5 Beers To Try From Kentucky

Bourbon country also happens to be home to some of America’s top craft breweries

Yeah, yeah, Kentucky is the home of bourbon. We all know this, and it’s a tourism anchor that brings in millions of dollars annually. Beer is a kid brother to bourbon in the Bluegrass State.

courtesy Ethereal Brewing

courtesy Ethereal Brewing

But did you know that last year, Kentucky was named one of the top states in terms of brewing growth? Based on numbers collected by the Brewers Association, from 2015-2018, Kentucky grew 43 percent in beer production, which tied with New Jersey for first place in the U.S.. Oklahoma was next at 39 percent growth, followed by North Carolina with 37, Virginia with 36 and New Hampshire at 33 percent.

Either people are getting more interested in beer in Kentucky, or people are just drinking a lot more boilermakers. Regardless, there now are more than 60 breweries in Kentucky, whereas just two and a half years ago, that number barely eclipsed 30. Sure, the numbers are small compared to states like Oregon, but growth is growth.

That said, there are plenty of worthy beers now readily available in Kentucky, but here are five worth paying attention to if you find yourself in the Commonwealth. You know, in between distillery stops.

Fadtastic New England IPA, Ethereal Brewing (Lexington): Created as sort of gag in the storm of the New England IPAs that have raided Kentucky over the last couple of years, it’s become something of a staple. As this new style of beer goes, it’s probably one of the best you’ll get, with all the bright, citrusy aroma you could ever ask for, plus smooth mouthfeel, hop flavor and the signature haziness that hipster beer drinkers seem to love (it’s the oats!). I prefer my IPAs to be a bit more transparent, but people rave over this one. Worth having at least one before you dive into Ethereal’s other creative offerings. (If you manage to get hold of one of Ethereal’s Baba Yaga Russian imperial stouts, grab it and don’t let go.)

Kentucky Common, Falls City Brewing Co. (Louisville): In truth, several versions of this beer can be found around the state at various times—this just happens to be one that’s a solid version you can find in cans year-round. This dark cream ale, one of only three beer styles indigenous to the United States, dates back to the mid-1800s when German brewers landed in Louisville and made a beer for the common man. Light, bready and refreshing, Kentucky Common is thought to have been the beer of choice for 80 percent of Louisville’s population by the 1890s, and it spread throughout the state and region as well. If  you’re in Kentucky, might as well drink like it. (For a tart spin on this beer, try Darkness Brewing’s Bellevue Uncommon or Apocalypse Brew Works’ Kentucky Common 1912, brewed from an actual vintage recipe.)

photo by Kevin Gibson

photo by Kevin Gibson

Bo & Luke, Against the Grain Brewery (Louisville): This smoked imperial porter, which spends months in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels and is released annually in bottles to great fanfare, has become a Kentucky cult favorite. To put it mildly, it’s a big, beer. Like, really big, made with barley, rye and corn (sound familiar?) and then smoked with cherrywood. Beyond the smoke, you’ll find hints of caramel, vanilla and plenty of spices, with a boozy finish thanks to a 13 percent alcohol by volume wallop. And the hops come to play as well, making the beer at once mildly sweet and also bitter. While early versions of the beer have become unicorns, you can still get 2018 bottles at the brewery’s on-site bottle shop. (Be forewarned: Bo & Luke comes in 750ml bottles, so you may want to share.)

Rapture, Dry Ground Brewing Co. (Paducah): With a name like Rapture, how could it be bad? But seriously, this American imperial stout brings more to the table than most, with notes of toasted marshmallow, molasses, dark chocolate, coffee and more. The blend of grains used in this beer is diverse, and the result of blending everything from Chocolate to Crystal malts with oats and River Bend Select is a win for the palate. At 9.4 percent alcohol by volume, it’s a warmer, but it’s available all year round for sipping. Paducah is a little out of the way, but it’s worth the trip to check out this brewery. And if you pass through Owensboro on your way there, be sure to stop at Old Hickory Bar-B-Que for some mutton.

Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter, West Sixth Brewing Co. (Lexington): This porter is mild enough at 6.5 percent ABV that you can enjoy more than one, but big enough in flavor that you might think you’re drinking an imperial chocolate stout. It’s base simplicity and smoothness open the door for big flavor from organic Taza cacao nibs that bring big chocolaty goodness and roast. Cascade hops add notes of spice and earthiness to this smooth beer that you can find all year round in 12-ounce cans pretty much anywhere in the state. Best of all it gets its name because a percentage of sales go to rotating non-profit charities in the state. That’s a win for everyone. (For other beers that give back, please click here.)