Around the country, beer drinkers have been putting down their Budweiser, Coors and Stroh’s in favor of brews of a more unique variation. Just like the dawn of the 20th century saw the rise of the American lager we all are all too familiar with, the turn of the 21st century has seen the rise of the American craft beer. This market has mostly been associated with various breweries of the northeast, Colorado, Oregon and California; but for the past year, Lexington has carved out a place for itself in the craft beer market. With the opening of West Sixth Brewery, Country Boy, and Lexington Beerworks in 2012, a brewgrass trail, and two more breweries set to open in 2013, Lexington is becoming a beer town in the middle of bourbon country.
Daniel Harrison, owner and general manager of Country Boy Brewing on Chair Avenue (celebrating its one year anniversary this weekend), says the growing craft beer scene in Lexington has roots deep within our city’s culture. “We're a city of good people. Kentuckians, especially central Kentuckians, love Kentucky. We like our traditions and we like the things that we make here. We have horses, bourbon--beer is a natural choice… We knew that if we made great beer people would come. However, we weren't confident in how much we would be supported. It was all a gamble... We knew that Lexington needed a craft beer scene and microbreweries that represented the people here and what we are passionate about. Lexington folks appreciate good food and drink, and it just didn't make sense that there wasn't craft beer flowing here.”
Harrison’s bet paid off - what started with a “glorified homebrew kit” has grown 300 percent in the past year to a full scale operation distributing kegs to bars in the region and in Indiana. Their ingenuity has spawned such creations as the “jalapeno porter” and the “peanut butter stout,” while maintaining craft staples such as rye pale ales and hopped up IPAs.
Country Boy is more about options than letting one flagship beverage define who they are. “The new idea is that the Flagship is not having a Flagship. It's great to have one beer that people are crazy about, but today more and more people are looking for variety.
"Breweries are judged on their whole portfolio, not just a few beers. People that are loyal drinkers of a brewery want to have a little variety to choose from.”
The taproom at Country Boy is packed many nights of the week and serves up a plethora of intoxicating malt potions of their own and more from around the country. The beer is well priced, the atmosphere warm, and outside food is permitted - even encouraged. A food truck is usually parked right outside the door for famished patrons, and a list of local delivery options is proudly displayed on the wall, phone numbers and all.
Harrison speaks of the symbiotic relationship Country Boy has with Lexington's food trucks: “The food truck guys are some of our closest allies. These are folks that work hard. They are craftsmen that are passionate about making something special. Most of them don't have vast menus; they do one or two things well and that is all. It's a natural fit for our businesses to work together."
"We're in the beer-making business, not the restaurant business. If food trucks park outside of our brewery and offer our customers another food choice, it's a win-win.”
Instead of attempting to increase revenue streams by serving food, Country Boy is focusing on doing what they do best while creating opportunity for other businesses to do what they do best. Here we have the economic theory of specialization at work: focus on what you are good at. For Country Boy, that is making good beer and giving people a good place to drink it in.
Country boy is celebrating its one-year anniversary this weekend (February 8) and it is going to be quite the Bacchanalia. “We will have only Country Boy beers on every tap, and we have over 30 different beers to make it through this weekend. We've got some stuff we've held back since we opened, and a few special kegs of beers that were really popular. We're releasing our Rx Strength Stout, an imperial stout aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels, and we've got a few kegs of the Papaw's Red that will make an appearance as well.”
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