Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Take a Beercation to Louisville with the Beertender

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 12:45 PM

Beercation (n.): A short, inexpensive trip whose primary justification is the pursuit of rare, local or otherwise unattainable beer.

Among potential beercation destinations, my current front-runner is Louisville, Kentucky, only four hours east on I-64. Maybe not the first place you'd think of -- it's more of a whiskey town -- but when a friend who grew up in Louisville brought back some treasures from a recent visit home, I became intrigued.

St. Louis and Louisville are both named for French kings, Louis IX and Louis XVI, respectively. (#9 got canonized, while #16 was the only executed french king. We win.). Sitting right across the river from New Albany, Indiana, and down the river from Cincinnati, OH, this tri-state town benefits nicely from its proximity to different markets. Local brews including Browning's, Cumberland, Bluegrass and Lexington mix with impressive national and regional selections. Kentucky is lucky enough to be in the distribution networks of Stone and Dogfish Head, iconic craft brewers whose celebrity has propelled the cause of better beer.

Also, Kentucky has Liquor Barn. Liquor Barn is a local chain store that offers a magnificent selection of craft beer. More importantly, it offers draught beer for sale in growlers. One location has over 40 taps. This, my friends, is brilliance. My Christmas wish this year is for one of our better beer stores to follow suit. Randall's? Lukas? Lookin' at ya.

As this is whiskey country, the birthplace of bourbon, there's no shortage of whiskey-barrel-aged offerings. One of the current big trends in craft beer, barrel aging can do serious things to a beer, particularly if the barrel was previously used to age spirits. Bourbon-barrel aging can give a gorgeous aroma or sweet burn to a dark lager; to an already huge imperial stout it can add extra tonnage. There were a few such beers in my Louisville care package, one of which is made right here in the Lou.

Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Ale is brewed specifically for the Kentucky market, reportedly at the behest of a local distributor. Whatever its reason for being, it's yummy, a blend of Schlafly's barleywine and pale ale aged in Jim Beam barrels (which you may have seen recently gracing the parking lot at the Tap Room).The color of dark honey, with cherrywood and apricot aromas, it's a great sipper because it's got a nice medium-bodied quaffability, while its strength quickly warms.

Most of the other brews I enjoyed were 100% Kentucky. Browning's Guillotine ESB was inspired by Louis XVI's "bitter end," with a normally-überbalanced beer style given an extra dose of hops. It's a really solid American take on one of my favorite English styles. Bluegrass Brewing's Dark Star Porter has a nose of straight coffee, a lightish body and a subtle chocolate/espresso flavor; it may just be the Platonic ideal of a session beer. Sheltowee Gloomsucker Black Ale is labeled a schwarzbier, which is a lager, but the confusion subsides when one simply accepts its smoky, malty, roasty simplicity.

Yeah, February in Kentucky is sounding pretty good.

Matt Thenhaus is a Saint Louis bartender who believes there is a time and place for every beer. He blogs about beer every Wednesday.

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