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.

Sixpoint Brewing
11.1% ABV, 111 IBU

Sparing us no mercy, Sixpoint Brewing
(Brooklyn, New York) recently released Hi-Res - a beer not for the faint of heart at 11.1% ABV and an IBU so high that it goes beyond human detection. 

A hazy but vibrant orange color with a single-finger head that fades to a ring around the glass, it is rich, full-bodied and resinous with a powerful ripe tropical fruit and citrus aroma.  The flavor mimics the aroma with a bit more complexity: sweet caramel malt, rich, juicy mango and pineapple, ripe orange and tangerine, and a slight pine and boozy-warm finish. 

Despite the intense, resinous, and complex hop profile, this beer doesn't blow your palate with bitterness.  Rather, the hops lend a nice fruitiness which integrates with the malt well, creating something that is almost malt-forward but completely lacking the breadiness of some imperial or double IPAs (something which I, admittedly, have grown tired of).  The warm booziness is far from masked in the finish, nor is the candy-sweetness as it warms.  Drinkable, but I don't think I would go for more than one in a sitting.

Yes, I know: I'm late.  Lauelwood's Megafauna was released in July but I first had a chance to try it only recently at The Hop and Vine this past Sunday for the final event of Killer Beer Week.  I'd heard the buzz about Megafauna...there was a lot.  Honestly, I was a little burnt out by then with the big, bold Northwest imperial IPAs.  They'd all started to blur and become conflated in my mind, all having a similar character: a powerful, intense bitter finish with a heavy, bready malt backbone - attempting to strike some tenuous balance, but becoming like syrup as they warm.  There would be one ideal and quickly fleeting temperature for these beers, at which point the malt and hop characters were perfectly balanced. Serve it too cold, and it was just bitter, serve it to warm and it was like drinking from a can of malt extract.  And my question always was: why?  What are they trying to hide with so much of everything but no space for nuance or complexity?

I will now apologize for thinking Megafauna would be another one of those.  How wrong I was. 

From the Laurelwood website:
This beer takes its name from the oversized animals of the Pleistocene Era, or Ice Age. Large saber toothed cats, hairy elephants, sloths the size of buses roamed the frozen tundras. Everything was big and/or hairy, with extra horns, tusks, teeth, etc. A tough time to be fighting for survival…Like those massive animals, this beer is huge with hop aroma and flavor. We used several new aromatic hop varieties to get a layered and hop oil soaked beer which, unlike the frozen tundra, isn’t bitter, and finishes dry. The Aroma and flavor are layers of Pine, citrus and tropical fruit and the beer is a pale gold. We hope you drink it in good health and keep warm.
9.5% ABV / 140 IBU / O.G. 20.5° Plato
At 9.5% ABV and with a whopping 140 IBUs, one would think this beer could be compared to the big, hairy beasts of the Pleistocene era.  But I would compare it more to a hummingbird: deceptively delicate, but powerful. It pours a pale gold with a lighter body - definitely NOT loaded down with those bready, syrupy malts.  The aroma is floral, citrusy and FRESH.  My friend described it well: it's the smell of opening up a fresh bag of hops.  And the flavor is similar: complex with fresh hops throughout - floral citrus, fresh fruit and pine and a very well-integrated, delicate and balanced malt profile.  Not overly sweet, a dry finish - and you would never know it packs such a punch as there's no discernible booziness at all.

Because Laurelwood brewer, Vasilios Gletsos, is a pretty good friend of mine, I think I haven't given him a fair shake because I didn't want to be biased.  But after recently trying Laurelwood's Pumpkin Ale - one of the only pumpkin beers I've ever liked (the other one being Propolis Mabon Farmhouse Pumpkin Ale, or Alaskan Pumpkin Porter for a delicious spiced chocolate take on the pumpkin beer) - and now Megafauna, I'm now, objectively, convinced: Vasilios is a master.  You need to keep an eye on Laurelwood because there will surely be more great things to come.

As of Monday night, Megafauna was still on tap at The Hop and Vine, so go out and get some before it's gone!

4th ANNUAL IIPA FEST at Saraveza Saturday August 10th 11am to 11pm - a great list of brews, guest brewers, live music, and double BLTs. $20 gets you a commemorative glass and ten drink tickets.  For more info or to purchase tickets in advance

Friday August 9th 6-9pm in the Bad Habit Room is the sneak-peak IIPA Fest VIP party!  For more info or to purchase the last remaining tickets

Alameda, Dire Wolf
Amnesia, Dopacetic
Ballast Point, Dorado
Barley Brown’s, Forklift
Bear Republic, Cafe Racer
Block 15, Simcoe Rocketed version of Sticky Hands
Breakside, Old School Hop Bomb
Cascade, Karma Citracide
de Garde, Houblon Red
Dogfish Head, 120 Minute
Double Mountain, Molten Lava & Poseur
Elysian, Dick’s Picks Konishiki
Evil Twin, Molotov Cocktail & Yang
Firestone Walker, Double Jack
Fort George, Extra Hopped Omegatex
Gigantic, Extra Hopped Cask Whole in the Head
Green Flash, Imp. IPA
Hale’s, Aftermath
HUB, Evelyn Sunshine & Ace of Spades
Lompoc, Dirty Deeds
Moylan’s, Hopsickle
New Belgium, Rampant through a Randall!
No-Li, Something Extra Special
Old Town, Mojo Rye-sn
Oskar Blues, Gubna
Rogue, XS12PA
Russian River, Pliny the Elder
Sierra Nevada, Hoptimum
Solera, Devil’s Food
Southern Tier, Oaked Un-Earthly
Stone, Ruination through a Randall!
10 Barrel, DUB
Three Creeks, 5-Year Anniversary
21st Amendment, Hop Crisis
Uinta, Detour
Van Viven, Viven Belgian IIPA
Widmer, Millenium Falconer
Worthy, IIPA