In honor of Lexington Craft Beer Week, May 10-18th...
Country Boy Brewing
436 Chair Avenue

A row of regulars with strong Kentucky accents sit at a wood and rough corrugated steel bar watching one of two big-screen TVs, each with a different game on, as country music ricochets off concrete floors. There's not much about this place to indicate it's anything other than a neighborhood country bar - except for the neon hanging high on the wall, which, instead of advertising Budweiser or Coors Light as one might expect, advertises craft beer.  This is the first indication that there's something different about this place.

As it turns out, Country Boy is an indication of good things to come in Lexington - a product of an explosion of craft beer in the world today as consumers in small towns and big cities alike demand higher quality. 

In addition to flights of their own beer, Country Boy offers some excellent guest taps - for which, however, there is no need to bother with
.  In a town with only a few breweries, Country Boy not only brews the best beer in Lexington - I would argue this is some of the best craft beer I've ever had.  Period.

I visited Lexington in February, 2014 - exactly two years after Country Boy opened - so the winter seasonals I describe below are long gone, but it should give you a sense of the styles they offer and quality they represent.  I'm very sorry I discovered this place as I was on my way out of town because I would have loved to make myself a permanent fixture here for the three days I spent in Lexington.  With some damn good beer and some damn fine folks, this brewery is worth a trip to Lexington if you're anywhere nearby.

XXX Jalapeno Smoked Stout
This version of their traditional Jalapeno Smoked Stout also adds Serrano and habanero for bold heat and a fragrant chili aroma. There's just enough smokiness in the flavor to be distinct but not overpowering and it integrates well with the flavor of chili and a slight, dry chocolate to balance it out. This is the best chili beer I've had yet, without a doubt.

Peckerhead Wheat IPA

Pours a gorgeous hazy straw with an aromatic citrus nose. Just a hint of tropical fruit with a lot of citrus and a lingering bitter finish. Yet another really excellent Country Boy beer.

Lazy Rye A lot lighter in both body and color than is characteristic of other ryes – at least in my neck of the woods. It really showcases the rye's earthy spiciness, with a lingering bitter finish.

Sexual Dracula Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout
Brewed with a combination of sour and sweet cherries. The general consensus: other customers love it, but this one is a little too sweet and medicinal for me. Lighter, more mellow and less alcohol than the Rx (9% as opposed to 12.5%), but lacking any detectable booziness. It's a matter of taste, but it's really saying something that this is only one of five Country Boy beers I didn't like.

Bourbon Barrel Rx Stout
A lot of bourbon-vanilla flavor and a slight boozy sweetness. Great flavor, not hugely complex, but very enjoyable.

The Beer Trappe
811 Euclid Ave

My second pick on the list of craft beer must-sees for Lexington is The Beer Trappe - Lexington's only dedicated beer bottle shop with eight taps, over 500 bottles and growlers to go, this place has a classy vibe with dim lighting, a leather couch, and barrels for tables.

The Beer Trappe offers beer events (such as the Mikkeller vs. Evil Twin tap takeover TONIGHT, which makes me really wish I were in Lexington right now) and Beer School - an informative weekly beer tasting,
based on a different weekly style or theme and hosted by BJCP judge and Certified Cicerone®, Kevin Patterson.    

West Sixth Brewing
501 West Sixth St

West Sixth quickly became my local haunt during a brief stint in Lexington, primarily because - despite the vastness of the space, which threatens a cold vibe - the warmth of those who work at West Sixth drew me in.  In three short days, they knew my name and made me feel like a beloved regular.  One or two of the employees even nearly convinced me to stay in Lexington.

Transylvania Tripel was the first of their beers I tried, with flavors of honey and pear cider and a clove and coriander finish. The flavor was decent, characteristic of the style, but I found it far too sweet for my taste.  Their Kentucky Common, part of an experimental batch series, was nothing to write home about either.  But don't get me wrong...just because I didn't like all of their beers doesn't mean they aren't a great brewery.  West Sixth also had a great bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with all the complex flavor one could want from the style, along with a great balance and a dangerously non-boozy 13% ABV.

But of all the admirably-diverse styles that West Sixth attempts (with mixed results), their IPAs knock it out of the park, easily competing with the best of the Northwest IPAs - and blowing the mediocre ones out of the water.  One example is their flagship West Sixth IPA, which showcases all of the beautiful complexity of Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, and Citra hops while maintaining a delicate malt balance.  Their Second Fiddle Simcoe IPA had a beautiful floral nose, citrus and tropical fruit, and a pine finish. The malt, again, was really well-balanced and the beer had very little bitterness despite the 80 IBUs - a very impressive IPA with a surprisingly complex hop profile despite the single-hop variety.

Beyond the beer itself,
West Sixth exemplifies the community and sustainability which craft beer represents.

West Sixth
owns the 90,000 square foot building which houses not only the brewery and taproom but also FoodChain, a local non-profit which set up an aquaponics system for sustainable indoor food production.  Huge barrels of Talapia produce waste which bacteria convert to fertilizer to grow rows of lettuce and herbs. Fish, lettuce and herbs are then harvested by Smithtown Seafood, a restaurant next door which delivers to the taproom.

The building also houses Lexington Roller Girls of Central Kentucky, Magic Beans Coffee Roasters, Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, The Bread Box artist studios, and Bluegrass Bouldering, a rock climbing gym; and will soon house Bluegrass Distillers, a small-scale distillery (currently under construction).  This diverse and close-knit community, combined with a natural Southern hospitality, made me feel like I, too, was part of it - right from the start.

West Sixth recently added a new forty-barrel system, with an eighty-barrel brite tank and eighty-barrel fermenters for full-fledged production and canning.  Their original fifteen-barrel brew system will still be used to produce excellent beer for the taproom.

Special thanks to
Kelly Hieronymus at West Sixth for her hospitality and for fact-checking and providing additional information.

Lexington Beerworks
213 N Limestone St

Gray-haired men hunching over their beer glasses
turned to stare as I walked in with two younger friends.  I felt as though I were walking into an English pub full of the Old Boys Club. 

As it turns out, the charming patrons of Lexington Beerworks can talk your ear off over a great beer and the most phenomenal thin-crust pizza I've EVER had.  Also a homebrew shop, and definitely worth checking out if you're in Lexington.

A charming patron of Lexington Beerworks
574 N Limestone St

A bar with one wall dedicated to old arcade video games, this is the place where beer geeks go when West Sixth stops serving. An impressive list of eleven beers on tap - which included Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail, a 13% ABV tropical fruit bomb. Everyone in the room was a good fifteen years younger than me, which I guess means it's the place to be.

Wood floors and exposed brick walls and a lot of laughter and boysterous conversation that ricocheted off the walls of this historical building on the corner of a sleepy, icy street at midnight.

New Belgium/Cigar City Brewing Collaboration
Lips of Faith Series
8.5% ABV, 50 IBU

Malts: Pale, Carastan
Hops: Target, Centennial, Cascade, Pacific Jade, Wakatu, Simcoe

An ale brewed with Bier de Garde yeast,
anaheim and marash chilies, and aged on Spanish Cedar.

I've been wanting to try a Cigar City collaboration for a while...a collaboration is the only way to get Cigar City in Oregon, and I don't see making it out to Florida anytime soon.  Cigar City did the Gentleman's Club collaborative series with Widmer not too long ago but the reviews were not stellar, and honestly, I haven't been impressed with Widmer's collaborations thus far, so I never bothered trying it.  My experience with New Belgium's Lips of Faith series has so far been great, though – and I've always been a fan of New Belgium, not only for their beer but also for their sustainability practices and employee ownership – so I was pretty excited to try this one.

It pours a crystal clear medium amber with a short head that settles but retains some nice lacing. The aroma is good: you can smell the chilies very slightly, but there's also a sweet tropical fruit, caramel and pineapple. Moderate body and not nearly as sweet as the aroma would indicate. Actually very dry, with a woody earthiness and very slight chili spiciness fading slowly into a lasting bitter finish. No strangely incongruous, green vegetal flavor that you get from some chili beers.  A little surprising that there isn't more hop complexity, though, given the number of hops varieties they used. 

This is an interesting beer because the flavor changes throughout and all the flavors are well-integrated, it's a very drinkable beer and hides its 8.5% quite well.  At the same time, I feel myself wanting more from it – maybe a more complex malt profile, but definitely more chili bite, as it's barely detectible - to my palate anyway. (To put this into context, however, I do like my spice. A lot).

My unsolicited opinion on chili beers:

Unless you're brewing with a type of chili that has a distinctive flavor profile worthy of showcasing or accentuating – like chipotle, with its great smokey flavor – you're basically just adding spice to accentuate what's already present in the beer, and there needs to be a flavor profile which stands on its own.  I always enjoy it when this includes a little something extra – such as fruit or a touch of chocolate – to provide complexity and balance for the heat. Personally, I still prefer these beers very dry with only the subtle insinuation of sweetness (similar to the effect of adding cinnamon to a savory dish) – but I would say that's a matter of personal preference. There's no doubt that a good chili beer is hard to pull off and it seems so few have done it well, although I always look forward to trying a new one.

To me, a great chili beer is Breakside Brewing's Aztec, which has a good amount of bite balanced by a great, dry chocolatiness – an excellent combination which has stood the test of time – over thousands of years in fact (hence the name). Another pretty good chili beer was Vertigo's Tropical Heat Wave, which was on tap at Bailey's Taproom for the Killer Beer Fest - it combined a pretty good bite with some pineapple to balance it out. I'm also told that Burnside Brewing's Sweet Heat is pretty great, which combines chili with apricot. Another great take on the chili beer is Stone's Chipotle Smoked Porter, and I know they're not the only ones who have done this style well.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  Drink well, be safe and don't kill your family!  Cheers! ~CBG