The Beer Nut: Bluegrass, bourbon and beer
When Dr. Pearse Lyons bought the Lexington Brewing Companya decade ago, it didn't really seem to make sense.
Lyons owns Alltech, an international company that sells animal health supplies and supplements, and the Kentucky brewery was struggling, barely remaining open.
But if you look beyond the surface, you see why Lyons would want a brewery.
"He worked for Guinness when he was younger," said brewery spokesman Nate Canavera. "He has a Ph.D in yeast fermentation. His grandfather was a master cooper (he made wooden barrels used for beer and other alcoholic beverages)."
So when his son decided he wanted to work as an intern at a brewery, Lyons called the Lexington Brewing Company to see if they had any openings.
"They told him they'd like to have him, but they were about to go out of business," said Canavera. "The door opened at the right time, and he bought the brewery. Initially, this was really a passion project."
The brewery has seen significant growth since then, growing from a local brewery to one that now distributes its beer in seven states, most recently Massachusetts.
Initially, Lexington sent its beers here as a draft-only product to gain a foothold and build a following.
Now all three of its beers, Kentucky Light, Kentucky Ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, are available in bottles.
I wasn't excited to try the Kentucky Light. Light beers, with very few exceptions, typically mean light on flavor.
Surprisingly, the Kentucky Light is not a typical light beer. It's a German-style Kolsch, a lighter, refreshing style of German ale.
The Kolsch style is not an overly popular style because it's a delicate beer, and it's difficult to brew one because you can't hide the impurities behind tons of hops or overly malting it.
The Kentucky version is a decent stab at the style -- not the best on the market, but definitely worth drinking.
"A craft drinker doesn't want to see the word 'light' in a beer, but a premium beer drinker doesn't know what a Kolsch is," said another Lexington Brewing Company spokesman Matt Cordle. "I think it was cutting edge for a craft brewery to go into the light segment."
The Kentucky Ale, which is described as the brewery's flagship beer, is a hybrid beer -- a blend of an Irish red ale and an English pale ale.
The Irish red ale part of the beer really comes through in the appearance and the aroma -- it has a reddish hue and a sweet, caramel aroma.
The pale ale shows up more in the taste, with a strong hop presence.
"It seems to be a good crossover beer for all palates," Cordle said.
The best of the beers is the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. The beer is the most reminiscent of pure bourbon I've ever had. It tastes like bourbon without the burn of alcohol going down your throat.
To get that taste, the brewery gets the bourbon barrels the day they are emptied from a local distillery, so they are still soaked in the strong liquor.
"We take our stock ale (the Kentucky Ale) and we put them in the barrels the same day as they are emptied," said Cordle. "We then age it for six weeks, and it jumps from 5.5 percent (alcohol by volume) to 8.5 percent, and you get strong flavors of coconut and vanilla. The drinkability of that beer is incredible for such a high-alcohol beer."
Next up, Lexington hopes to make more seasonal beers using all of the barrels.
"We're kicking around the idea of more barrel-aged beers for seasonals," Cordle said.
Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-626-3823. Check out The Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut/ or follow the Beer Nut at his Twitter page at www.twitter.com/realbeernut.