BBC to unveil new Louisville Lager Aug. 20 on tap and in bottles

Louisville LagerYour grandfather drank Falls City, Fehr’s or Oertel’s ’92 beer back in the 1950s and ’60s. Those were lager-style beers brewed right here in the River City.

Locally brewed lager returns Aug. 20 when Bluegrass Brewing Company Taproom unveils Louisville Lager, a beer the company’s principals believe will reach out to a larger audience than many craft beers on the market.

The reasoning? In spite of the growth of craft-brewed beer popularity, BBC president Phillip Dearner says, the vast majority of people are still drinking “yellow beer.” As such, brewmaster and vice president of operations Joel Halbleib concocted a crisp, malty, lightly hopped and ever-so-slightly sweet lager to basically show people that craft beer can be accessible to almost all palates.

“We wanted to find a way to reach a different crowd than we were reaching,” Dearner says. “Ninety to 95 percent of Americans are still drinking light lagers. I imagine there is a large percentage of that segment that wants to support local. Why not give these people something they can get behind and have it be local?”

I got to try a few unfiltered and un-carbonated ounces of Louisville Lager, and it sure tastes like something people will get behind. It’s a beer by which a Bud Light drinker won’t be scared off, but it also has a distinctive malt character and just the tiniest hop bite on the finish.

Another interesting point about the beer is that it is branded quite differently than most BBC beers, which bear the familiar (to Louisvillians, at least) BBC script, sunburst and hop logo. Louisville Lager bears an eye-popping red, white and blue logo that hints at vintage. Frankly, it simply looks all-American. What Dearner said he wanted to avoid, somewhat ironically, was the familiarity to people who have tried more flavor-intense BBC beers and did not enjoy them. The approach is similar to how Sam Adams has marketed its Rebel IPA, distancing it from the parent brand intentionally.

“BBC has been around 21 years now and that sunburst that’s on all of our packaging, that sends the message to most people that, ‘This is a Louisville craft beer,’” Dearner says.

But if they’ve had BBC Stout or APA, well, they may be expecting anything but a crisp, drinkable lager.

When Halbleib first began developing a recipe, he focused on creating a Vienna-style lager. Dearner was quick to warn that the minute an exact style was identified, the beer snobs would begin nitpicking. So Halbleib changed course and ended with a lager that features aspects of both Vienna and Munich lagers, but which technically is neither. It is its own thing.

As for introducing it to beer drinkers, it’s a pretty simple approach.

“I would generally ask, ‘What do you normally drink?’” Halbleib says. “If they say Coors Light, Miller Lite or Bud Light, or any of the domestics, I would say, ‘We developed this beer for you.’”

“’What do you like?’” Dearner asks rhetorically. “’What’s your comfort zone?’ With this, we are now offering the full spectrum of beers.”

It speaks specifically to the folks who don’t believe they like ales or, god forbid, “dark” beers. But the truth is that baby boomers were weaned on yellow beer.

“I think the guy who is 50 and above who has drunk nothing but lagers feel so safe with that style,” Halbleib says.

But what it boils down to is that when Louisville was a big brewing city, there were two styles the city’s beer drinkers quaffed most often: Kentucky Common, a dark cream beer, and lager. The reason for this is because of the influx of German immigrants in the mid-1800s; they found Louisville to be an ideal place to start a new life, and they also found the climate and resources ripe for brewing. Lager is decidedly German, and as such, it became extremely Louisvillian as well.

Louisville Lager, in a way, pays tribute to Louisville’s history, adding another aspect of the beer both Dearer and Halbleib believe will help sell it. You can’t get Oertel’s ’92 at the liquor story anymore, but Louisville Lager will be there for the asking.

Louisville Lager 1Interestingly, one reason local brewers don’t make lagers more regularly is that it takes twice as long to ferment. With most local breweries having limited production capacities, making a lager becomes a more difficult proposition than making an ale. BBC’s production facility expanded about a year ago, adding three new fermenters, and brews about 14,000 barrels annually.

But another reason many avoid lager brewing is that it’s simply not easy.

“A lot of people shy away from it,” Halbleib says. “A stout, porter or anything dark hides all our mistakes. This is the complete opposite. Everything must be perfect or it’s going to show in big way.”

“You’ve got to baby it,” Dearer adds.

Halbleib says he went through three or four batches before green-lighting the final recipe. But he feels it’s just right.

Armed with tap handles made from rejected Louisville Slugger bats (you can’t get much more local than that) and the splashy new branding, Louisville Lager will begin popping up all over town later this month beginning with kick-off events Aug. 20 at the BBC Taproom, 636 E. Main Street; Thursday, Aug. 21, at Mellow Mushroom and Molly Malone’s in St. Matthews; and Friday, Aug. 22, at Drake’s at the Paddock and St. Matthews, and Highland Tap Room.

Price points will be $8.49 for a six-pack and roughly $4 to $4.50 per pint, depending on the location. Dearer feels it will soon be a Louisville mainstay, and will be available not just in craft beer locations but even places like Applebee’s or O’Charlie’s.

“I think this beer will open up this avenue for us,” Dearer says. “We have [BBC] Nut Brown at Applebee’s, but it’s not doing all that great. That customer feels a comfort for this lager and this lighter style. I would also think the BoomBozz’s and the Molly Malone’s and the OShea’s, these craft houses, still have a huge crowd that wants a lager.”

Heck, your grandfather may even give it a try.

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

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Oertel’s beer returns to Louisville by way of Apocalypse Brew Works

Oertels coaster 1950s Marvin GardnerA century ago, most Louisvillians were drinking a beer then known as “common,” a dark, drinkable cream beer that was quick to ferment and thus quickly sold by local saloons on draft.

The style, which originated right here in Louisville, is known as Kentucky Common, and it has been making a comeback with versions being brewed recently by Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse, West Sixth Brewing in Lexington, and in a recent collaboration brew involving Bluegrass Brewing Co. and Great Flood Brewing.

But Leah Dienes at Apocalypse Brew Works is working from an actual recipe with her forthcoming release, called Oertel’s 1912. Why? Because unlike most modern Kentucky Common reproductions, this beer was brewed using a recipe from the long-defunct Oertel Brewing Company, which was based in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood beginning in the late 1800s.

This is the stuff your great-great-grandfather was drinking –assuming he wasn’t drinking common beer or lager made by Fehr’s, Falls City, Phoenix Brewery or one of the many other Louisville breweries that thrived before Prohibition. Oertel’s actually carried on into the early ’60s, and Oertel’s 92 remained a staple here until the brewery closed in 1967 after having been owned briefly by Brown-Forman. The brand was brewed by other breweries into the 1970s.

Oertel’s 1912 is a different beer style than Oertel’s 92, however, which was a lager and much lighter in color. Working with fellow brewer Conrad Selle, Dienes did research regarding the types of hops grown in the United States at the time the 1912 recipe was in use. In fact, the recipe they used is one that was brewed at Phoenix Brewery, which was located on Baxter Avenue near Irish Hill, following a fire at the Oertel Brewery in 1908.

Here’s the back story of how Dienes came into possession of the recipe: The Oertel brand was briefly revived in the early 1990s when a group of investors recruited former Oertel’s brewmaster Friedrich W. “Fritz” Finger Jr. to create a new recipe; the goal was to open a microbrewery in the old Oertel’s bottling building at the corner of Webster and Story in Butchertown, but the venture fizzled when a proposed restaurant partnership with another group of investors fell through.

Jan Schnur was part of the ownership group that attempted to bring Oertel’s back, and she has owned the trademark ever since. Schnur called the failed venture a “heartbreak,” and even though she has paid annual fees to keep the trademark current and active, no proposals she has received to bring Oertel’s beer back has interested her.

She has considered various opportunities over the years to revive the brand, but the sting of the first failed venture and the money she and her family lost in the deal has made her hesitant.

“I’m 75,” she says. “I thought, ‘Life is good again. I don’t want to get into that.’

“But When Leah contacted me, something just clicked. I really felt this was the time and the place. She’s passionate about what she’s doing, and she’s good at what she’s doing, so I gave her my blessing.”

Dienes had long wanted to brew an original Louisville recipe.

Leah Dienes

Leah Dienes

“I’ve known Conrad a long time,” Dienes says. “I said, ‘I want to do a historical beer recipe from this time.’ He said, ‘Guess what I have?’” You guessed right – he had Schnur’s phone number.

The two brewers worked on the recipe for about seven months, Dienes estimates. A first batch didn’t quite achieve the color they wanted; this particular beer, based on vintage photographs, was darker than the first batch. So Dienes says she steeped the grains longer, providing a darker look while maintaining a smooth, creamy body.

At about 4 percent alcohol by volume, it’s drinkable and pleasant – lightly tart, almost leaning toward a light sourness, but not quite getting there. In short, it’s likely to be a hit when it is unveiled to the public on May 10 at the Apocalypse Brew Works second anniversary celebration.

“You could drink this stuff all day,” Dienes says, sipping one of the first pours of the beer last week at the Apocalypse tap room.

If Oertel’s 1912 is a hit, Dienes is considering brewing other Oertel’s recipes, assuming Schnur is willing to share.

“Louisville loves it,” Schnur says of the Oertel’s 92 brand. “Especially the old timers. We still have people call and ask if we sell T-shirts and stuff. I have spent money every year to keep it active, waiting for just this type of thing.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.