Hand holding a half-full beer glass on a bar in a dark room

Kentucky Beer: A Very Un-Common History

Ky Beers

There’s quite the rich history of brewing in Kentucky, in particular around Louisville, dating back to the 1800s. Louisville was one of the top brewing cities in America before Prohibition. Operating from 1905 to 1978, Falls City Brewing Company was probably Louisville’s most well-known brewery, but other breweries like Oertel and Fehr’s added to Kentucky’s historical brewing roots (all names which have been revived in recent years).

In fact, one of only three or four beer styles indigenous to the U.S. was developed in Louisville, Ky., in the mid-1800s. Louisville experienced an influx of German and Irish immigrants during this time, and they brought their love of beer and brewing knowledge with them to Kentucky. The “Kentucky Common” was a dark version of a classic cream ale made with around 25 to 30% corn along with caramel and/or roasted malts for a dark amber hue and a bit more flavor than lighter cream beers. By the early 1900s, it was the most popular beer in the city. In 1915, it was estimated that 80% of beer consumed in Louisville was Common beer. It was also a beer that could be produced quickly and comparatively cheaply, which boded well for the large labor class of Louisville at the time.

A subsequent market shift to macro-breweries in the mid-1900s ultimately shuttered local breweries and temporarily paused Kentucky’s beer scene. There was a 15-year drought between Falls City Brewing finally closing its doors for good in 1978 and two new breweries opening their doors in 1993. Until 2011, only four more breweries opened across the Commonwealth. Since that time, Kentucky’s craft beer scene has exploded. There are now more than 60 breweries in cities across Kentucky, and the number continues to grow each year with little sign of slowing.

Breweries in cities around Kentucky

Local Ingredients

Locally grown hops are starting to make their mark, delivering flavors to beers across the Bluegrass straight from Kentucky farms. And Kentucky’s first malt house, sourcing all local grains, recently opened in Cynthiana, offering distinctive Kentucky-grown malts to breweries and distilleries. Even the Kentucky Common beer style that largely disappeared with Prohibition has made a comeback with many of Kentucky’s craft breweries now offering a version.

Close up of wheat crop
Fresh from
farm to tap

It probably goes without saying that bourbon barrel aged beers are somewhat of a specialty here, but Kentucky’s brewers are making great beers across the board. From dank IPAs to dark stouts and funky sours to fresh lagers, if there’s a beer style you gravitate towards (no matter how esoteric), you can almost certainly find it at a Kentucky brewery.

Each October, Kentucky’s brewers partner with Kentucky Proud to create new limited-edition beers brewed with ingredients sourced from Kentucky farms. The Kentucky Proud Beer Series has become an eagerly anticipated fall event and a chance for beer lovers to try out some unique brews. (Brown ale made with local mushrooms, anyone?)