partners include New Albanian Brewing Company, Against the Grain Brewery and Smokehouse, My Old Kentucky Homebrew, Pauly’s Schnitzelburg Pub, Nachbar, Bluegrass Brewing Company and Cumberland Brewery.

Also, exBEERiment will feature free ice cream samples made with beer and liquid nitrogen (???). In addition, adults can take advantage of a kids-free Science in Play exhibit where adult visitors can build rollercoasters, maneuver through a rope maze and play hide-and-seek in the Noodle Forest. Oh yeah, there will also be hydrogen balloon explosions and liquid nitrogen induced ping pong ball volcanoes.

Last but not least is the Brewseum, by My Old Kentucky Homebrew. If you missed this at Louisville Brewfest last month, you really should check it out. Oh yeah, and DJ Matt Anthony will spin some tunes as well.

Tickets are $20 for non-members, $15 for members and business partners, and $10 for designated drivers.

A Chat With Gordon Biersch Brewer Dave Stacy

louisville beer - taps at Gordon Biersch 1When I took my seat at the bar at Gordon Biersch downtown at 4th Street Live, I was struck by the pure beauty of it. The bright taps, the vibrant colors – not to mention the friendly bar staff who were quick to greet me and ask if it was my first visit.

OK, so Gordon Biersch is a chain; that much we know. As such, my expectations when meeting brewer David Stacy was that he would be buttoned-up and corporate, a man toeing the company line, wearing a bright GB button-down and speaking the corporate lingo. Imagine my surprise when I heard, “Are you Kevin?” and turned to be greeted warmly by a thin man with a graying, medium-length beard, and wearing a baseball cap and overalls.

Turns out, Dave Stacy is just a beer guy like the rest of us. As such, we sat and casually talked about the Louisville beer scene as I sipped on my Gordon Biersch sampler.

To start, GB is a lager house that brews based on German principles using ingredients almost exclusively from Germany. Which is to say, similar to the new Blue Stallion Brewing in Lexington or Hofbrauhaus in Newport, the products tend to be unfiltered, lighter-bodied creations than one normally finds at a smaller brewery. In addition, its 31 locations are all based on the original concept of offering quality food as well as freshly-brewed beer – meaning that the food is just as much the focus as the brews. Not your usual microbrew, in other words.

Nevertheless, while a beer snob may be quick to turn up a nose at GB brews, Stacy makes no apologies. The quality in ingredients and brewing processes is high, regardless of how some might view the concept. He sees that perception as a challenge on one hand, but an advantage on the other.

louisville beer - David Stacy of Gordon Biersch“Our challenge is how people view us,” he said. “We started as one store, and we just grew beyond that. … I realize we are considered the Starbucks. I know there are guys that look down on me because of what I do. But it’s not because of our production standard.”

He pointed out that while most microbreweries situated in neighborhoods rely on regular customers for a fairly large chunk of their business, being located at 4th Street Live means a lot more walk-in traffic from out of town people, or those who are downtown for reasons other than going to the brewpub. This makes being a lager house an advantage, because a larger percentage of the palates who taste his beer aren’t necessarily looking for high gravity or a hop explosion.

And he’s fine with that.

“I’m from a small German community [in Texas],” he said. “I love the origins and traditions of German style production.”

Not that he doesn’t enjoy a bold-flavored beer. In fact, he praises the Louisville beer scene and always keeps other local beers available in his guest taps. He is particularly fond of Falls City, in part because his grandparents drank it often when he was growing up, but he is also quick to sing the praises of the others and to keep them on tap on a rotating basis.

He went so far as to say that when someone comes in and can’t find anything he or she likes, “I send them to ATG or BBC,” both of which, obviously, are nearby. (In fact, he wishes he had more time to visit other local breweries himself, but long hours and being a dad to a toddler make that difficult.)

But with new breweries opening in the area seemingly every couple of months and more on the way, where is the saturation point?

“If you want to compare it to bourbon, there is no saturation point,” Stacy said. “But beer being the product it is, I think we’re getting close to that. But I think it’s better to keep that door open and have [breweries find] success at what they do.”

And while the recipes and brewing standards are GB-wide and are somewhat constrictive, he also has some latitude and gets to come up with outliers referred to as “Brewer’s Select.” Later this year, he said, he plans to brew a red ale, something big and malty (similar, we discussed, to BBC’s Irish Rover Red). That would really throw off the taste buds of the 4th Street Live dwellers.

Here’s an overview of the beer tasting:

louisville beer - Gordon Biersch 2Golden Export (5.0% ABV, 17 IBU) – This is lightest beer available at GB, and is specifically geared toward people who fear anything without the word “light” in the name. Bottom line, if you’re a Bud Light or Miller Lite drinker, and you can’t drink this? There’s something wrong.

Hefeweizen (5.5% ABV, 12 IBU) – This one’s a classic German wheat beer, unfiltered and light orange in color, with lots of banana and clove notes and a smooth texture. Not my thing, but this is a well done version of it, and easy on the palate for people who fear hops and may fancy something fruitier.

Czech Pilsner (5.6% ABV, 36 IBU) – By far the hoppiest of the GB regulars, this one still has only a mild bite. It’s light- to medium-bodied, and made with Saaz hops from the Czech Republic for a tiny bit of spice and a nice tingle at the back of the palate. As a hop guy, this one’s easily my favorite.

Marzen (5.7% ABV, 18 IBU) – At first glance, this could be mistaken for a pale ale with its auburn color, but it’s a Bavarian lager that relies on malts for its flavor. Stacy said this is GB’s top seller, at least here in Louisville.

Schwarzbier (4.3% ABV, 21 IBU) – This is the one that trips people up. Despite a light nutty flavor and light body, the darkness of this lager can be deceiving. This could be why it’s the lowest seller of the regulars. “People confuse it with a porter or stout,” Stacy said. “They see the color and are afraid of it.” It’s unwarranted, but what can you do?

Blonde Bock (7.0% ABV, 26 IBU) – This seasonal is golden and may look light, but has surprising body and flavor. Stacy said it is 90 percent pilsner and is an anniversary celebration beer of sorts for GB. The finish is surprisingly malty, which may belie the kick. “People sometimes forget this is almost equal to two Jack and Cokes for a 20-ounce pint,” Stacy said, smiling.

SummerBrau (4.8% ABV, 25 IBU) – Another annual  brew, this is a Kolsch-style beer, and is one of Stacy’s favorites. Truly, while it’s relatively light, it’s crisp and surprisingly flavorful with a blend of pale-malted barley and malted wheat. I enjoyed this one quite a lot myself. “There are subtle characteristics in this beer that I find fascinating,” Stacy said. “I’m very happy how it came out this year.”

Toward the end of our chat, we further discussed the divide in beer people’s preferences, not to mention the resulting beer snobbery that sometimes ensues.

“A lot of times, I think it’s a cluster of people patting themselves on the back,” he said. He then paraphrased a traditional German saying: “Beer is the every-man’s drink, and it’s only done right if every person can enjoy it.”

He continued by astutely noting that “beer is a common denominator,” because we often enjoy it while sharing our lives and emotions with friends and family. If someone prefers a light beer? So be it.

He concluded: “I like a lot of exotic beer, I like a lot of plain beer. I just like beer, period.”

Brewer Jeremy Hunt Moving on From BBC

louisville beer - bluegrass brewing company logoStumbled upon this today: Bluegrass Brewing Company brewmaster Jeremy Hunt is moving on — he will become head brewer at Deep Ellum Brewing Company in Dallas.

Hunt had been at BBC just shy of two years, previously brewed for Red Hook Brewery and was later the head brewer at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. He landed at BBC in 2011 following his stint at Dogfish Head.

“I’m open to suggestions from everybody,” Hunt told the Dallas Observer. “I like to riff back and forth. I come up with an idea, throw it out to someone else, they put their spin on it. In the end, we come up with something that is better than the sum of its parts.”

I never met Hunt, but I drank a lot of his beers. Best of luck to him. And let the search commence for BBC’s next head brewer.

No Given Sunday (in Indiana)

louisville beer - no given sundayBack in the late 1990s when I was a reporter and page designer for Louisville Eccentric Observer (now known as LEO Weekly), I had to work every Sunday morning/afternoon in preparation for Tuesday’s deadline. During football season, my routine was to go home afterward and watch football the rest of the day with a six-pack of beer at my side.

But in those days, I lived in Jeffersonville, Ind. This meant making sure I stopped in downtown Louisville to get beer before crossing the river after work, because everyone in the Midwest knows you can’t buy beer on Sunday in Indiana. (Yes, I am one of those who has experienced going to Mike Walsh Liquor & Beer on Market on a Sunday afternoon, and noting that three fourths of the vehicles bore Indiana plates. Shame the Louisville Beer Store wasn’t around back then.)

This year, a bill was proposed in Indiana that would have allowed Sunday alcohol sales at grocery stores and other retail shops, but Rep. Bill Davis, chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, wouldn’t let a committee vote on it. And so, my Hoosier friends will continue to envy me the fact I can, after 1 p.m., buy beer on any given Sunday.

What is particularly annoying, I think, is that Indiana’s continued refusal to allow Sunday sales, along with cold beer sales in grocery stores and convenience stores, has nothing to do with the Sabbath and antiquated ideals, but rather everything to do with the special interests of the package liquor store lobby, which has deep connections with members of the Indiana General Assembly. It isn’t about God; quite simply, the liquor stores are afraid of the competition.

“Allowing Sunday sales would be a slow death,” Raymond Cox, owner of Elite Beverages, told The Indianapolis Star. “Allowing cold beer would put us out of business overnight.”

Here’s what I have to say about that: I live in a Louisville neighborhood that has a Kroger, multiple convenience stores, and a CVS where one can easily buy cold beer and (at the drugstores, at least) wine and liquor, on any given day, including Sunday. And yet, Gary’s Liquors, which is surrounded by these businesses, continues to thrive, even adding a drive-through lane within the last two years.

Are Kentucky and Indiana apples and oranges? I have to believe Gary’s survives by offering a wider selection of craft beers, quality wine and liquor. Unlike at Kroger, Thornton’s or CVS, which typically carry big distributor brands only, I can walk into Gary’s and know I can pick up a six-pack of Falls City or Bluegrass Brewing Company beers. (And really, even with Kroger’s mix-and-match deal, wherein you make your own six-pack of “craft” beers, one of the choices is Landshark. The hell?)

Well, this long-running idiocy (five decades and counting), as you probably have already heard, has prompted a lawsuit. Not sure you can fight a state government leaders who have an agenda, but it will be interesting to see if this gets anywhere. Past efforts have been similarly stifled, although at least they gave Hoosiers a way to get a growler to go on Sundays, so maybe there’s hope for change.

Meantime, my condolences continue to go out to my Indiana friends who may want to enjoy a six-pack on a Sunday evening. Keep on doing your package beer shopping on Saturday, and keep those fingers crossed.

Chilling With Michael Beckmann at Boombozz Taphouse

louisville beer - boombozz taphouse

The Boombozz Taphouse in the Highlands has, well, lots of taps.

Michael Beckmann sells a lot of craft beer at his Highlands Tony Boombozz location. A lot of it. And it’s not just because there is only one non-craft or non-local tap, either.

The general manager and brains behind the beers thinks a big part of what drives craft beer’s popularity is growing rebellion against big corporations. Secondly, people like to drink locally.

“Localness is what drives craft beer,” he said.

He told me this as I sipped a New Albanian Brewing Company Houndmouth, one of several local and craft beers I tried while sitting at the bar with Beckmann and his girlfriend Caroline. His taps are always rotating in new brews, stuff from local and regional breweries as well as from around the world. It’s quite a journey for the taste buds.

I also tasted Southern Tier Live, Widmer Alchemy Ale, Mikkeller Wet Hop Kellerbier, Country Boy Cougar Bait and Sierra Nevada Oliva Quad. I’ll spare you wordy reviews, but the Mikeller reminded more of a pilsner than an ale, and the Oliva Quad was so interesting, flavorful and ripe with plums that my first thought was that it would be delicious poured over pancakes.

Beckmann spoke of how he makes sure his taps always feature local brews, and that he does a “TALL4small” (tall beer for a short beer price) special every Thursday for local brews only. “I love supporting the locals,” he said. “And it works.”

He wants a visit to Boombozz Taphouse to be an experience, versus a get-drunk session; no two beer drinkers are created equally, and yet he also wants to make sure each person’s palate gets some respect. (He said one woman actually wrote a dissertation about how well she was treated at Boombozz as a female beer drinker. Apparently, the bar staff didn’t jump to the conclusion she would want a Blue Moon with an orange wedge.)

louisville beer - boombozz tap room beckmann

Michael Beckmann and Caroline Knopf both enjoy a tasty brew.

And while there is a shortage of such beers in the taps, Beckmann also makes sure there are “simpler” local and craft beers bartenders can recommend to customers looking for a new experience. The house BoomBrew, for instance, is the very drinkable Bluegrass Brewing Company Amber. In fact, in recent weeks there’s been no corporate beer on tap at all.

“We went through April and May without it, and no one complained,” he said. At the same time, “I don’t think anybody here is going to make you feel guilty about ordering a Bud Light.”

So, he makes sure to have the corporate beers always available in bottles, just to be safe.

But for those who like their taste buds to be challenged, the Boombozz Taphouse is a great place to be. Beckmann and his bar staff like to mix it up. Literally. For instance, he recently mixed the Southern Tier Live, Mikkeller Wet Hop and Widmer Alchemy Ale. Another popular blend was a Cumberland Brews Roasted Pumpkin Ale with a Southern Tier Creme Brulee.

“It tasted like pumpkin pie with whipped cream,” he said.

And next time you’re in, be sure to ask him about the seven-stout blend.

Anyway, for Beckmann, his position at Boombozz is like “a play thing.” He likes to not only treat his customers, but to also treat himself.

“And I’ve got the pick of the litter here,” he said.

Light American Swill: Is it Truly the Devil?

louisville beer - mini miller high life

Thanks, Dad!

Full disclosure: Sometimes I drink Miller Lite. In fact, I drink it fairly often. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but I also am not ashamed to openly admit it.

Before I sound apologetic, know that I’m not. The metaphor I use is this: Light domestic swill is to beer as Taco Bell is to Mexican food. Even though deep down I know it constitutes corporate badness (and it is generally kind of gross and cheap-tasting), I still like it for reasons much different than my reasons for liking good beer or real Mexican food.

For my taste, having a craft beer is an experience in itself; it’s something I actually like to focus on while I’m experiencing it. But if I’m watching a Packers game with my buddies at Buffalo Wild Wings, I’d prefer to just drink the ice-cold swill rather than pay nine bucks for a Sam Adams.

Many years ago, I told New Albanian Brewing Company‘s Roger Baylor (the king of local fascist-killers) that I tended to think of Miller Lite as “beer soda.” He probably doesn’t remember this, but his response has always stuck with me. He said, “I think I’d rather just drink soda.”

His point was well taken, and still is.

But I actually think my fondness for the light stuff is the by-product of emotional attachment. My grandfather always had beer around, and it was usually Pabst Blue Ribbon (which I still drink occasionally). My dad also kept beer in the fridge, and it was (and still is) usually Miller High Life. I began begging for tastes of the stuff when I was probably no older than 5 or 6. To me, that fizzy yellow stuff was just what beer was.

Fast forward to age 10 or 11, when I took on the task of mowing the lawn. My dad stocked the fridge with the little 7-ounce High Life bottles back in those days (with the occasional foray into Lowenbrau or Little Kings), and often my reward for winning the battle with the front and back grass on a hot August day was my very own mini-sized bottle of cold beer.

Come on, what makes an 11-year-old boy feel like a man more than giving him his own freaking beer? (Remember, we’re talking pre-puberty here; the Farrah Fawcett poster came later.) But my beer puberty, if you will, really hit me when Bluegrass Brewing Company and, to a lesser extent, the Silo Brewpub opened their doors. That’s when I grew up and came to truly appreciate the difference between beer and what I had come to know as beer. (Thank you, Dave Pierce.)

No one has to preach to me about the evils of Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, etc. I get it. They are the Wal-Marts of beer. They are the major-label, Auto-Tuned pop bands of beer. They would happily squash every microbrewery on the face of the planet and force us all to suck fizzy piss-water from their teats of corporate greed, if only they could.

But they can’t; if it was possible to force free-thinking people to  have absolutely no taste, we’d all be puckered up and going at it relentlessly right now. Instead, I’m planning to schedule a brewpub tour with my girlfriend and you’re reading a blog post about beer appreciation. Cheers to beer.

Welcome to the Louisville Beer Blog

louisville beer blog - pint

“Mmm. Wholesome, nutritious beer.”

It’s the Louisville Beer Blog, kids. I’m not a brewer; I’m a beer enthusiast who likes to write about it. I’m also the guy who drinks a pale ale he’s never tasted before and says, “I’m not exactly sure how they did that, but it was hoppy and delicious, and I think I want to drink one of these with my next batch of hot wings” … and then orders another one. (I love pale ales with spicy food. Sue me.)

Within this blog, I hope to bring you some humor, a bit of news, reviews of Louisville-area beers, a few interviews, and some guest bloggers as well. For the record, two of my long-time favorite beers in town are Bluegrass Brewing Company‘s APA and Irish Rover Red, which BBC actually brews for the Irish pub for which the beer is named. And have you tried New Albanian Brewing Company‘s Hoosier Daddy? I mean, Elector is probably my favorite from that kick-ass brewery, but I’ve met several folks who haven’t tried Hoosier Daddy. And they should.

Oh, and I recently had my first taste of the Watermelon Crack that Leah Dienes is whipping up over at Apocalypse Brew Works. Yowza.

Anyway, we all love beer, right? Louisville beer especially. Let’s have a little fun with it and see what happens. And we can keep it (mostly) local in the process, because there’s so much good beer to be had within just a few minutes’ drive. I shall look forward to it.

Also, if you have suggestions for Louisville Beer Blog, ideas, beer you want to promote, an itch you can’t quite reach, etc., pleeeeaaaase leave a comment or send me a direct message using this form rightcheer: