New Albanian, Big Four Burgers team up to bring food back to Bank Street on Fridays

Well, that didn’t take long. Just two weeks after New Albanian Brewing Company announced there would no longer be food served at its Bank Street Brewhouse in downtown New Albany, NABC has announced it will team up with Jeffersonville’s Big Four Burgers + Beer to have food available every Friday night this summer as part of New Albany’s Bicentennial Park concert series.

Of course, Bank Street remains open as a tap room Tuesday-Sunday, and patrons are encouraged to bring carry-out from other restaurants, picnic baskets or brown-bag lunches from home. But this initiative, which begins this Friday, May 30,  brings food back at the source — and it’s darn good food too.

Here’s what Big Four‘s new burger trailer will serve up:

  • Big Four Burger
  • Cheeseburger
  • Bacon Burger
  • Fries
  • Cheese Fries
  • Pretzel Sticks and Beer Cheese

That’s a beer-worthy lineup, to be sure. The grub will be available 5-10 p.m., and you’re welcome to enjoy it at the tap room or make the short walk with it to Bicentennial Park, where NABC will be pouring Houndmouth, Black & Blue Grass, Naughty Girl and Community Dark all summer.

The NABC press release says if the Big Four team-up goes well, there may be some Saturday appearances by the burger trailer as well.

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

New Albanian Old Lightning Rod Taps Sunday, Monday

louisville beer - NABC old lightning rodJust in time for the winter home stretch, Old Lightning Rod will make its return to New Albanian Brewing Company this Sunday (at Bank Street Brewhouse) and Monday (at the Public House). If this stuff can’t warm your chilly butt, nothing can. As with any small-batch release, get it while you can.

Here is NABC owner/carnival barker Roger Baylor’s press release:

The legendary Benjamin Franklin was a multi-talented, endlessly creative Colonial-era renaissance man who also brewed and drank beer. In his writings, Franklin referred to various types of ale, and concluded that its consumption was healthy in moderation – an observation with which modern medical science concurs.

What did these ales of old taste like?

In 2006, as part of a nationwide promotion on the occasion of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, NABC’s brewers at the time tweaked a Colonial-era recipe provided to members of the Brewer Association, and the result was our first ever batch of Old Lightning Rod. Ever the diligent beery scientists, we’ve repeated the experiment every year since, and the ale keeps tasting better and better.

In 2014, NABC will observe Old Lightning Rod Day for the ninth time, beginning on Sunday, January 19 at Bank Street Brewhouse, and carrying over to the following day (Monday, January 20) at the Pizzeria & Public House. Franklin’s actual date of birth was January 17, 1706, making him 308 years young … and cheers to that.

These two days will mark the tapping of this year’s batch of Old Lightning Rod, which is a cult favorite but only a small batch, and served only on draft – so get your pints and growlers while it lasts.

Old Lightning Rod

Colonial Dark Ale

ABV: 7.5%

IBU: 26

Color: Dark brown to black.

Flavor: Medium- to full-bodied, sweetish and malt-heavy. Distinctive flavor comes from molasses and/or sorghum.

Compare to: No commercial examples, but OLR is in the same flavor range as darker, sweeter beers like Wee Heavy, Doppelbock and some higher-gravity Belgians.

Description: “Let thy discontents be thy secrets” with this annual January release commemorating the birthday of Benjamin Franklin. Old Lightning Rod is a throwback strong ale from Colonial American times, incorporating “triangular” molasses (or sorghum) as an adjunct, and encapsulating Franklin’s sly founder’s wisdom.

Recipe suggestion: Our good friend Steve Thomas of the Thomas Family Winery in Madison, Indiana, makes fine wine and delicious ciders and scrumpy, and still has time to periodically cater fine victuals in his guise as “His Lordship’s Beef.” With Old Lightning Rod (use earthenware or ceramic vessels to establish mood), Steve recommends an entrée of Steak and Ale, with Ben Franklin’s favorite side items: Clapshot (turnips and potatoes in butter) and Pease (peas in chicken stock and butter, topped with fresh mint).

Citra Ass-Clown Has Not Been Overhyped

louisville beer - new albanian citra ass clownThat David Pierce, head brewer at New Albanian Brewing Company, was willing to drive across the bridge and to the Highlands to deliver a howler of the newly released Citra Ass-Clown told me everything I needed to know: This one was going to be special.

(If you don’t already know the back story of the beer and its name, here it is.)

I was covering an event for Insider Louisville and still had another stop to make before going home to enjoy my first taste of the new brew, so my anticipation only heightened as the evening wore on.

When I got home, I grabbed my favorite pint glass, poured it full, and the first thing I noticed was that Citra Ass-Clown is a beautiful beer to look at: It’s cloudy amber-orange with a medium head, and just has the look of a truly quality beer.

But it’s the nose that sells this one. Wow. That familiar grapefruit-meets-floral burst comes out with a near-fury, and in such a way that I just sat there with my first pour for a moment, taking it in.

The hop quality plays bigger than the beer’s 50 IBU; it reminded me vaguely of Green Flash’s Green Bullet, which was hopped differently but appealed to me similarly. First of all, it’s big. Very big. It’s 7.5 percent ABV big.

It makes a hell of a first impression too — the flavor profile is spot on with the nose (I hate when you get a beer with a great nose, and the flavor just flat), and the body is right where you want it for a saison. It’s crisp and drinkable, but the hops and three malts (Weyermann BoHo Pils, Gambrinus Honey Malt, and White Wheat, according to the NABC website) challenge and create a distinctive, comfortable mouthfeel.

With these kinds of hops, you expect a citrus-y profile; the fun is in how the hop quantities and the way they are used in the brewing process can vary the flavors. I got an orange-meets-lime character here, but there’s plenty more going on behind the scenes, include an earthiness created by the aforementioned malts.

What I enjoyed most is that the distinctive flavor lingers. After a while, the bitterness builds in the background to a mild burn, but it never distracts you from the flavor itself. I was surprised to learn that a “special” ingredient was honey; it does have a hint of sweetness, but that honey was in the mix got past me. I think it may have been a case of not knowing what hit me.

There’s not much more to say other than this is just a great beer that hop lovers will “get.” It’s a big-time beer. Kudos to David and everyone over at NABC for making it happen.

Actually, instead of kudos, I should probably say “thanks.” Life is a little better now that there’s Citra Ass-Clown.

What’s on tap for Louisville’s beer scene?

louisville beer - leo weeklyMatt Fuller, Vince Cain and Zach Barnes are working their butts off these days. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Fuller and Cain, along with a couple other helpers, were busy building out a 3,000-square-foot space in the Highlands in preparation for opening Great Flood Brewing, their new craft brewery.

They were hoisting a roof piece they’d put together themselves onto what will soon be a walk-in cooler where precious kegs of their beer will be tapped. And even though the space, which is just a few doors down from Twig and Leaf, looked like so many piles of lumber mixed with a few ladders on that Saturday, they remain confident they’ll be open sometime in late February.

Such work is going on all around town. Red Yeti Brewing is building out a space in downtown Jeffersonville and hopes to open by late January; another local brewer, Cory Riley, is eyeing April 1 as an opening date for his Bannerman Brewing in the Clifton area. And Beer Engine, based in Danville, Ky., has been working furiously to open a location in Germantown. In addition, five more breweries are planning to open in 2014 in and around the area.

Add those to six established local breweries and brew pubs — Bluegrass Brewing Company, Cumberland Brews, New Albanian Brewing Company, Falls City Beer, Apocalypse Brew Works and Against the Grain Brewery — and the supply of local craft beer is about to more than double. And that doesn’t even include Gordon Biersch and BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, two chain breweries with locations in Louisville. Nor does that include craft beer destinations such as Sergio’s World Beers, Louisville Beer Store, Buckhead Mountain Grill, Tony Boombozz Tap Room and plenty of others that offer craft brews from around the region and the world.

So how much craft beer can Louisville consume? Sure, there are a lot of hipsters here, but even they spend a ton of their drinking money on PBR. How will a new brewery survive? In talking to a few of them, they express varying levels of confidence.

Barnes, of Great Flood Brewing, says, “We think the demand is going to be great. If (the market for craft beer) grows, the demand will be so great we won’t have to force it. The general market for craft beer is still growing, and that’s fantastic considering the economic market.”

The national Brewers Association reports that there are just fewer than 2,500 craft breweries — which are defined in part as having an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less — currently operating in the United States. But consider this: There are another 1,500 or so lined up and preparing to begin operations. So, Louisville is not an exception. In fact, Louisville is outpacing the overall trend.

Will the market hold?
The good news is that growth of the craft-brewing industry in 2012 was 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by retail dollars; 13.2 million barrels of craft beer got brewed in 2012, compared with just fewer than 11.5 million in 2011.

Craft beer now represents 10.2 percent of the domestic beer market, according to a recent story by Business Insider; meanwhile, a study by IBIS World predicts the craft beer market will grow to $3.9 billion this year.

A few recent studies have shown a decline in beer consumption as wine and mixed drinks grow in popularity, but it’s the Big Suds breweries — Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors — that seem to be losing favor in the market.

That’s all good news, right? Local brewers feel confident, despite the inherent challenges. In the case of Red Yeti, Paul and Brandi Ronau ran into problems with the building at 256 Spring Street that delayed the opening. If and when it does open at the end of this month, head brewer Paul Ronau says the beer on tap will be guest crafts. Original beers probably won’t be ready until spring, but still they move forward.

At Great Flood Brewing, much research was done to ensure a good chance of success. “We hope we’re not close to a saturation point,” says Cain.

But how will they differentiate from other brewers around town or, heck, just down the street?

“We have such a small capacity size,” he says of Great Flood Brewing’s two-barrel system, “and we’re going to brew so frequently that we’re going to have something new all the time.”

Experimentation will be the order of the day. They are even tossing around ideas of ways to get customers involved in helping out with recipes.

Leah Dienes, co-owner and head brewer at Apocalypse Brew Works, believes there is room in the market for more breweries. Bannerman will open just down the street in April, but she fully believes the two breweries can co-exist.

“As long as beer is coming in from out of state, there is room for more local breweries,” Dienes says. “Buying local is a growing trend across many cities in the U.S. And we are part of that trend.”

Dienes keeps overhead down by operating a taproom that opens only on Friday and Saturday. Many of her sales come in the form of growlers, often to regulars who live in the neighborhood. Apocalypse also brings in food trucks every weekend and hosts special events, creating foot traffic. Poorcastle, a daylong concert series in July, and Yappy Hour, a Kentucky Humane Society benefit as part of Louisville Craft Beer Week, were two events that brought in big crowds in 2013.

Speaking of Louisville Craft Beer Week, it’s also a positive sign that such events and efforts not only exist, but that they keep growing; there are more and more craft beer events popping up each year and enjoying success, from Brew at the Zoo to the Highlands Beer Festival to the forthcoming debut of Tailspin Ale Fest, set for Feb. 22 at Bowman Field. Louisville even has its own website dedicated to the local beer scene in LouisvilleBeer.com.

But all that still doesn’t mean the market couldn’t top out.

Dave Stacy, the head brewer at Gordon Biersch on Fourth Street, believes a saturation point is ahead. Still, if a customer comes to his place and can’t find a beer he likes, Stacy will direct that person to BBC, Apocalypse or Against the Grain. Will there come a time when there is too much of a good thing?

“Beer being the product that it is, I think we’re getting close to that (saturation) point,” Stacy says. “But I still think it’s better to keep that door open.”

It’s a good point. Why panic when the market is still growing? Stacy points out that differentiation is an important factor. Gordon Biersch specializes in German-style beers, and there is no other brewery in Louisville doing that specifically. If you want a Marzen-style beer, well, Gordon Biersch is a good place to look for one.

At the same time, Blue Stallion opened last year in Lexington and also specializes in German lager-style beers. Sure, it’s a good 70 miles down the road, but it’s still down the road. How long before another brewer follows that lead? And for Gordon Biersch, there is also the specter of how beer snobs eschew chains.

“Our challenge is how people view us,” he admits.

Bubble in the beer market?
Roger Baylor, owner of New Albanian Brewing Company, has been in the business of craft beer for quite a few years; his business model with Rich O’s Public House and Sportstime Pizza hinged on it from the word “go” when those side-by-side concepts launched in 1990. Later, he was the first one in town to eliminate sales of corporate beers like Bud Light. New Albanian as a craft brewing entity was founded in 2002.

“Saturation point depends on the capacity of the new breweries, their level of debt service and what size territory they need to get by,” Baylor explains. “What happens when everyone decides to play the game the same way?”

He added that if the amount of beer local breweries need to produce to stay ahead is more than a local market can absorb, then it must be bottled or canned and shipped further and further away, “which tilts the advantage toward larger and better capitalized entities.”

Pat Hagan has been in the craft-brewing business for more than 20 years as owner-operator of Bluegrass Brewing Company. BBC survived a 1990s market that claimed local breweries such as Pipkin and Silo, and also outlasted Ft. Mitchell-based Oldenburg.

“Where is the bubble in the beer market?” he says. “I don’t know whether it’s a saturation point. There are just so many (new breweries) popping up all over country. Somewhere along the line, something has got to give.”

Hagan wonders aloud what the new brewers’ aspirations are. BBC, like NABC, bottles and distributes outside the Louisville market and has a presence in taps around the area. Breweries like Apocalypse can also be found tapped around town. But how big is too big?

“I guess everybody would like to get as big as they could,” he says. “Apocalypse Brews makes good beer and is getting some distribution out. You take small ones like that, (and) I think we can handle a few more. I keep looking at (the demand) and wondering, but it keeps going.”

Like others, however, he’s simply happy the demand has become so big. That has created room for all these craft brewers’ aspirations and promises plenty of new beer in 2014 and beyond.

“At least consumers are more aware of it and more willing to try it,” Hagan says.

Cory Riley of Bannerman Brewing noted that Michigan Brewing Company entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this year; it is a mid-size craft brewery. A handful of other craft-brewing companies have suffered similar fates over the last year and a half. Is that evidence of saturation in that market, or are these isolated situations?

“In the next couple of years, we’ll hit that saturation point,” Riley says. What will happen then? “The beer will get better.”

Once again, differentiation may be key. Riley says he plans to feature sour beers and Belgian-style beers at Bannerman, which is different than a BBC, a Cumberland or a New Albanian. He also believes people who drink local craft beer will drill down in their support of local products.

“You’ll find that people who live in certain neighborhoods will go to their local brewpub,” he says. Also, he points out that many will avoid drinking and driving by walking to their local brewery for beer.

Of course, that notion takes us back to the days when distribution channels were smaller and refrigeration wasn’t as advanced as it is today. It wasn’t all that long ago that buying a six-pack of Corporate Light at the liquor store wasn’t even an option, so you went to the corner pub with a bucket and got it filled up with whatever was on tap. The return of the local brewer and the growler is obviously a good sign, both economically and socially.

Baylor believes one of the keys may be to remain as local as possible. Five years ago, New Albanian began brewing beer for bottling and distribution outside the Louisville area. But he believes broader isn’t necessarily better.

“It has been a success, but just barely,” he says, “and NABC’s ‘export’ growth is slowing.”

While that doesn’t mean NABC will stop bottling and distributing, what it does mean is a re-focus on maximizing what’s happening in-house, “and be even more ‘local’ than before,” Baylor says.

The problem is that with more small breweries trying to distribute, that means more craft brands for liquor stores to put on their shelves. “But the shelves don’t get any bigger, do they?” Baylor says. “If craft beer is 10 percent or 15 percent (of the market), it still means much of the shelf space has to go to mass market (stock).”

Additionally, the local and regional craft brewers are still competing for that space with established brands like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and even pseudo-craft beers like Blue Moon, he says, and at price points the smaller breweries can’t hope to match.

“So, where’s the market?” Baylor asks. “It’s there, I think, but in places that get ignored. We know they’ll come to our buildings and drink our beer there, and because of that and deep roots, we’ll be OK. But who is our customer elsewhere? And will the new start-ups have time to grow roots?”

All good questions, with unknown answers.

Meanwhile, however, the beer boom is on, and how big the bubble can manage to get is still anyone’s guess. It sure isn’t going to stop those who believe the market has plenty of room to expand.

“You don’t know where a lot of food you eat comes from,” says Barnes of Great Flood Brewing, “or the clothes you wear. I know where (local beer) comes from. It’s a social activity brought down to a natural scale. As long as we keep that dynamic as we’re brewing, I think it’s a permanent trend, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Drink up, Louisville.

This post was originally published in LEO Weekly.

Against the Grain Ionic Blonde Bridges a Beer Gap

louisville beer - against the grain logoI was at Against the Grain with friends over the weekend, chatting and watching the movie “Rocky Balboa” on the screen behind the bar (odd choice, but whatever), when I was gifted an unexpected smile.

I was sipping a New Albanian Hoosier Daddy (guest tap), and my buddy was drinking an Against the Grain Ionic Blonde, when a guy on the other side of me ordered a pint of the latter.

He said, “Yeah, I’ll take one of those craft beers,”  he said. “The one that’s real light.”

No, there wasn’t anything inherently humorous about him ordering a beer – it just struck me as interesting that he made it a point to call it “one of those craft beers.” You know, as if it was some foreign oddity, perhaps brought to earth by interstellar travelers.

Clearly, this is a guy who normally drinks Corporate Light from a vented can, but he seemed more than happy to join in the fun of enjoying a brew of better quality. When in Rome, and all that. To me, it seems illustrative of how far the craft beer movement has come – even those who default to Bud Light are at least aware of the craft brewing movement, and many of them are curious. I sure hope it keeps going in the same direction.

By the way, I also tried the Ionic Blonde (4.8 ABV, 14 IBU), and it’s a great summer Belgian-style ale: easy to drink, sessionable, and with a slightly dry finish. Highly recommended for sitting outside on the patio on a Sunday afternoon. And way better than a Corporate Light.

(Also, don’t forget to make your submission to my Name This Blog contest. You can win free Louisville beer!)

Indiana Craft Beer Month at Fireside

fireside bar - louisville beerNeil and Patty Smith run a quaint business in Sellersburg, Ind., called Neil & Patty’s Fireside Bar and Grill. Good food, cozy atmosphere, the works. And thanks to their dauther Lauren Smith, who is the general manager, they also have pretty sweet selection of craft beers as well.

It took me more than halfway through the month to make a visit, but my pal Rob and I stopped in to enjoy conversation about baseball and music, while also knocking back a couple. I decided to try everything on tap, even the stuff I was already familiar with. (Luckily, Fireside is more than happy to pour you a two- or three-ounce sample.)

Here’s a roundup of what’s on tap currently:

New Albanian Tafel Bier: 5% ABV, IBU 12. It’s a super light (for NABC, at least) Belgian style brew, with lots and lots of malts. Lots. A tad nutty, with a nose that has a faint sourness to it. Interesting, to say the least.

Three Floyds Gumballhead: 5.6% ABV, 35 IBU. It had been a while since I’d had Gumballhead, brewed in Munster by Three Floyds. It was less hoppy than I’d remembered with more fruity overtones. What a great summer beer this stuff is.

Bloomington Brewing Company Quarrymen Ale: 5.8% ABV, 34 IBU. This was my favorite tap of the night. I tend to love dry-hopped ales, so this one is right in my wheelhouse. Not too hoppy, but still has a bitter presence, if that makes sense. The fruitiness leans toward citrus. I could have had 10 of these, but sadly, I had to drive home.

Sun King Sunlight Cream Ale: 5.3% ABV, 20 IBU. This smooth and, well, creamy ale ended up being Rob’s favorite. Another high quality choice for summer. It’s easy on the hops, but has a great crisp finish and smooth maltiness. Your mom could drink this one.

Oaken Barrel Indiana Amber: 5.3% ABV, 28 IBU. I was never a big fan of Oaken Barrel beers, but that could be because my ex and I used to go there when we’d visit her mom in Indy. Sigh. I don’t miss those days. But this is nevertheless a solid amber ale with a nice caramel quality to it and little bit of a bite. (If you want bite, though, I’d recommend the Oaken Barrel Superfly IPA.)

Flat 12 Pogue’s Run Porter: 5.5% ABV, 34 IBU. Dark, chocolaty and with a big coffee flavor, this one is probably more of a winter beer for my buds. Regardless, this is really just a great-tasting porter. For you Guinness lovers, imagine a Guinness stout times 100. Different styles, technically, sure, but there’s your reference point.

Daredevil Lift Off IPA: 7% ABV. You gotta like any brewery that touts its “aggressively fun beers,” and this one certainly lives up to that tagline. It’s a West Coast-style IPA (think Sierra Nevada) with lots of American hop bitterness and what I perceived as a physical tingle at the back of the palate. In my notes, I wrote, “Sooo delicious. But be careful.” Oh yeah, and Daredevil has the coolest tap handles in the state, bar none.

Anyway, check out the Indiana brew specials while you can. Also, if you like country fried chicken livers, you should check out my Taste Bud article in LEO. Fireside has some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Against the Grain Brunches it Up

against the grain louisville beerThis drinking at 10 a.m. on Sundays thing has been pretty popular so far. The Louisville breweries are getting in on it along with all the chic cafes and hipster hangouts, in fact.

Against the Grain unleashed its new Sunday brunch menu this weekend, including a bloody mary bar. House-cured bacon on a stick? Chorizo biscuits and gravy? With a make-your-own bloody mary option? Sounds delicious.

Of course, New Albanian Brewing Co. over in New Albany, unaffected by the previous no-alcohol-until-1 p.m.-on-Sundays silliness, had been doing its bloody mary bar/brunch thing for a while. They will even make you a mimosa using Huber’s sparkling wines.

Anyway, thanks, Louisville lawmakers, for finally opening the door for some Sunday morning fun.