Folks flock to the Bluegrass State each spring to toss back a few Juleps, brag about the bets they won or lost on the ponies and experience Bourbon Country. Horses and bourbon are indeed two of Kentucky’s prime resources. But, these days there’s something special brewing in Lexington, Kentucky. Folks may come for the bourbon, but they stay for the beer.
Get in touch with your inner Cicerone with a Brewgrass Trail Passport from the fine folks at the Lexington Visitors Center (VisitLEX.com). This passport highlights eleven breweries in Central Kentucky, all within a short drive from Tennessee. Here’s our picks to get you started:

Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company

Lexington’s longest-standing craft brewery, and is one of the world’s few “brewstilleries” crafting everything from Kentucky Bourbon Ale to Town Branch Bourbon. Their humble beginnings started in 1999, with a “Frankenstein brew system that was basically held together by duct tape,” says Pete Weiss, Alltech Marketing Manager. They’ve come along way since the early days, distributing Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale in 30 American states. But don’t expect to belly up to the Alltech taproom. There isn’t one. “Legally, we’re too big for a taproom,” explains Weiss, “We’re friends with everyone, and trust me, I’m a regular in everyone’s taproom,” he smiles.
Head to your local bottle shop, and you’re likely to find the College Heights Project, that Alltech has partnered with Western Kentucky University to produce beer. There’s an actual production brewery on campus where students can earn their bachelor’s, master’s and, coming soon, doctoral degree in brewing. “The students come in and brew the beer. We package and distribute it all over the country,” explains Weiss.
Be on the lookout for the newly released Kentucky Bourbon Ale- 100% Barrel-Aged Blackberry Porter. http://www.kentuckyale.com/

Blue Stallion Brewing Company

Specializes in German lagers and British ales in a historic 1920’s building. “We focus mostly on Lagers, which are fermented colder, but are more crisp and cleaner than ales […] We take pride in our traditional brewing methods,” says brewmaster/co-owner, Kore Donnelly. Grab a hot pretzel and beer cheese dip made in-house by Dad’s Catering, before diving into Blue Stallion’s flagship beers which Donnelly describes as a “gateway” to craft beer. “They’re all about 5%, approachable and drinkable. If you come here and don’t know what you like, it’s easier to introduce you,” he explains. “We use only the four main ingredients (barley, hops, water and yeast) and we don’t use additives to help out. So we have to be precise when brewing our beers.”
Be not fooled by Donnelly’s approachable description. Geeking out over Blue Stallion’s dunkel or Lager is an easy thing to do.His lagers are a six week process that he explains, “we’ve tried to educate the public about lagering. A high quality ale can be done in three weeks. It’s been a little bit of a struggle to keep up with the demand. They’re hard to make and there’s no where to hide…not that anyone needs a place to hide, but you may not notice some small imperfection because there’s all the character from the yeast and hops…with Helles and Pilsners, it is what it is.”

The first step mash for Blue Stallion Lagers happens around 130-140°, and then the temperature is raised for other enzymes to work. Donnely explains that this lengthens and complicates the process. He also prefers a pure lager, so finings are avoided.
Don’t miss Donnely’s Märzen for this spring! bluestallionbrewing.com

Country Boy Brewing

What some would call adventurous, but “it’s not fake,” says Daniel Harrison (DH), brand manager and co-founder, of his country boy persona. Peruse the taproom board and you’ll find brew names like Cougar Bait, Cliff Jumper, Shotgun Wedding and Amos Moses. Much more than mere monikers for half-baked plans, Country Boy beers are as colorful as their master-minds. A couple of self-described “reformed beer bloggers” started with a business model of “30 beers a day will keep the lights on,” and a vision that would revolutionize the Kentucky craft beer scene. Embarking upon the cusp of Kentucky’s craft beer revival in 2012, DH says that “they were so dumb they didn’t know what to be scared of to be scared of it,” he smiles, “It was the right time, the right place, the right people, a whole lot of luck, and damn good beer.” Now a team of eighteen employees, including the four owners, Communications Director, Molly Danger says that “ they believe in making good beer and the rest will come.”
Good beer they make, indeed. Still, DH contends that they’re always evolving.
When asked about blogger-to-blogger advice that DH suggests, “ Always know that there’s someone out there that’s going to know more than you, and the fact that you might not know as much as someone else isn’t a bad thing. We’re all on this journey going somewhere, and when people get into beer they want to come out and show what they know right away. Take that zealousness away and be ok with not knowing everything. We’re all in this cool club right now, that we’re happy to be a part of.”
Listen to our podcast later this month where DH and Molly talk about women in the industry, and why DH thinks “things are always better when you crack open a beer and work things out.”
Meahwhile, Country Boy Brewing has expanded to Georgetown, KY, where they’re the first new construction brewery in Kentucky in the modern era. With a 50 barrel brewhouse in a 24,000-square-foot space, you bet your brews Country Boy is making their mark. countryboybrewing.com

Ethereal Brewing

Among a collective of small business owners that call the James C. Pepper Distillery home. Known for their sour beers, Ethereal is the only brewery in Lexington with a dedicated yeast lab. Head brewer and co-founder, Brandon Floan enjoys brewing in the old James C. Pepper fermentation room where he says, “we don’t shy away from alcohol around here.” Take their Russian Imperial Stout- Baba Yaga. Aged in Four Roses barrels, it’s deceptively easy to drink at 13%. Still, the Fleur Rouge Hibiscus Saison is beautifully refreshing at 8.5%. “We really like fruit here, and use all different sorts of ingredients to try and get the best flavors into the beer,” explains Floan. While Ethereal offers an array of traditional craft staples, it’s the funk that makes them unique.
With the exception of a few year-round recipes, most all of Ethereal’s beers are one-offs. The key at Ethereal is to free your palate, drink up, and know that there’s one coming up that will win your heart all the same. etherealbrewing.com

Mirror Twin 

Inspired by the fact that brewmaster/co-owner, Derek DeFranco has a mirror twin, Dustin. “We’ve felt each other’s pain, literally,” says DeFranco. Celebrating the “duality of beer,” Mirror Twin offers twin drafts on tap that are identical, but one element of the recipe is different. A law school graduate, DeFranco passed the bar, but set his sights on something a little different three years ago. “My neighbor was brewing, and I thought he was frying a turkey or something. That’s how I got started,” he remembers, “My first batch tasted like home brew. I kind of wanted to quit.” DeFranco’s wife, Kelsey, says she’d never seen her husband quit at anything, and this was no exception. Instead of working at a law firm, DeFranco learned from some of the best in the industry by working at Altech and Blue Stallion.
Open less than a year, DeFranco actually mapped out the Mirror Twin business plan during his bachelor party at Nashville’s Jackalope Brewing Company. Luckily, what happened in Nashville didn’t stay in Nashville. Grab a pizza from the in-house “Rolling Oven Mobile Pizzaria,” and try a few mirrors, but start with the Red Blooded American red ale (6.8% 32 IBU), a favorite of Kelsey’s. Or, choose from an array of rare guest taps invited by taproom manager, Jason Chism, who’s lovingly referred to as “The Mule.” “I move a lot of beer across the country, and like to travel around to the different breweries,” Chism smiles. mirrortwinbrewing.com

West Sixth Brewing

Located in a 96,000 square-foot,100 year-old bakery called “The Bread Box.” The Roller Girls of Central Kentucky, Smithtown Seafood, Bluegrass Distillers, and the Food Chain are among West Sixth’s neighbors. “It’s not just a brewery, it’s a community,” explains West Sixth co-founder, Brady Barlow. But, less than a decade ago, Lexington’s craft beer scene was a one-brewery town. Barlow remembers, “I used to bitch about there not being breweries. My wife said that I needed to do something about that. Ben, Joe, Robin and I were all thinking the same thing, and we didn’t even know each other…I wanted to make an impact on my community.” Last year they donated over $130K to various Lexington charitable organizations through their “6 For A Cause” program. Brady says, “The beer is job one, but is beer doing good too? It’s a lot of fun and rewarding.”
West Sixth’s attention to making beer job one is evident in every beer they make. But, none more so than their flagship IPA made with Centennial, Citra, Cascade and Columbus hops. “It sells more than any other beer in Kentucky and is the one that put us on the map…people who don’t ordinarily like IPAs like this one,” explains Barlow. West Sixth Brewing offers a wide range of beers for every palate that “blur the lines of craft beer…it’s not just fizzy, yellow beer,” he adds, “craft beer brings out a lot of people.”
westsixth.com

The collaborative spirit is alive and well in Lexington, and definitely shines in its ever-evolving craft beer scene. Listen to our #ShareTheLex podcast about collaborations planned for Lexingon Craft Beer Week happening May 12-21, 2017.
Meanwhile, back to those horses. If you’re enamored by the romantic notions of oversized hats and bowties, it’s time to get your boots dirty. “At the heart of thouroughbred racing are the farmers,” says Anne Sabatino Hardy, Executive Director of Horse Country, Inc. She encourages folks to take a farm tour while in Kentucky, and learn how much sweat and tears go into these beautiful creatures from “fouling barn to finish line.” Head over to visithorsecountry.com and schedule a tour today.

If you hit the Brewgrass Trail:

Stay

Gratz Park Inn
120 W 2nd St
Lexington, KY 40507
(859) 231-1777
gratzparkinn.com

Hilton Downtown Lexington
369 W Vine St
Lexington, KY 40507
(859) 231-9000
http://www3.hilton.com

21 C Museum Hotel
167 West Main Street
Lexington, KY 40507
(859)899-6800
21cmuseumhotels.com

Dine

Middle Fork Kitchen Bar
The Pepper Campus
1224 Manchester St
Lexington, KY 40504
(859)309-9854
middleforkkb.com

Goodfellas Pizzaria
The Pepper Campus
1228 Manchester St
Lexington, KY 40504
(859)523-5280
goodfellaspizzeria.com

Lockbox at 21C Lexington
167 W Main St
Lexington, KY 40504
(859)899-6860
lockboxlex.com

County Club
555 Jefferson St
Lexington, KY 40508
(859)367-0263
countyclubrestaurant.com

Experience

…Live Music at
The Burl
375 Thompson Rd
Lexington, KY 40508
theburlky.com

…Horse Racing and Sales at
Keeneland
4201 Versailles Rd
Lexington, KY 40510
keeneland.com


Article & Photography By: Melissa D. Corbin