2017 was kind for the state of Kentucky when it comes to craft beer. Though our state lags behind most of the prominent beer destinations across the country, it appears the residents of our backwards hollers are finally coming around to appreciate their IPA’s and gose’s. Here at the Coalition Of Craft Beer Lovers Of Kentucky, we represent a full spectrum of craft beer drinkers from all around the state and we’ve aggregated the best breweries and beers coming out of Kentucky for this past year. Here are the winners for 2017, as voted by COCBLOK: (Disclaimer, these answers all contain breweries from Lexington and Louisville which have the largest concentration of craft breweries in the state. While there are many fine options across Kentucky with lots of new breweries on the horizon, these two cities are currently leading the charge.)
Best IPA: Fad-tastic Vol. 1 NEIPA (Ethereal Brewing)
I swear this thing isn’t rigged but admittedly, this is a COCBLOK beer. We solicited Ethereal to brew a smooth, hazy IPA with lots of citrus character and they came through in spades. It’s no wonder that beer nerds appreciate a beer they asked to be brewed. Fortunately, Ethereal has been pumping it out for the masses, too, including 22 oz. bottle releases. Fad-tastic took the trophy but only by a hair over the Honorable Mentions below. The whole hazy IPA movement has been rampant around the country and Kentucky has only now caught on this past year, but with breweries like Mile Wide and Mirror Twin churning out a new cloudy IPA seemingly every other week, we’re fine with playing catch up. Fad-tastic is a cloudy, New England style hazy IPA and tastes like hoppy tropical fruit juice sans the hop bite thanks to murky nature of the beer. Nick F. on Untappd says, “Unlike any ipa I’ve ever had – drinks like smooth champagne,” and Ashleigh B. says, “Solid as dad dick. You know it mom.”
Honorable mentions: Tessie (Mile Wide Beer Co.), Mackin On Your Haze (Mirror Twin Brewing)
Best Stout/Porter: Nate’s Coffee Stout (Country Boy Brewing)
This beer isn’t technically new for 2017, having seen limited draft runs in the brewery. Although Country Boy finally decided to package their darling breakfast stout in user friendly aluminum cans and that’s good enough to make it in our list. Mainly because pretty much everyone voted for this beer; now that it’s availability has ramped up, people have taken notice and Nate’s Coffee Stout won this category in a landslide. Ringing in at a respectable 8%, the beer is brewed with Guatemalan coffee beans from local central Kentucky roaster Nate’s Coffee (duh) and features tons of coffee roast with a mild bittersweet dark maltiness while finishing smooth. Todd Takei on Untappd says, “Love this. Would drink coffee if it tasted like this,” and Cherie H. says, “Crazy strong coffee flavor. Would be a good ‘eye opener.'” Thanks, Cherie H., I’ll “remember that.”
Honorable mentions: Loco For Choco Coco (Ethereal Brewing), Uncle Disheveled (Mile Wide Brewing)
Best Barrel Aged Beer: Coffee Vanilla Baba Yaga Imperial Stout (Ethereal Brewing)
Ethereal graces our list yet again in possibly the most illustrious category. Barrel aged beers are typically viewed as the pinnacle of what a brewery can accomplish, you know, unless you’re shtick aging something for two weeks. After three years of brewing, Ethereal is capitalizing on a heavy hitter they dub Baba Yaga, a massive 13% imperial stout aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels. The beer was first unveiled during their inaugural year finale and ultimately saw some limited packaging in large format bottles. At such a high ABV it’s not a sessionable crowd pleaser. What it is, is a robust, roasty sipper that opens up when enjoyed slowly, which is exactly how they intended it. With 2017, Ethereal released a version aged on coffee and vanilla beans which upped the ante. Combine the intimidating stout heft with a lingering vanilla sweetness and balancing coffee roast and you have the best barrel aged released in Kentucky for 2017. Jillian H. on Untappd says, “So damn good. Coffee, vanilla, mocha explosion,” and Jonathan C. just says, “Uhhhhh gah damn.”
Honorable mentions: Snake Cake Imperial Stout (new in bottles for 2017, West 6th Brewing), Bellerophon Barleywine (Ethereal Brewing)
Best Sour Beer: Sixfold X: Flanders Red 2017 (West 6th Brewing)
Sour beer has been a polarizing mistress in the Bluegrass State. One person will wax poetic on the underappreciated acidic pucker only a wild ale can deliver while the next will revile lactic tartness as an unholy bastardization of what beer should be. There isn’t a lot of middle ground when it comes to sour beer, but those that admire it are definitely vocal. Locally, we’ve seen some of our mainstay breweries now embracing the style which could be viewed as an evolution that occurs once you’re comfortable with your position in the market. The best sour for 2017 actually comes from the “oldest” craft brewery in Lexington (“oldest” by virtue of…well, their virtues.) West 6th’s Flanders Red comes from a line of sour beers in their Sixfold series. Their original flanders came out in 2016 but this solera blend is new for 2017 and has resonated appreciatively. This year’s vintage was aged in oak barrels and features a prominent tart character with notes of cherry fruit sweetness and mild malt to help balance. Herr K. on Untappd says, “Straight dank. This is acidity is perfectly balanced and there is a nice cherry sweet moment underneath that tart funky leather,” and Biere W. says, “Holy shit snacks that’s good.”
Honorable mentions: Living Proof: Golden Wild (Country Boy Brewing), Living Proof: Wild Red Balaton Cherry (Country Boy Brewing), Alepail Experiment (Ethereal Brewing)
Best Other Beer: Shannon The Dude’s Brew (Rock House Brewing)
In the catch-all category that basically includes anything that doesn’t fall into the mainstream styles, this Kentucky Common reigns. The Kentucky Common style has made a mild comeback over the past few years and many breweries have interpreted it as an old-style natural sour, though recent acknowledgements have agreed that nothing in the recipe indicates anything that should require an innate sourness. That’s worked in Rock House’s favor as this sessionable Kentucky Common has enough flavor to please even the nerdiest of beer nerds while retaining a light enough body that warrants, like, six of them. The beer is aged with vanilla beans to deliver it’s understated smooth sweetness. Charlie E. on Untappd says, “Delicious and dangerous at 4.9%! I could seriously drink this all day,” and CeCe E. says, “This STD rocks.” I see what you did there, CeCe. I see, CeCe.
Honorable mentions: Donut Plains (Blue Stallion Brewing), Swooly (3rd Turn Brewing)
Best New Brewery: Mirror Twin Brewing/Mile Wide Beer Co.
Though barely losing out to Ethereal in the “Best IPA” category, these two breweries have embraced the hazy IPA movement and have consistently served out more New England style IPA’s than any other brewery in the state, and the state has responded. With offerings such as Tessie and Tuck Rule by Mile Wide and Hazy But Lazy and Haze For Horses by Mirror Twin, there’s (finally) no shortage of hazy IPA options in Kentucky. Mirror Twin and Mile Wide even collaborated on a hazy IPA, Haze Of Our Lives, further cementing their dedication to the haze. If you like hops and are enamored with the cloudy, smooth, New England variant, you’ll be right at home at either of these breweries.
Honorable mentions: Gravely Brewing Co., Rock House Brewing
Best Venue: West 6th Brewing
This was a close one between West 6th and Ethereal. Both venues are popular hot spots and offer lots to do beyond just drinking beer, not that you want to do anything but drink beer. While Ethereal finds itself in the epicenter of the burgeoning Distillery District in downtown Lexington with neighbors such as GoodFellas Pizza, Middle Fork Kitchen & Bar, Crank & Boom Ice Cream, Break Room Bar, Elkhorn Tavern, and The Burl music venue, West 6th has done wonders in developing community centered events including yoga classes, running clubs, art exhibits, and non profit events as well as nearby food options like County Club and Smithtown Seafood. Beerwise, West 6th has become one of the most consistent breweries in the state and offers a range of styles for everyone including Heller Heaven double IPA, Transylvania Tripel, Low Beam New England IPA (another Best IPA nominee for 2017), Meadoweisse Berliner, and Snake Eyes Stout. Their Barrel Room houses only barrel aged beers and has grown from a tepid experiment to a snowballing monster. They’ve finally relinquished the overdrying champagne yeast bottle conditioning and settled for a more manageable force carbonation model (thank the beer gods), Snake Cake stout was newly bottled for 2017 and nearly took the top spot in our Barrel Aged Beer category, and their Stock Ale was, arguable, one of the best beers of the entire year (non champagne yeast bottle version, of course).
Honorable mentions: Ethereal Brewing
Best Food: Monnik Beer Co.
This was another very close call with Ethereal and it’s bevy of nearby food options in a near second place, but ultimately the expertly crafted in-house options at Monnik were just too good to pass up. Originally an expansion by a brewery called Beer Engine in little known Danville, KY, Monnik Beer Co. has taken a life of its own. Their head brewer, Scott Hand, wields a deft hand at balancing eclectic styles, excelling at prodding people out of their comfort zones and into new experiences with beers like their Najaar mild winter ale and Melkweg brett double IPA. For the culinary epicurean, the food options at Monnik resemble a niche gastropub more than a brewery restaurant. A quick glance at their menu will have you forgoing your go-to fries in a basket and pondering the possibilities of a Pork & Black Currant Pie or Korean Fried Jackfruit Nuggets. Most notably the Donder Fries are an experience to behold. As COCBLOK’er Mike G. states, “They have mayonnaise peanut butter fries… Get past the fact that I said mayonnaise and peanut butter in the same sentence and just order them. Damn good.”
Honorable mention: Ethereal Brewing
Best Taplist: Holy Grale/Arcadium
If you’re out on the town in either Louisville or Lexington, there are plenty of options to find a good beer. If you don’t want to think about it though, your best bet is to visit Arcadium in Lexington or Holy Grale in Louisville. The Holy Grale has 27 taps and specializes in European beers and also sours that you can’t find anywhere else. In fact, they’re one of the very few venues selected by Brasserie Cantillon to toast their annual Zwanze Day celebration, a very exclusive event giving praise to sour beer. They have an in house kitchen serving excellent food and even have an outdoor beer garden for the warmer months. Arcadium is known for not only having an amazing taplist with 20 tap handles, but also one of the best bourbon selections in all of Lexington along with a full service bar of all types of cocktails. They don’t have a kitchen but Al’s bar across the block serves staple comfort food. Arcadium also has a shitload of old school arcade games for when you need a Street Fighter fix. That last part is especially important.
Honorable mention: HopCat (Louisville and Lexington locations), The Beer Trappe, Sergio’s World Beers