Saturday, April 17, 2010

Leave it to an Irishman to make a Great KY Beer

So last week, in my beverage and horseracing tour of the Lexington area, I also had the pleasure of stopping in on the Alltech Kentucky Ale brewery right in downtown Lexington. Really, they should start calling it a "brewery and distillery" because right in time for the World Equestrian Games (of which they're the primary sponsor) they'll be rolling out their own whiskey (Pearce Lyons Reserve), and eventually bourbon, distilled right there in the downtown campus.

Is it a blessing or a curse that I just can't stand cheap beer? This hasn't always been the case. I was raised on cheap beer (somewhat literally, I had four young uncles when I was growing up, and they got a kick out of sneaking "the kid" a few sips of their Bud during gatherings). In college, I drank Rolling Rock when I was feeling flush and PBR (without a hint of irony) when I was broke. In fact, I distinctly remember one day my senior year having just under $10 left on my credit card (explains my history of poor financial management) and using it to buy a case of PBR and a small box of Grape Nuts.

So I'm the worst kind of beer snob. Expensive taste with absolutely no knowledge. But I like what I like. (see: my taste in wine)

Two nights before my KY Ale tour, Roommate and I popped into Mellow Mushroom near UK's campus to watch the Red Sox game. They lost, but it turned out it was trivia night and we came in second (from way behind on the final question-- I take no pride that I was the only person in the bar that could successfully match the type of animal to the person who it either mauled or killed). We earned a $25 gift certificate which effectively paid for half the night. Of course this has nothing to do with anything; I'm just bragging that we came in second in a trivia night packed with young whippersnapper college kids.

Oh wait, it is relevant. I brought it up because it was the first time I'd tried Kentucky Ale. And, in short, it's really good stuff. I like what I like, and I like it a lot.

I wish I'd taken notes. I didn't think it would take me more than a week to get a blog post up about the tour. So, as usual, pardon the ramble.

Alltech-- the parent company of KY Ale-- is a company founded in the early 80's by Dr. Pearce Lyons who moved from Ireland to the US. They make animal vitamin supplements, primarily with yeast-derived products. On the website, Dr. Lyons says, "People often ask us why a global company that’s in the business of science also owns a brewery. Well, to make a long story short, my forefathers in Ireland had their hand in the brewing business and crafting beer casks when barrels were made out of wood. Today, my own family is in the business of making yeast that happens to also go into the making of beer. So, it was a natural for us to revive the brewery that has been in Lexington since 1794."

So Lexington Ale has been around for more than 200 years, but it has changed hands a bunch of times. The last time it went out of business, in 1999, Lyons snapped it up. The first beer they produced was the KY Ale-- a blend of an Irish Red and an English pale ale. Since then they've added KY Light, which is a German style beer, and Bourbon Barrel Ale, which is KY Ale aged in a used bourbon barrel.

The tour reveals a tiny facility where they brew and bottle the beer and distill the spirits (which are casked and aged and bottled in Bardstown). But this year is a huge year for the Brewery; they're not only sponsoring the World Equestrian Games but unveiling a new facility that will more than double their space. We were shown the plans, and it looks gorgeous.

At the end of the tour, we were shepherded into a tiny Irish pub and given generous tastes of all three of the beers. The KY Ale remained my favorite. I'm not a fan of German style beers. And while the reviews of the Bourbon Barrel Ale are fabulous and it's won a ton of awards, I wasn't a fan. One of my fellow pub-goers said that it tasted like "bananas," and while I didn't really agree, that sorta stuck with me.

I had no idea that Kentucky Ale products were only available in KY and OH. Part of the reason for the bigger facility is so that they can expand distribution. And I'm just loving their sponsorship of the World Equestrian Games-- even though I know nothing about horsey stuff, I know that this event is a big deal and means lots of money for and eyes on the region. Whenever I can, I like to "drink local," and heretofor BBC products have been my go-to beers. But now I'll add Kentucky Ale to my drink dance card, happy to support a true local brewery that's committed to the state.

**disclaimer: I was led to the brewery by a blog/twitter reader who works in PR for the brewery. I took the standard 3pm daily tour. But I was given a couple of souvenirs at the end of the tour. They didn't, however, influence me in the slightest. No t-shirt is ever gonna make me blog about bad beer.

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