When I heard the Florida-based chain World of Beer was opening a location in Louisville, I thought, “Here we go. The Walmart of beer bars is coming.”
And truth be told, the place is kind of, well, corporate — kind of like a Drake’s with its clean, modern environs, but with a lot more beer. I find the place to be noisy and disruptive to the senses, with a clanging bell going off every few minutes if someone orders a giant pretzel. (That gets really old after the third or fourth time.)
But the folks in the local beer scene aren’t viewing World of Beer as a bad thing — in fact, they seem welcoming. Heck, there are even a couple of Goodwood Brewing-logo casks that sit by the World of Beer entrance. If that isn’t an olive branch to the local scene, what is?
“Wherever we’re at, we’re local to that area,” says Jimmy Powell, a market development partner for World of Beer, which is located at 9850 Von Allmen Court, Suite 108, just off Brownsboro Road. “We’re looking to do anything we possibly can to help the local community.”
At World of Beer, they’ve got 50 tap handles, and Powell says the goal is to have up to 20 of those pouring local beers. In addition, there are three huge coolers packed with hundreds of bottled beers, from American craft to imports. There’s also a giant, chrome “infusion tower,” which to a beer nerd is basically a randall on steroids. During my visit, they were running Victory Brewing Summer Love through fresh raspberries and blueberries, and it was quite nice.
Powell says World of Beer plans to host meet-the-brewer events with local breweries, and already when I was there, the taps were pouring New Albanian, Goodwood, Alltech, Apocalypse Brew Works beers and more.
With the trendy atmosphere and pub-grub-meets-upscale menu, this place might not attract the same crew that frequents local breweries or drops a wad of cash at Sergio’s World Beers; I asked around the local brewing scene, however, and didn’t run across any who view World of Beer in a negative light.
“I’ve heard good things about their business,” says John King, executive director of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers. He points out that there is really nowhere else in that end of town where people can go for craft beer. He also notes that, outside of the recently opened 3rd Turn Brewing, there’s no brewery or notable craft beer-focused bar or restaurant outside I-264.
”I live in the Highlands, so I’ve got everything within two miles,” King says. “Those people out in Norton Commons … had to drive 20 or 25 minutes to the Highlands or downtown to drink craft beer. Now they don’t.”
He also notes that World of Beer targets the 25-40 crowd, many of whom have kids; most breweries and bars aren’t terribly kid-friendly, which isn’t the case here.
He and King both expressed concern over quality control difficulties with that many beers available all the time. Only time will tell if World of Beer can consistently move beers before the flavor begins to deteriorate.
“They know local is important,” Wlodarczyk says. In fact, Wlodarczyk believes it is an important statement that World of Beer chose Louisville — he sees it as a sign Louisville is recognized more and more as a thriving beer market by those outside the area.
As for whether local craft beer drinkers will embrace World of Beer, he says, “Leave it up to the market to decide. I think it is a positive development.”
It should be pointed out that not everyone will be annoyed by the clanging pretzel bell — there is a market for the type of corporate bar environment World of Beer brings, and if that audience can get their mouths wrapped around a beer by Apocalypse, Akasha or Monnik Beer Company, that is all the better for Louisville’s beer scene.
Also, World of Beer isn’t the first and last craft beer chain in Louisville — HopCat, a growing craft beer chain based in Grand Rapids, Mich., is currently working on a location in the Highlands that reportedly will include 100 taps. The location in Lexington even has its own brewery. Most importantly, HopCat is quite different than World of Beer and will attract a different crowd while also featuring local and regional beer.
“It’s all about different experiences,” King says. “To me, beer is about taste, but if you can accompany it with a great environment, that makes it taste better.”
Powell perhaps sums it up best: “I’m of the mindset that anyone who introduces new beers into the market, that is helping the market. The more beer, the better.”