With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve now reached the seventeenth state on the list, The Bluegrass State, Kentucky. The state’s nickname is a clear reference to the grassy pastures that feed thoroughbred horses throughout the area, due it’s fertile soil. It’s also the home of Bourbon, a name indirectly derived from the French dynasty (likely from Bourbon Street in New Orleans) and are thus the richest source of Bourbon barrels, used for secondary beer fermentation, in the world.
Kentucky ranks 26th in total population (roughly 4.4 million) and housed 18 craft breweries as of2014 (roughly 21 today), who are represented by the Kentucky Guild of Brewers. The state ranks 41st in total breweries and 46th in breweries per capita as of 2014, according to the Brewers Association.
Known more for their Bourbon tradition than that of brewing, the history on how brewing was done here in the 1800’s is scant, yet it’s clear there was a strong brewing tradition in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region. The most prolific of the Kentucky breweries was the George Wiedemann Brewing Company. Established in 1870, they became the state’s largest brewer and stayed in operation until 1927, despite the threat of Prohibition, then reopened quickly following repeal in 1933. Wiedemann’s kept brewing independently until 1967, then reborn in 2011 and continues to brew lagers under the same name.
What Kentucky is known for is a distinct style known as a Kentucky Common Ale. A style all but dead, it’s a dark cream ale, top fermented at warmer temperatures (much like the California Common Ale) extraordinarily popular in Louisville from 1850 until Prohibition.
Deeming itself “Louisville’s First Craft Beer,” Falls City Beer has been open since 1905. The state’s first microbrewery/brewpub thrust the state into the modern craft beer revolution in 1993 with the opening of Bluegrass Brewing Company, also in Louisville. BBC has won 8 GABF medals, the most in the state, with their most recent being gold in 2008. Their largest brewer is Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company, operating in the town of the same name.
Three More Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Against The Grain Brewery & Smokehouse (Louisville) – Possibly the state’s best known brewer nationally, ATG has caught the tongues of beer nerds nationwide with the over 270 styles they’ve crafted since 2011. What sets these guys apart is their lack of one singular flagship style, yet you’re certain to find something delectable amongst their constantly rotating taps and killer food menu.
Country Boy Brewing (Lexington) – Open only three years this month, Country Boy is helmed by three KY natives who’ve concocted over 120 styles in that short span. They feature 8 regular offerings including a Gose, IPA and nitro Stout, plus 4 seasonal taps, 12 guest taps and an abundance of food carts to serve up grub in the evenings.
West Sixth Brewing (Lexington) – Known for their 4 hop IPA flagship, West Sixth has been in the brewing game since October of 2011. Dreaming up over 110 beers since opening their doors, they’ve carved a niche in Kentucky as the first to distribute in cans.
Learn more about Kentucky’s Breweries on their tourism site or at kybeer.com.