BY CHRIS CAMPBELL
If you’re a male (or an extremely un-evolved female) between the ages of 18 and Larry King, chances are you’ve sat around with a group of buddies and decided that you will one day open a bar. Logistics be damned! This is indeed both the best and most original idea yet conceived by western thought – besides, of course, graciously offering up your telephone number to your server. This scenario is most often punctuated by a taxi ride home, headache, and no business plan…and definitely no call from a number you don’t recognize.
There is, however, a very small portion of the population who has had such ideas, and actually come up with some sort of strategy to make this boozy dream a reality. I’m talking about the bar idea, not the “number on the receipt” trick. Though you may pass Greg Leimer, Mike Vincent or Jason Wolf in the Meijer produce section one day and not think twice about their penchant for star fruit or their amazingly diverse selection of cheeses, take this opportunity to now pause and give adulation. These dudes did what you said you would do and then forgot about. They’re better than you. They opened the Lexington Beerworks.
Greg, Jason and Mike, work buddies, would find themselves musing about being the proprietors of an establishment of some sort. Jason Wolf, self-described “beer guy” of the triumvirate, elucidated on the genesis of LBW.
“We would sit around and talk about entrepreneurial crap….business plans, strategies….but we one day realized that we were always doing this while enjoying craft beer.”
The three all decided that the beverage that accompanied all these discussions – craft beer – would not only be the driving force behind their brainchild, it in fact, would be brainchild itself.
Wolf continued. “We decided that Beerworks would be a comprehensive entity: Beer from start to finish.”
What does that mean? Well, in some circles that would involve the beer glass first being full, and then being empty. These guys had a bigger plan. At Lexington Beerworks, you can find a selection of at least 10 craft beers on tap (and many more in the bottle) or you can find a wide selection of home brewing supplies. Here, you can literally buy the ingredients of the product you hope to create for consumption, or consume a version of the finished product itself. It’s like being Johnny Cash in the song “One Piece at a Time” and going to the car dealership all at once.
LBW is the homebrewer’s source for ingredients, apparatuses, advice and even tutorials. While it’s not the only homebrew source in Lexington, it definitely is the most comprehensive, and plans are to increase the scope of supplies in the future.
The Beerworks is “right about expected” in terms of sales as they start their 18th month of operation and though the homebrewing section provides a niche, the crux of the Beerworks’ business is still serving the finished product. Kentucky is the 8th fastest growing state in terms of craft beer production in the past calendar year, and Lexington’s Alltech, Country Boy and West Sixth breweries are major players in that upward trend. But places like Lexington Beerworks and The Beer Trappe (Lexington’s first exclusively craft beer grocery and taproom and the subject of an upcoming article) have the challenge of staying current and interesting to the beer connoisseur without offering their own in-house product. LBW has an interesting, alliterative answer to that challenge: Mid-week Mash-up.
Starting on Derby Day, LBW began utilizing an apparatus made by the Dogfish Head brewery called the Randall. According to Dogfish, the Randall is “a…filter system that allows the user to run draft beer though hops, spices, fruit, etc. so that the alcohol in the beer strips the flavor from whatever you add and puts it in the beer.” Appropriately enough, that first Randall experiment implemented an infusion of mint leaves in Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. While the Randall looks like something that your buddy in college who listened to Bob Marley kept in his dorm room next to his lava lamp, the Randall is both legal and harmless.
The Derby Day experiment turned into a weekly Wednesday night event. Each week, a new beer will be offered up for infusion, and Wolf hopes that the mash-up will keep longtime patrons interested as well as attract new customers who may have never have had anything really draw them to try craft beer.
“We will rotate different beers every week so we’re not infusing the same style every week” says Wolf. “Certain beers lend themselves to different types of infusions. We will rotate with dark beers (coffee, chocolate, fruits), hoppy beers (hops), and lighter beers (fruit).”
While Beerworks isn’t brewing their own beers, they are literally putting their own flavor on an amazingly fast growing industry that has caught fire in Lexington. While the closest you may have ever come to infusing beer with anything may have been when you put a Jolly Rancher in your Zima in the summer of ’94, don’t be surprised to see Werther’s Original, peppers, chai tea, peaches or apricots adding flavor to your favorite brew sometime soon.
The three owners of LBW had an idea much like many of us have had: to open a bar. They followed through. And, they’re putting a unique slant on the craft beer scene in Lexington without brewing their own beer. The mid-week mash-up every Wednesday provides an opportunity to try new beers or to put a twist on ones that you know well. Who knows, the next time you and your friends sample an Anderson Valley Summer Solstice with blueberries and raspberries or a Founders Imperial Stout with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans, you may come up with the next big business plan. When you leave, tip the Lexington Beerworks bartenders well. Don’t leave your number on the receipt though. They won’t call you back.
This article appears on page 4 of the June 13, 2013 print edition of Ace.
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