Craft beer guide to Louisville, a.k.a. Derby City
Louisville, Kentucky equals bourbon, mint juleps and the Kentucky Derby, right? Wrong. The town offers so much more, and the traveling beer geek has plenty of local craft brew destinations to explore.
We spent a couple of nights in Derby City recently, and with the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby this weekend at Churchill Downs, we thought we’d share some tips for anyone taking a Road Trip for Beer to the Run for the Roses – or really any time of the year.
Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse. Housed in the southeast corner of Louisville Slugger Field – home of the Louisville Bats, the AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds – the brewery boasts that it brews six entirely new beers each month in six categories to put on tap. As if that isn’t difficult enough, each bears a deliciously punny name. We ordered a flight of the six up in April: Wang Dong, We Spelt It Wrong, Golden Sower, Neo Sporran, Mad Maxwell Beyond Valuedome, and Pepperation H. The category names are self-explanatory: Hop, Smoke, Dark, Malt, Session and Whim. Though we didn’t eat there, the food we saw on other folks’ plates looked tempting. 401 E. Main St., 502-515-0174.
Bluegrass Brewing Co. BBC, as locals know it (slogan: Beer is Food) started in 1993 with one location and now has three brewpubs in Louisville, in addition to its main production brewery at 636 E. Main St. I enjoyed a flight of beers at the brewery’s tasting room, which serves as almost a museum of historical Louisville breweriana, including plenty old signs, bottles and cans from Falls City Brewing Co. Falls City operated in Louisville from 1905 to 1978, and was recently revived. Try their best-selling Bourbon Barrel Stout, if it’s on tap. Multiple locations.
Falls City Brewing Co. As mentioned above, Falls City was Louisville’s biggest brewery for decades, until it shut down and the naming rights were sold to Heileman Brewing Co. and later to Pittsburgh Brewing, which eventually discontinued production. In 2009, Louisville entrepreneur David Easterling bought the name to return the historic brew to its original roots. It has been contract brewed out of state, but just in time for the 2013 Kentucky Derby, the Falls City Tasting Room has opened in Louisville, where small and experimental batches will be brewed for the residents of the city where it all started. The tasting room opened after we visited, but we had a few of the brewery’s tasty offerings on taps at other establishments. We were especially fond of the Black IPA. 545 E. Barret Ave., 502-410-3508
The New Albanian Brewing Co. Though technically not in Louisville, the brewery is headquartered in New Albany, Indiana, right across the Ohio River. If there wasn’t a sign though, you wouldn’t know that you had crossed into another city, much less another state, which is why some call the region “Kentuckiana.” New Albanian operates two locations. We visited the Bank Street Brewhouse, but weren’t able to spend much time there because we had to go to a concert. The other location, which we were advised is the favorite of beer geeks because of a wider selection of bottles and guest taps, is the Pizzeria & Public House. Being short of time, we only tasted the Hoptimus Imperial IPA and the Naughty Girl Belgian Blonde Ale. Both were delicious, and we’ll have to schedule more time on our next visit. Brewhouse, 415 Bank St. New Albany, Indiana, 812-725-9585; Pizzeria & Public House, 3312 Plaza Drive, New Albany, Indiana, 812-944-2577.
Cumberland Brewing. We did not get a chance to visit this Louisville brewpub this trip, but the locals spoke highly of it. Hopheads should really love it because we heard they are not stingy with that key ingredient in their beers. Its menu seems to be standard pub fare. 1576 Bardstown Road, 502-458-8727.
Apocalypse Brew Works. Another brewery that we’ll have to put on the itinerary for our next visit, Apocalypse is proud of its eco-efforts, including its solar-heated water, grain re-use, and use of found and recycled material in building the brewery. In homage to its names, the beers on tap in the Fallout Shelter tasting room sport such monikers as Cream-ation, Fallout Dust, Atomic Dust and Black Plague Stout. It’s been open since May 2012. 1612 Mellwood Ave., 502-495-4843.
Restaurants and Pubs
These are the places we had a chance to visit during our stay.
Holy Grale. It’s housed in a 1905 former Unitarian Church and specializes in Belgian beer and American craft. The spacious outdoor seating area with a German beer garden feel provides a great place to meet with a group of friends for some brews and dinner from the seasonally inspired and locally provided menu of the “Choir Loft” kitchen. Note: They warn that if you’re seeking bourbon or wine, you will find none there. 1034 Bardstown Road, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Silver Dollar. Bourbons – lots and lots of bourbons -are the focus at this funky pub built in an old firehouse, but beer geeks should be happy with the tap and bottle list as well. Though it stocks some hipster favorites, such as Stroh’s, Schlitz and Old Milwaukee, there are also offerings from craft breweries like Sixpoint, Avery, North Coast, Jolly Pumpkin, Pretty Things and many more. The appetizers and steak I had were pretty damn good, too. 1761 Frankfort Ave., 502-259-9540.
Gasthaus. Founded and run by the Greipel family since 1993, this is the real-deal German restaurant. The baked goods are divine and the mouth-watering entrees are prepared by a team led by Executive Chef Jean-Phillip Schmitt (born in France, raised on German and French cuisine). But the beer – THE BEER . We ordered a Reissdorf Kolsch from Privat-Brauerei Heinrich Reisdorf brewery in Cologne. Served in an authentic Kolsch glass. Fans of German beer shouldn’t miss this. 4812 Brownsboro Center, 502-899-7177.
The Monkey Wrench. This is the kind of place that we never would have found if not guided by a local. Great tap and bottle list, rooftop bar and live bluegrass. Nuff said. 1025 Barret Ave. 502-582-2433.
Sergio’s World Beers. This might be how we would envision beer geek heaven. Start at the front and work your way back. Each room you enter has myriad beers from all over the world on shelves for purchase. The selection of nearly 1,500 beers – not bottles, but beers – might overwhelm even the most knowledgeable among us. The 43 taps are constantly rotated. Of course, you can purchase a Schlitz. It’s $38 a bottle. Most are much less expensive. Really … words … do not come. Mecca? 1605 Story Ave., 502-618-2337.
We were only in Louisville for a couple of days, so please let us know in the comments section about any craft beer spots we neglected to mention.
If you have questions about Louisville or the Derby, you’ll likely find them answered on the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau site.
Also, that striking image of the Kentucky Derby race at the top was shot by local photographer Nina Griepel. Please do not reuse it without permission, but if you need a talented photographer for an event, you can contact her here.