After visiting Against the Grain in Louisville, KY, we made the short drive over to Apocalypse Brew Works. Co-founders Bill Krauth, Leah Dienes, and Paul Grignon opened up the taproom (which they call “The Fallout Shelter”) on May 11, 2012 with the 3 1/2 barrel system they are using today. We spoke to Leah, the head-brewer, while sampling their brews and learned all of the information found below – including the fact that Leah is an active BJCP judge. Between the three co-founders, there is over 40 years of homebrewing experience which helped them open the taproom with 10 beers on tap and maintain that number since. Also, if you happen to be in the area when the world gets taken over by zombies, keep in mind that the brewery makes for a nice Apocalypse bunker since they can lock the razor wire laden gates to keep the zombies out; hence their motto “Drink Beer Til the End.”
I can’t think of a better way to start a Louisville, KY experience than to go to a brewery that uses bourbon barrels from Kentucky and is connected to a ballpark . That is exactly what Against the Grain is, but they are so much more than that – our experience there was incredible. Co-owner Sam Cruz met with us on the gloomy, near-tornado-storm-but-nothing-actually-happened Monday and was able to tell us about their constantly changing beer selection, on-site malt smoker, broad distribution, multiple collaborative efforts, and more. Their brewing equipment is located on the second and third floor, which is visible through glass panes for your viewing pleasure from the bottom floor where the taproom and dining area are located. With so many experimental styles and a warm, welcoming staff, this is a destination that you cannot miss out on!
During our time in Lexington, KY, we received multiple recommendations to check out Blue Stallion Brewing company. We originally made our way over there on Saturday night and then went back the following day to speak with co-founder Jim Clemons. Blue Stallion is currently the only brewery in Kentucky distributing lagers, which became a focus of head brewer Nico Schulz after getting his brewing start in Germany and then attending the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL. Blue Stallion has a principal focus on traditional German lagers and English ales featuring traditional and proper glassware to pair with each style; they do not make any American styles. The taproom features a bar taller than any we have experienced in a space that used to house an old iron working studio. We had an incredible time there both days and thoroughly enjoyed all of the beers we got to try, including a collaboration they did with Against the Grain called All Funked Up Berwynnerweisse.
Our stay in Lexington, KY led us over to Country Boy Brewing on a Sunday afternoon. This brewery has a rugged feel both inside and out on their back patio and completes the mood with country music playing in the background. There are 24 tap handles at the bar: 11 of which were in-house Country Boy brews that ran the spectrum from a blonde to a gose to a barrel-aged stout during our visit, while the other 13 were guest tap handles from various breweries in the area as well as across the country. These guys have made themselves stand out by barrel aging beers right from the start, doing collaborations with multiple other breweries, and even growing their own peppers to add to their beers. The bartender, Zac, will help direct you in the right direction for your tastes and mood, so don’t miss out on a trip to their taproom!
Our final brewery visit in West Virginia was to Charleston Brewing Co located in the city with the same name. The head brewer, Ryan Hastings, was unfortunately in Ohio at the time of our visit so we were not able to meet him in person; however, he kindly chatted with us over the phone for about half an hour before we went inside to check out the brewery. He told us that they use a ten hectoliter high efficiency brewing system (HEBS) from I.D.D. Process and Packaging which features a mash filter rather than a traditional lauter tun. We also learned that a different business, Black Sheep Burrito & Brews, occupies the same space and manages the entire restaurant. Though beer is brewed on site by Charleston Brewing Co, it is then sold and ‘distributed’ to the restaurant for serving. Beers are listed according to three flavor categories – malt driven, hop driven, or yeast driven – and there are 16 taps in the restaurant as well as cask conditioned ales available. We spent a good amount of time there sampling their brews while we munched down on some amazing brunch and definitely suggest that you do the same when you’re in town!
Our visit to Jackie O’s was top notch and ended up being the longest one we’ve had yet, as we spent just over 12 hours talking to their owner, brewers, and other staff between our visits to the new production brewery and the original brewpub location downtown. This growing Ohio brewery has many unique things going on, like having their own farm offsite to grow ingredients on, multiple bottle releases every year, expanding barrel age and sour programs, and more; all of which you can get more information about by reading below. Their brews are packaged in kegs, cans, and multiple sizes of bottles for you to purchase and share with your friends, growler fills are offered at the production facility tap room, and the brewpub has excellent food to pair with whatever you end up drinking. As of now, you can only find Jackie O’s beer in Ohio and in a few counties in Kentucky, so be sure to pick some up if you’re ever in the area!
Some of you might recognize Chestnut Brew Works from our List of 10 most memorable breweries that we put together, and there’s multiple reasons it was on there. Chestnut Brew Works opened in March of 2013 and is the passion project of Bill Rittenour. He is the sole employee of the two-barrel brewery, which is currently operating out of the stand alone garage of his private residence. However, during our visit he shared with us plans to expand into a seven-barrel brewery with adjoining taproom that would be moved to a space in downtown Morgantown. While attending nearby West Virginia University, Rittenour studied the blight of the American Chestnut tree (hence the brewery’s name) and following completion of his doctorate in Nebraska, moved with his family back to West Virginia where he began the brewery after becoming disenfranchised with his day job. This business exemplifies the do-it-yourself mentality we have witnessed within the craft brewing community throughout the country.
Rittenour is growing hops on the property and even shared plans to partner with the university in isolating wild yeast in hopes of creating a beer made with solely West Virginia ingredients. The brewery’s flagship beer, Halleck Pale Ale, can be found in draft accounts in the Morgantown area, but Rittenour constantly releases different brews ranging from Belgian wits to Jack Daniels barrel-aged imperial porters. We truly enjoyed chatting with him and drew inspiration from hearing about how his sacrifice and hard work has paid off in a growing business.
After waking up in Pittsburgh and realizing our van had been spray-painted over night, we made the drive down to Mountain State Brewing in Thomas, WV. The location we visited is in a beautiful ski town and they also have two other locations nearby. Kate Lane was there to speak to us during our visit and she told us that she gets to focus on the seasonal recipes. At Mountain State they’re “making good beer and we’re making people happy,” and they further making people happy by holding the annual Brew Skies Festival which is being held on July 25 & 26th this year (more info below). A trip to West Virginia without a visit to Mountain State would be a poor choice, so make sure to drop by when you’re in the area!
During our time in Pittsburgh, we received multiple recommendations to visit Roundabout Brewery while in town, so we made our way over there on April 23rd, 2014. Husband and wife, Steve & Dyana Sloan, are running the operation on their own in the Lawrencville area of Pittsburgh utilizing a 6 barrel brewhouse. Steve has been working at breweries for years – one in Florida, one in Hawaii, three in California, one in Colorado, two in Missouri, three in Pennsylvania, plus a winery in New Zealand – and the time came to finally open up his own. Roundabout recently celebrated their one year anniversary in July with an event at the taproom where they had live music, BBQ, and Ice Cream. Their brews can only be found on tap in the taproom, as they made the decision to not distribute off-site in order to have full control over how their beer is served. You won’t want to miss out on the deliciously unique New Zealand & American themed beers that Roundabout is brewing, so definitely make time for a visit to the brewery when you’re in Pittsburgh.
While we were in Pittsburgh, we heard many great things about a new brewery in town called Hop Farm Brewing Company, so we called them up and made a visit. The owner and only brewer, Matt Gouwens, took time out of a brewing day to speak with us and we were lucky enough to try a beer that had not been released yet called ‘Margot’ along with four other beers of his. He has many unique things going on, including growing some hops on his property and working with local farmers to grow hops locally (with plans to use them in Hop Farm beers in the future), nifty manual addition of labels to cans, plans to add a pub-like space with locally sourced food, and a goal to can condition some beers. Matt went through the American Brewer’s Guild program which shows through in the beer, so make sure to stop in and check out his brewery next time you’re in Pittsburgh!