(Bluegrass Brewing Co., Voice-Tribune, July 12, 2006)
Brewing beer locally for a dozen years now, Bluegrass Brewing Co. is the city’s oldest remaining brew pub and was our first to make a significant mark on the national brew pub and microbrewery scene.
America has enjoyed such a renaissance of small-batch, craft brewing since the early 1990s that it’s easy to forget that, for much of the postwar generation, the only beer available in the U.S. for those who wanted something more interesting than mass-market lager was expensive (and often poorly kept) imported brew. Beer lovers everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to creative brewers like Dave Pierce, founding brewer at BBC, who opened this local favorite in 1993. It’s been a destination for good beer and good food ever since.
The BBC brand has proliferated over the years, now hanging its sign over a half-dozen watering holes, not all of them directly connected. Pierce, as it happens, stopped brewing there in 2001 and separated ways from the original owners in 2005, although the St. Matthews BBC that he founded carries on the BBC name and trademark with beers now made by brewers Jerry Gnagy and Cameron Finnis.
BBC on Fourth, 660 S. Fourth St., owned by Sharon and Scott Risinger, licenses the BBC name from the original owners and sells the beer, but does not brew on premises.
Pierce now operates the BBC Brewing Co. and its BBC Taproom downtown in the former Pipkin microbrewery at 636 E. Main St., making beer by the bottle and keg, with a small, cozy bar but no food service. His BBC beers are available at retail outlets and are sold in BBC pubs at the Louisville and Cincinnati airports.
Got that straight? Good! Now let’s go have a beer and a bite at the BBC in St. Matthews.
The big yellow building incorporates two large rooms plus a comfortable beer garden. The room on the left houses a big, square bar, a popular, noisy watering hole.
Once you’ve made it through to the non-smoking room on the right, the air is fresh, although it’s just about as noisy. It’s a comfortable, pub-like setting with its own bar, large booths and heavy wooden tables, with four large-screen televisions usually tuned to sports channels. Even though it’s distinctly a pub and beer is the beverage of choice for most (there’s also a modest wine list and a serious selection of Bourbon), children are welcome, and it’s definitely a family-style setting, provided your family isn’t appalled by the presence of alcohol.
Big glass windows afford a good view of the busy kitchen on one side of the room and the compact brewery with its shiny copper and steel fermenting vats on the other.
I enjoy BBC so much that I often drop by for a beer or two and a snack even when I’m not reviewing, and can provide testimony about such goodies as its black tiger sandwich ($7.99, fashioned from roast beef and pepperoni on rye with peppers, onions and cheese plus a dab of horseradish mayo), and the traditional patty melt ($7.99, a juicy burger topped with melted cheddar and Swiss and a pile of sweet browned onions). Wort Hog chicken wings are first-rate, succulent and appropriately hot and spicy ($6.99 for 10, often discounted during happy hour or televised U of L games). Potato skins ($5.99) are another hearty snack, loaded with melted cheddar and jack cheeses, topped with crumbled bacon and green onions and a dollop of sour cream. Pizzas and calzones are good, too; the pizza being a hearty pie with a chewy bread-style crust and a good buy at $8.99 for a 14-inch round (plus 75 cents per topping).
This time, we turned to the entree menu, a choice of nine substantial dinner courses from $8.99 (for the dark-beer Porter stew) to $14.99 (for the Wort Hog sirloin steak).
The blackened salmon ($12.99) consisted of a thin salmon steak, heavily coated with a peppery dry rub that was piquant and salty, imparting spicy, salty heat that called for, and got, a beer on the side. An oversize baked potato came with three pats of butter, still wrapped in foil, tucked into a slit in the side. A mixed-vegetable medley incorporated sliced summer squash and red bell peppers, small green beans, red onion and zucchini.
BBC’s ample selection of vegetarian dishes includes such meat-free delights as a well-conceived spinach-and-walnut “burger” ($7.25) and an all-veggie sub ($6.99). I went with a meatless black bean burrito ($12.99), a hefty roll that looked almost as big as a soccer ball (maybe I’ve been watching too much World Cup), stuffed with black beans, rice, peppers and onions and melted cheeses, coated with a thick, pale-orange queso and topped with fresh tomato dice. It was flanked by crisp tortilla chips and shredded leaf lettuce, with plastic tubs of sour cream and smooth guacamole on the side.
We sampled our way through four fine beers (summer wheat, Kylee’s smoked wheat, Belgian red ale and, my favorite, the nicely balanced and aggressively hoppy American Pale Ale).
Dinner for two left no room for dessert, and came to a fair $40.29, plus an $8.71 tip for exceptionally courteous and pleasant service.
Bluegrass Brewing Co.
3929 Shelbyville Road