Drinkin' Cider in Bourbon Country
All photos by Sara Havens. It was the decisions summers were made of. We'd make our way down to the local shaved ice shack and stare at a chalkboard, transfixed by the dozens of flavor options. We could pick up to three, so what would it be? Strawberry, blueberry and Tiger's Blood? Or maybe cherry, grape and watermelon? It was a tough choice, but in the end, you were either left with a satisfying sugar buzz or pining after your pal's picks.
The dilemmas of those childhood summers came rushing back when I first stepped inside Pivot Brewing Co. in Lexington, Ky., which serves as Kentucky's only cidery. Written on a chalkboard behind the bar are 12 original craft ciders — featuring flavors like caramel apple (Fincastle) and strawberry-kiwi (Gingham) to pineapple chai (Taj Mahalo) and orange (Kentucky Sunrise).
Pivot also makes seven standard beers, like a brown ale, IPA and pale ale, and saves one tap for a guest brewery, so the fun is in choosing various concoctions and mashups that taste good. Most customers pick two flavors to blend together, and others just stick with a pint of their choice. For instance, one guy sitting at the bar ordered a peanut butter and jelly, which was half Gingham and half Ya Damn Skippy Peanut Butter Porter (by Blue Stallion on the guest tap).
By our estimation, there are 190 combinations available, so it's probably best to start with a flight of four samples and go from there. That's exactly what I did when I first arrived, and I selected the Fincastle, Gingham, Taj Mahalo and Vintage, a dry, crisp apple cider that is Pivot's best-seller, according to bartender Wayne Wallace.
My favorite of the four was the Fincastle, because it wasn't as sweet as you'd expect a caramel apple-flavored cider to be. The caramel notes played well with the cider, which is probably why the snack is so delicious. When Wallace told me Pivot has a barrel-aged Fincastle — which was clearly written on the board in spot No. 2 — I nearly fell off the bar stool.
I promptly ordered a pint of the 9 percent ABV cider, and Wallace broke the news that it's only available in 10-ounce pours. Makes sense, as after a few sips, I was already hi-fiving the person sitting next to me. This was by far my favorite pour at Pivot, and I'd go back for another one anytime.
Bevin Morgan, director of sales and marketing for Pivot, says doing a barrel-aged cider was a given, since they're smack dab in the middle of Bourbon Country.
“Here in Kentucky, it's almost our sacred duty to give a nod to our bourbon brethren,” she says. “However, we're sure this cider would be well-received anywhere because the combination of apples with the rich vanilla, sweet caramel and robust oak of a bourbon barrel is a natural combination.” Morgan says they're planning on releasing other barrel-aged ciders in the very near future, but for now, it's just the Fincastle.
Pivot, which opened in the fall of 2016, keeps five of its flagship ciders on tap at all times, has four that are seasonal, and uses the other three taps for experimental flavors that change every few weeks. “With 12 ciders on tap, we have a lot of room to be creative while staying true to the spirit of delicious, classic hard cider,” says Morgan.
She also mentions that the cidery gets most of its apples from Eckert's Orchard in nearby Versailles, Ky. She says their close proximity and consistent quality made them an obvious partner.
The traditional taproom layout, with the bar as the centerpiece and various tables scattered about, was comfy and cozy. Several regulars brought their dogs, and others gathered around a table playing cards as they sipped their ciders. While Pivot does not serve food, there's usually a food truck parked out front, or you can pack a snack as well.
Pivot is located at 1400 Delaware Ave. in Lexington.