Once known for its illegal distillation and distribution of white lightning and moonshine, west Kentucky is quickly becoming a haven for proud, and legal, microbrewers - particularly in the Paducah area.
For pubs like Dry Ground Brewing Company and Paducah Beer Werks, the mission is simple: brew with passion, brew with taste and brew with others.
It's a statement local crafters have been trying to make since coming to the area, where self-proclaimed "beer nerds" are more interested in flavor profiles, fresh ingredients and good conversation than getting hammered and forgetting about the night.
"Beer really has been sullied over the years - what, with the ideas of beerswill and bar fights," said Dry Ground's tap room manager Cory Greene. "It's not about that. Once people see what goes into this craft and the variety of flavors, there's no comparison to that."
Unlike macro-brewers who continue to fight mass marketing strategies, calorie counts and "keeping up with the Joneses," Greene attests there's a clear advantage in being able to brew what you want and when you want it.
And it's all about quality.
"We take it very seriously," he added. "We think we're brewing a better beer than macrosâ ¦
"We're very proud of our beer, and we have a lot of beers to choose from. And we drink our own beer more than anything because we think we're brewing a beer similar to the quality of beer that we like to drink."
get a pass, local ingredients increasing
One big advantage local breweries have over macros is the ability to produce large amounts regionally without the use of specific food dyes and preserving additives.
There are two big reasons this is the case: Dry Ground and Paducah Beer Werks aren't mass distributing all over the world and batches get slurped up in a hurry.
"I'm sure that some of the 'big boys' in the brewing world would see that as a disadvantage," said PBW head brewer and production manager Jay Marchmon. "But for us, it's a way to increase transparency and accountability for the product--and the company.
"I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly like to know what's going on in my beer so I can make choices as to what's going on in my body."
By 2020, most mass distributors will be required to print nutrition labels on their hops beverages - something that won't affect local breweries because the beer is crafted and transacted in a hand-to-hand exchange.
This is another freeing mechanism that will allow brewers to begin integrating with local farmers to use regional fruits, vegetables and grains on a larger scale - a process already in the works at Dry Ground.
"We're not using local ingredients as of yet, but that's about to change," Greene noted. "We've reached some mutual agreements with some local farmers, and while we've used some local hops on small samples and smaller batches, lately the demand has been so high for hops and barley to go elsewhere."
Marchmon added his company has been able to use local and regional fruits in his brewing processes, but that the recipe for malts simply calls for more hops than the area currently has available.
"We've made a few small batches with grain from our area, and considering the growth of regional malting and hop growers, we're looking forward to using a larger percentage in the future," he said. "Personally, I think the biggest hindrance in using local ingredients for big batches isn't as much the cost as it is the amounts needed."
Fall is in the beer
The German culture and "Oktoberfest" concept has quickly seeped into American veins over the years - and guys at DGB and PBW have taken heed.
Greene said the sales of stouts and porters definitely increases over the autumnal and winter months, as customers seek "heavier, better" flavor profiles and shed the taste for lighter, featherweight beers that are traditionally associated with the spring and summer seasons.
"That's part of the environment we've tried to build," Greene adds. "People want to try something new and rewarding."
In response to the growing demand for fall flavors, Greene revealed an Ameri-German style beer would debut at Maiden Alley's annual "Oktoberfest" on Oct. 15 and remain available for a time after the festival. The brew was created in collaboration with Louisville's Mile Wide Beer Company, which is set to open in November.
Marchmon also noted his patrons increasingly request stouts and porters. And while the pub side of PBW quenches those thirsts with regional guest taps of multiple flavors, he did say there are brews coming with autumn inspirations.
"We've made a small-batch Bock for this fall, and we're experimenting with a Marzen," he said. "We use a whole vanilla bean on a regular basis in a couple of our porter and stout variations."
Paducah and beyond
DGB and PBW swills can be found on several taps statewide and the favor is returned, as both pubs host a number of Bluegrass brews on a consistent basis.
Neither company, however, is currently thinking of any major expansion. Greene admitted he'd love to see more brewers hop on in Paducah and pointed at the exciting start for Hopkinsville Brewing Company in Christian County - a first in the history of the area.
"To be fair, it's a lot of work and expense," Greene added. "It's very serious work."
Marchmon noted while the thought of expansion has created an itch, it's not something he's going to scratch right now - not for the sake of quality, sustainability and feasibility.
"A production facility is something we've been looking into, so we'll see," he said. "We're in Murray, Marshall County and Lexington now, and definitely have plans for more around the state and region. Participating in festivals is great for us, and the local ones are the backbone of community involvement."
For now, both are satisfied with general promoting of a good taste right here in the area.
"There is a beer for everyone," Greene said, "â ¦and we're more than happy to educate."