Cory Buenning nearly had a drop-the-mic moment at the 2018 World Beer Cup in early May. His Gravely Brewing Sprockets pilsner claimed a silver medal in the German-Style Pilsener category.
Buenning said he had told brewery co-owner Nathaniel Gravely that if he won a gold, he’d retire: “I told him I would step down, because I wouldn’t have anything left to do.”
Said Gravely: “I’m damn glad he won silver.”
Buenning, Gravely head brewer and a certified beer judge, himself, was being facetious, but it underscores that for him, this is the most important medal he has ever won as a brewer.
“I regard German pilsner as the pinnacle,” he said. “I hold German pilsner over all other beer, head and shoulders. I have said to a lot of people, ‘I will take criticism of any beer of mine you drink — but don’t tell me anything about the pilsner, because I make it for me.”
The competition was held at the annual Craft Brewers Conference, held this year in Nashville — 2,515 breweries from 66 countries submitted more than 8,200 beers to take home a handful of medals across 101 categories. He said he was surprised to learn there were 176 entries in the German-Style Pilsener category alone.
“When I heard, I thought I had wasted an entry,” Buenning joked.
Lexington’s West Sixth Brewing also came home decorated, awarded a Bronze for the brewery’s Pennyrile Pale Ale. That category included 182 submissions.
Buenning estimates he’s won 10 or so previous World Cup medals, as well as plenty of Great American Beer Festival medals over the years, but this one is special for reasons beyond just his love of the style. For one, roughly three-quarters of the category judges were European, several of them German. It means more to him because German beer judges tend to be more particular to style and tradition.
In addition, this wasn’t a beer he improvised from a basic recipe — it’s something he’s been thinking about and planning for over many years.
“Before I even moved here,” Buenning, whose previous job was at Snake River Brewery in Wyoming, said, “I was looking at the water. The water here is soft, regardless of what everyone tries to claim about limestone water. The city water isn’t limestone water, and soft water is good for making pilsners.”
He used Hallertau Mittlefruh hops to brew the silver-winning batch of Sprockets, and he said he was under the gun to get the hops delivered to the brewery in time. Buenning even gave his supplier a pseudo-ultimatum. “[The hops] basically came the day I was wanting to brew this batch,” he said. “I literally told him, ‘I need those hops to brew the world’s best pilsner.’ Now I have to email him and tell him I was wrong — make that the second best.”
Buenning has always held lager-style beers in high regard, and Gravely’s brewing system was designed just for that type of brewing, which involves fermenting the wort at lower temperatures than ales. A Mexican lager is also one of the brewery’s staples.
But Buenning isn’t resting on his laurels. He’ll continue making lagers, while experimenting with other styles and let the accolades take care of themselves.
There’s a little bit of luck involved in winning at the World Beer Cup, Buenning said. “All it takes is one judge having a bad day not liking your beer in an early round. Everything has to become aligned. You just enter the best beers you can that are closest to styles as possible and if you do that often enough eventually you will get a medal.”
Hive and Barrel Meadery at 3rd Turn Oldham Gardens — that’s 3rd Turn Brewing’s location in Crestwood, in case you haven’t been paying attention — is now open for business, having soft-opened just before Derby.
The initial offerings, available in bottles to go or in four-ounce pours from the on-site mead bar, include traditional honey mead, along with PB&J Sammich, a peanut butter and jelly mead. The traditional is 13.1-percent ABV, and The PB&J, made with Concord grapes, is 11.5 percent.
In addition, there is a trio of mango and pepper meads: Mango Chipotle, Atomic Mango Chipotle, made with chiles de arbol, and Kiss the Sun, made with Carolina Reaper peppers. Each check in at 10.5 percent ABV. Batches are small, so they run out quickly, but more variations are on the way, including a cranberry version, a maple version and a barrel-aged mead.
Prices are $12-$18 for 375ml bottles, while pours range from $5-$8. The brewery is located at 6302 Old LaGrange Road, and the mead bar is open 5-9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.