Remember when St. Louis-based Schlafly Beer seemed to be the dominant craft beer in Louisville? We see the out-of-market beers come and go all the time, with Florida’s Sweetwater and California’s Lagunitas finding their way into taps and retail outlets here in the past year or two.
Why those breweries and not another?
Well, it’s distribution. When a brewery sells the interest to a large corporation, it has more muscle in the form of marketing and distribution dollars. Growth becomes targeted. So is the case for Devil’s Backbone, which just entered the Louisville market with its line of core beers.
Based in Lexington, Virginia, Devil’s Backbone was acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2016, and has been slowly expanding distribution. The brewery recently hosted a kick-off event at Varanese in Crescent Hill, introducing a few of its beers, handing out swag and telling its story.
Founders Steve and Heidi Crandall, back in 1992, went on a skiing trip and had their first taste of Weihenstephan lager. Inspired, they eventually decided to open a brewery. Devil’s Backbone opened in 2008, and it quickly became a regional hit.
And when you sell a lot of beer, you attract the attention of the big boys, like A-B InBev, who may, or may not, want to control, or possibly squash, small breweries in order to quell this recent uprising of craft beer. Hey, there’s Budweiser to be sold, OK?
I happened to sit next to a Devil’s Backbone rep at this dinner, while brewer Jason Oliver talked about the beer and the group dined on a delicious dinner. It was a casual, but interesting, conversation I had with the rep, who told me his name was Nathan. The key takeaway for me was when I asked him point blank what he says when craft beer snobs call out Devil’s Backbone for being owned by what many deem to be the Evil Empire of beer.
“What’s the elevator pitch you have to give them?” I asked.
The rep shrugged and said, “We don’t really have one.”
In other words, if you’re a so-called craft brewery owned by A-B InBev, you don’t need an elevator pitch. I questioned him further, and he confirmed that it’s well known to all involved that money talks, and if you put enough of that behind marketing a brand, so long as the beer isn’t atrocious, you’re going to do OK.
Well, folks, the beer coming from Devil’s Backbone is anything but atrocious. We tasted a Vienna-style lager, a balanced, amber beer that has won a dozen medals in beer competitions worldwide. We also sampled Gold Leaf, a crisp and bready lager beer that has won six medals of its own since 2009. We also sampled a black lager (13 medals) and 12-Point IPA, a high-octane, imperial India pale ale with big hop flavor. It’s a mouthful, and it won a silver at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2009.
So, look for Devil’s Backbone beers to begin showing up at your favorite watering holes and on shelves in liquor stores and convenience stores around Louisville, as Standard Sales Company has begun the local rollout. Will it become the next out-of-market brand to establish a strong foothold here? We’re about to find out.
Holsopple’s first bottle release
The Lyndon brewery is celebrating its first birthday, and the beer release is part of the celebration.
Owner Sam Gambill offered me a sneak preview of Happily Ebony After a couple of weeks ahead of its release, and I must say that, based on this initial offering, I’ll look forward to more. Gambill and head brewer Michael Whitman brewed a rich, dark ale, then locked it away in Old Forester barrels for two months.
The result is a beer with a big, bourbon-laced aroma, and a flavor that blends the sweet flavors inherent to the bourbon — vanilla, creamy butterscotch — with a hint of roasted malts and chocolate. The body is medium rather than the thicker mouthfeel you’d get from a barrel-aged imperial stout, but you don’t lose any of the flavor in the process.
Oh, and if you like booziness in your beer, this one has plenty of it. It’s 9.1-percent alcohol, and the flavor of the alcohol seeps in while not interfering with the balance. Quite an enjoyable beer, and if you stop in to grab a bottle, you might just see me walking out with a couple myself.
The brewery opens at 2 p.m., and the taproom recently has been expanded. Bombers (22-ounce bottles) of Happily Ebony After will sell for $15 each at the brewery. No draft sales will be available, and supplies are limited.