Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kentucky Ale, without the big blue basketball.

On Monday, I spent much of the day in LEXINGTON, K-Y, as former basketball announcer (and New Albany native) Joe Dean used to enunciate it, except in my case there was no “string music” to accompany the beers sampled there.

Before Monday, I reckon to have been in or near Lexington three times since 1979. In that year there was a Who concert at co-Rupp-t Arena, and Who remembers anything about being 19 years old? My buddy drove, and I drank.

The other two times came as a result of missing the turn coming back to Louisville from Cincinnati and driving past, though not through, Lexington on the wrong interstate, still headed to Louisville. Once I remember exiting the interstate, pulling over at the entrance to a huge horse farm, and fetching more beer from the cooler in the trunk.

This time, Kentucky Ale’s Jeremy Markle invited me to help judge the brewery’s annual homebrewing competition, the winner of which has his or her recipe brewed at Kentucky Ale and entered into the pro-am category at the Great American Beer Festival. We were accompanied to Wildcat country by Ashley Isaacs of Flanagan’s Ale House, who also agreed to judge the homebrews.

A little after lunchtime, Jeremy pulled into the parking lot and an enjoyable afternoon commenced with an informative brewery tour. They make beer, and now they make whisky, too. Two huge distillery coppers dwarf the 30-barrel brewing system – impressive testimony to the links between beer and whisky.

Kentucky Ale’s official name is Lexington Brewing Company, a version of which can be traced back to the 18th century with a considerable post-Prohibition hiatus. In the 1990’s, a new LBC re-emerged during the first microbrewery boom, and some readers may remember the Limestone line of ales that disappeared around 1999. At this juncture, the brewery was purchased by a Kentucky-based biotechnology company with global reach called Alltech, which “researches, develops and manufactures natural ingredients for use in animal, alcohol and food production.”

It is an unusual story, indeed, but perhaps not as strange as it first appears. Much of Alltech’s work has to do with yeast, and yeast management obviously lies at the heart of brewing and distillation. Most importantly, and for all its heft in the biotech field, Alltech remains a family-owned business, helping to explain this quirky but sensible notion of having a house brewery on-site.

As a brewery owner, it might even make sense to have a small family biotech firm on site.

Alltech dabbles in brewing because company founder Dr. Pearse Lyons wants it to, simple as that. His Irish ancestors brewed and distilled (poteen, anyone), and Kentucky Ale’s on-premise tasting room and special occasions banquet hall bear an unmistakable Anglo-Irish stamp.

Imagine how having your own brewery and hospitality rooms help convince jaded biotech sales representatives to consider Alltech’s product line … and how Alltech’s fiscal immensity helps market Kentucky Ale, as in the case of Alltech’s multi-million dollar investment in sponsoring the World Equestrian games at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2010.

For once, the official beer of something isn’t Budweiser.

Alltech/Lexington Brewing/Kentucky Ale’s product line is comprised of three everyday beers, not counting the annual one-offs brewed for the pro-am entry: Kentucky Light, Kentucky Ale and Kentucky Bourbon-Barrel Ale. The latter is Kentucky Ale aged in bourbon barrels, which are fairly abundant in Central Kentucky. Kentucky Ale itself is a clean, crisp amber, and the Light, which the brewery people assert is brewed to the recipe of a German-style Kolsch, does in fact bear a solid resemblance to the ales in Cologne.

The ales are smooth and competent, with no extreme beers on the horizon, and sales in Lexington are steadily growing, with total output around 5,000 barrels per annum. Most of it consumed locally, as there is no distribution outside Kentucky. Did you know that Lexington’s metropolitan area is pushing toward 500,000 people, and that the area’s biggest challenge is preserving the rural character of its signature horse farms while maintaining growth? I didn’t, or else I’d not mention it here. Lexington and environs deserve further scrutiny, indeed.

The winning homebrew was a surprisingly assertive cream ale, with a couple of good foreign-style stouts deserving recognition. The homebrewers were not bound to style, but had to use Kentucky Ale’s yeast (since a German-style Hefeweizen won a few years ago, wheat ales are now prohibited).

When all was said and done, the three of us proceeded to Pazzo’s, a pizzeria with at least three layers of different barrooms, good pie and around 30 draft beers, most of them craft or imported. It was fun, and I thank my traveling companions for an informative all-around day on the road.

1 comment:

kenneth said...

I brewed that

surprisingly assertive cream ale.

For 10 gallons:
17# pale malt
3.3# munich
.3# each of biscuit, carahell, caramunich 40.
EKG hops, 6 oz added thruout the boil.

See you in Denver.