The story of Bluegrass Brewing Company and its many arms is one plenty of people in Louisville don’t fully understand — when the BBC taproom and production facility announced its rebranding as Goodwood Brewing, followed by the closing of BBC’s Fourth Street location, many thought the latter was going out of business.
Nope. The Bluegrass Brewing production facility at Clay and Main streets has been owned and operated separately since 2003, so only it will undergo a brand change, and BBC will continue on at its brewpub locations in St. Matthews and at Main and Third. Essentially, what this means is that now we have two breweries with two separate lines of beers from which to choose going forward.
Meanwhile, Goodwood’s grand opening in mid-May sparked a huge first weekend, but only a couple of the new beers were available at the time, so it was more of a take-a-look-at-the-new-digs party. The new line of beers officially launches Monday, June 1, in both draft and bottles, and will be available at the remodeled taproom and in stores.
Interestingly, the new recipes will largely be based on those that came before — the key difference at Goodwood is that in one way or another, every beer will touch wood, be it through added wood variants or traditional barrel aging.
Another difference is the use of filtered limestone water, which has long been a distilling tradition. And now for Goodwood, it will become a brewing tradition. Limestone water is perfect for brewing, according to Goodwood brewmaster Joel Halbleib, because it’s high in calcium, an element lost during the brewing process.
The wood additions will have varying effects on the flavors of the beers. For instance, Louisville Lager, the first beer to be made with all Kentucky grains, will touch white ash — a cool connection given the baseball theme of the beer and the fact baseball bats are traditionally made from white ash.
“We were looking for another way to tie it back into Kentucky’s heritage,” said Goodwood president Phil Dearner, “and we had some neighbors down the street that make baseball bats.”
However, those who love Louisville Lager shouldn’t be alarmed; white ash is an extremely hard wood, so its presence will likely be impossible to detect. In some cases, the wood is more about marketing than flavor.
“It’s a way to tie wood aging into our process without changing what Louisville Lager is, which is an easy-drinking beer,” Dearner said.
Another BBC classic was the Nut Brown Ale, which has been re-cast as Walnut Brown Ale. The recipe is similar enough that lovers of the classic beer will recognize the new one as a close sibling, but with some improvements.
However, when the Goodwood team went to research the possibility of adding walnut wood into the process, they discovered that walnut is so hard that cutting boards are made from it. That wouldn’t help in the brewing process. Meanwhile, there apparently are minor poisonous aspects to the wood, which obviously was a deal killer. So they added actual walnuts into the mash process instead and came away with a whole new beer.
“We were really, really happy with how the walnuts interacted with our nut brown ale,” Dearner said. “We reconstructed the beer, we modernized it. We wanted more body. It was very traditional, so we added body. Walnuts really add the undertone of those nuts — it really comes into the back end beautifully.”
Oak chips ended up being the wood that would finish the beer off, adding a dryness.
BBC’s American Pale Ale has been another longtime favorite for those who’ve patronized the brewery and its cousin brewpubs, and it has undergone changes as well. But there were hurdles along the way. Renamed Goodwood Pale Ale, originally it was going to be Kentucky Pale Ale, but Lexington’s Kentucky Ale (Alltech) felt the names would be too similar. The two sides reached a handshake agreement, and now we have Goodwood Pale Ale.
The new beer will be aged on poplar, and the approach was similar to that of the Nut Brown.
“We wanted to modernize what we had been brewing for 20 years as BBC,” Dearner said. “It’s floral but more like a California style. We kept a lot of those elements and those hops, but we did push it further to the West Coast (style), which adds some more citrus, and we took it up to an IPA level.”
As for the poplar, he said, “It’s going to put a pretty good element in the background of that beer that will make it very interesting. It’s a nice wood to age on.”
Of course, the popular Bourbon Barrel Stout will continue as a flagship, and there will also be Bourbon Barrel Ale, both obviously nods to Kentucky’s bourbon heritage.
Two of the new beers, however, will be versions of former small-batch brews that Goodwood hopes will become popular mainstays. One of those is the Brandy Barrel Honey Ale, formerly known as Barbarian Honey Ale, a beer that was available on draft at times at the Clay and Main taproom. In keeping with all Goodwood beers touching wood, this one will age in a brandy cask for a good long while and end up as a bold, fruity beer that packs an 8.7 percent ABV punch.
The other is Red Wine Barrel Saison, which might well be a super sleeper.
“The saison is just a beer we love,” Dearner said. “We truly believed we needed to branch out to other barrels. We had our opportunity because we had done the saison and the honey ale in small batches for many years. We were positive the beers would be well received.”
Basically, it amounts to putting a traditional saison, an earthy and fruity ale, into wine barrels and letting the two become good friends. It’s a unique proposition, and one that Goodwood believes it will knock out of the park.
“I think it will be our flagship within the next year,” Dearner said. “If you like red wine, it gets that contingency of wine drinkers to look at beer in a different light. The tannins that come through in the background and everything that pops in that beer is really wine heavy.”
It’s also a fairly drinkable and sessionable beer at 5.2 percent ABV, and by using varying wine casks, it will create subtleties from batch to batch based on the barrels and wines involved.
It will be interesting to watch Goodwood evolve and to see how the new approach is received by craft beer drinkers in Kentucky and across the region.
“(We) want to try to own that category and be a regional and national brewery that people, if they want barrel-aged ale, they think of Goodwood first and foremost,” Dearner said.
Meanwhile, for purists mourning the loss of BBC on draft and in bottles around town, there’s good news out of the original Bluegrass Brewing camp. Draft production will begin almost immediately at the St. Matthews location to serve spots around Louisville, and plans are under way to increase production capacity and begin bottling within the next six months or so.
In a statement this week, BBC announced it will “begin by supplying their best-selling beers, the American Pale Ale and Atta Boy IPA, to the Kentucky market on taps and eventually move into other specialty beers such as the Bourbon Barrel Stout and Heine Bros. Coffee Stout. The limited-edition Hell for Certain, a Belgian-style ale, and the Rye 75IPA will also be available on draft and bottles.”
BBC owner Pat Hagan added, “Most people did not realize that the BBC restaurants on Shelbyville Road, the Yum! Center BBC and the BBC restaurant at Theater Square were under different ownership than the BBC taproom and bottling plant at 636 E. Main St. Part of the agreement was to make the two different operations appear seamless. It was a great relationship, as we worked and supported each other well. The craft beer market has grown exponentially in the last few years, and we are excited to have the ability to use the BBC name again.”
Meanwhile, you might want to grab that last six-pack of BBC’s APA at your local liquor store, because you won’t be seeing them again for a while after June 1. But Dearner reports Goodwood bottles will be readily available to help fill the void in your fridge.