Three years in, Derby City Brew Tours still offering a fun Louisville beer experience

Derby City Brew Tours has been in operation for three years. | Courtesy of Derby City Brew Tours

Keith Joy seems to perpetually have a wide smile at the ready, and an infectious laugh follows just behind. It’s a big aspect of what makes his Derby City Brew Tours, now three years old, click.

Sure, the popularity surge of craft beer in recent years has piqued people’s interest, providing a foundation for a concept that packs people into a van and drives them around town to try new beer. But the experience is about more than just the beer.

I rode along in his distinctive yellow and black van recently on one of Joy’s tours, hitting three breweries in the process as part of the Saturday Beer Lover’s Tour — Holsopple Brewing, Akasha Brewing and Old Louisville Brewery — and meeting a few new people along the way, as attendees from southern Missouri and Cincinnati were on board along with a few locals, including my friend Laura.

Keith Joy plans to expand to beer and food pairing tours and urban distillery tours in 2019. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The tour begins with Joy making sure everyone has their complimentary pretzel necklace (a nice touch, by the way) and water, if they want it, along with a bit of background before taking off to the first destination.

Along the way, Joy, clad in a gray T-shirt with “#beerlife” printed on the front, chats with whoever is on board, telling of his travels to Europe to learn about beer. (Note: He recommends only spending one day at Oktoberfest in Munich, although he didn’t say why.)

At one point, he was asked how he keeps up with a full-time job and doing several tours a week. He laughed that joyous laugh and said, “I don’t have any friends!”

The whole trip is a laid-back affair: Essentially, once the party arrives at a brewery — and it might be a bachelor or bachelorette party, a private group or just random strangers like our group was — you take a seat, and a brewery representative starts bringing samples.

He or she announces what beer you’re about to try, briefly describes it, answers questions, and then you chat with those around you and wait for the next one. During the tastings, Joy or the brewery rep may talk with people about the flavors they’re experiencing in the beers, be it roasty malts in a stout or pine and grapefruit in an IPA.

Tours include behind-the-scenes looks at the brewhouses. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

We had four 5-ounce samples at each place (All-inclusive guests get bottomless samples), which essentially is like drinking an imperial pint at each stop. Once the samples are finished, the next step is to take a quick tour of the brewery, where a back story gets delivered, and attendees can ask questions.

Once the behind-the-scenes look concluded, Joy announced that there were 10-15 minutes remaining before heading back out on the road, giving everyone a fair chance to buy a pint of their favorite brew.

Jane and Blake Esicar were in Louisville from southern Missouri. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

As you would guess, the beer can pile up quickly over the course of three hours (some tours that are available, such as the All-Inclusive Tours, are a bit longer), which only makes people more chatty, adding to the fun.

Certainly, attendees become more tipsy, which is why it’s recommended you get a driver to take you to and from the pickup spot, which in our case was at Fourth and Liberty downtown.

(Full disclosure: At one point, Laura and I were pumping quarters into a vintage Galaga machine. Thank goodness for Uber.)

All in all, it was a fun afternoon, and I think it might be especially attractive to those new to craft beer. Two of the couples on the tour were relative newbies and were in town for other reasons.

Jane and Blake Esicar, of Cape Gerardo, Mo., found Joy’s tour by way of a Google search, having been in town for an event at Maker’s Mark Distillery. They’re primarily bourbon people, which makes Louisville a prime destination.

“It’s been fun,” Jan said. “Quite frankly, I didn’t realize there were breweries in Louisville. The nice part is that you get transportation — it’s so convenient.”

Of course, there’s also the education to consider, especially for those who aren’t familiar with beer styles.

Nick and Kim Lonnemann share a cheers at Old Louisville Brewery as Joy looks on. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Nick and Kim Lonnemann discovered some new knowledge along the way, having had a variety of styles, from wheat ales to Irish stouts to a German-style bock beer.

“I like the fact you are encouraged to drink beers outside of the norm,” Kim said, “outside of what you would normally choose.”

“I like the diversity,” Nick added.

For Joy, who offers tours from Wednesday through the so-called Sunday Fun Day option, it’s more than just a business. He’s an engineer by day, but his enjoyment of his side gig is through the roof.

“I believe the best part is, like, the interaction,” Joy said. “You have people on these tours who only have Miller or Coors Light in their refrigerator. The breweries are very passionate about sharing the beers they choose to sample on the tour. Once the customer samples these, they are like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there were so many different flavors.’”

Joy said in 2019, he plans to add urban distillery tours that also will focus on education and interaction, and also hopes to start doing tours featuring food and beer pairings. The goal is to one day make his business a full-time venture.

“Like I said, ‘I ain’t got no friends,’ ” he said in a follow-up interview, laughing. “But it’s a passion of mine. It’s a little bit exhausting at times, but it’s all good. I plan to do brew touring for the long run here in Louisville.”

To book with Derby City Brew Tours, visit the website or call 208-9954.