For nearly 15 years, Cumberland Brews, the cozy little brewery in the Highlands, has been tucked away from the limelight — even with the insane surge in popularity of craft beer, Cumberland has mostly stayed quiet, serving up good food and good beer to the neighborhood.
So, to say it was a surprise when Cumberland suddenly announced the release of Hopop Hetbot in 22-ounce bomber bottles would be a major understatement. Why now, after a decade and a half of primarily selling beer out of the taproom at 1576 Bardstown Road?
“Well, there is no rhyme or reason to why now,” Cumberland founder and owner Mark Allgeier says. “We’ve had a bottler for, gosh — I bet we’ve had our bottler for six or seven years. The only time we’ve ever bottled before was to send it to GABF (Great American Beer Festival). We stay really busy doing what we’ve been doing.”
But now there’s a Cumberland specialty beer available at the taproom and coming soon to liquor stores around the state — except in Louisville. In addition, Hopop Hetbot will only be available in bottles; the idea going forward is to brew specialty beers for bottling rather than bottle its usual brews that can be bought by the pint or growler.
Brewers Cameron Finnis and Evan Blanford both had wanted to bottle for quite a while, Allgeier admits, but the owner felt the market for bombers has been saturated. And let’s face it, there’s only so much shelf space.
And so, Heidelberg Distributing Co. will pick up about 20 cases in the coming days, with another 20 to 30 cases set to be bottled and made available. How much more gets brewed beyond that depends on how quickly the beer sells. And there is already a second brew in the works for a second release, although Allgeier was not willing to go on record about that one just yet.
One interesting note about Hopop Hetbot is that nowhere on the label — which features a sketch of two skeletons in a hot tub on a starry night — is there a sign of the Cumberland logo. There is a nod to the brand hidden in the artwork, but the only other mention of it is in teeny-tiny print just above the mandatory Surgeon General’s warning. That wasn’t an oversight.
“That was on purpose,” Allgeier says. “What we’re trying to focus on here is not so much our logo, it’s the beer.”
That said, the beer is a hybrid of sorts, blending a Belgian-style ale with a dry-hopped pale ale. At 7.0 percent alcohol by volume, it’s got a bit of gravity, but it’s plenty drinkable. Meanwhile, at 30 IBU (international bittering units), it’s not hophead-level bitter, but there’s just enough spice and bite from the Hallertau and Tettnang hops to get your attention. And the combination of barley and wheat bring a creamy-meets-crisp Belgian profile to the beer.
It’s sort of a cross between Cumberland’s Moonbow, which is sort of the brewery’s answer to Blue Moon, the popular Belgian wheat beer people like to drink with an orange slice in it, and Cumberland’s traditional pale ale.
“This is something Cameron wanted to make for a while,” Allgeier says of Hopop Hetbot, which retails at $7.50 per bottle. “We were trying to hit on the person who likes Belgians and who also likes hoppy beer. If you’re a fan of either/or, you can drink this. It was kind of the feeling of, instead of making two different beers, make one. We just thought it was a good beer to begin with.”
When it’s all said and done, Allgeier says what he and his brewers want is for each of the bottle releases to be something just a bit different — maybe even something extraordinary. And while craft breweries all over Kentucky crank out more and more interesting beers each week, Allgeier is content to continue being the little brewery in the Highlands — just with a new twist.
“I think we’re at the point now we’ve got a few beers in our minds and we’re thinking we could do this really well,” he says. “We’re not real interested in trying to keep up with (other breweries). It’s about us being able to make that special beer and release it to the following we have, maybe even grow that following a little bit.
“I don’t know where it’s going to take us; we don’t see the path clearly. That’s kind of fun for us.”