Honoring my Louisville roots with Falls City Brewing Company

By Lara Augustine

I’ve always loved beer. From my first sip of beer given to me by my father at the young age of 4 years old, I was hooked. Anytime my father had a beer in his hand when I was around (he drank one beer daily), I consumed one, maybe two drinks of this tasty beverage. The aroma, the refreshment of it, the taste is what I liked. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t like beer.

I am a born and raised Louisvillian and have chosen Louisville to remain my home, as I love this big town/small city.

Falls City/LAGERS Red Wine Barrel-Aged Brew-off

When I heard about the Falls City/LAGERS brew-off where the winning entry would be able to brew on Falls City’s commercial brewing system with Brewmaster Dylan Greenwood and have not only the original beer distributed across Louisville, but also have a portion of it aged in a red wine barrel, I knew this was the competition for me. At the time, I had never been to a brew-off nor participated in one. I knew what one was: you bring your own homebrewing system to a location provided and brew at the same time as other homebrewers. I was a little frightened of brewing around others, being judged by my brewing system or having something go majorly wrong while attending the brew-off. But I knew, I KNEW, I had to give a shot! After all, the brand “Falls City Beer” meant much more to me than any other beer I enjoyed. It was historical, it represented my hometown, it was a part of my Louisvillian family’s beer-drinking history, and, my first sip of beer was from a Falls City Beer bottle! When the brand was brought back from brewing history, I remember their tagline clearly “Same great name. Now less shitty.” I was skeptical of this claim as my tastes had changed over time, but with my first pint of their pale ale (I still have the glass with the tagline on it), I knew they had accomplished the goal of increasing the quality of the beer under the historical name and I could, once again, like Falls City Beer.

5/8/15 14:17:59Research began for what beer I would enter into the competition. 1) What kind of beer would taste wonderful aged in a red wine barrel? 2) How could I represent Falls City Beer historically? 3) Where was I going to get my recipe? 4) How could I win over some of the awesome seasoned homebrewers with me being a new brewer with less than a year’s experience? Answers came later.

Introduction to homebrewing

Let me back up and give you an intro into how I became a homebrewer. This is the most common question I get from people. What got you into brewing beer? The answer: from the first time I ever heard that you could brew beer at home, I wanted to try it. Fast forward 15 years and the opportunity presented itself. Sounding like a punch line for a joke, I was sitting in a bar and a young man sat down next to me. We began talking about beer and blah blah blah, an hour later, he offered to give me all of his extra homebrewing supplies that he didn’t need any longer as he was brewing on a smaller scale than before. How would I go about getting this equipment? Show up at the next LAGERS meeting, the third Monday of the month, he said. Who are the LAGERS? I questioned. The answer: a Louisville-based homebrewing club with the acronym standing for Louisville Area Grain and Research Society. Well, that sounded like a good deal to me!

I missed the next LAGERS meeting, a little nervous to show up to a homebrew club meeting never having homebrewed before. I was out of a long-term relationship and looking for activities to socialize with like-minded people (in this case, beer lovers) as I found myself with a lot of spare time, and decided to go ahead and take the plunge and attend the next meeting. I went. The young man I met in the bar wasn’t there. Darn! However, the LAGERS were doing an experiment where you had to guess the beer style through taste-testing homebrews. What is a beer style I asked? Wow, I felt really dumb, but instead of being judged by others, I was given an education by some helpful members. I got all but one of the answers wrong on the taste test, but I found it very fun. A life-time beer lover and a craft beer-lover for around four years, I wanted to learn more. I was just a drinker and an uneducated drinker at that, but I knew I loved craft beer. I came back for six months to try to meet the young man who was going to give me his equipment. Every meeting, someone would ask me “What are you brewing?” “Do you do extract or all-grain?” Umm… “nothing” and “I don’t know? What’s extract and what is all-grain?” My lack of knowledge was overwhelmingly clear, but I was learning with each meeting, each educational session, and by asking lots of questions to people who were already brewing and were eager to help and who didn’t judge me for my novice questions. Each time I was asked what I was brewing, I would have to explain how I met this guy who was going to give me his equipment and… so on and so forth. Finally, someone said to me “I think you are probably going to have to buy your own equipment now. You can do it.” He was right, but… “How do I buy equipment?” Homebrewers are partners and are always willing to lend a helping hand and with that question answered I was led me down the path to becoming a homebrewer myself!

People are often very surprised that I brew my own beer and after attending the LAGERS meetings, I understand why; female brewers are far out-numbered by males. In a room of 60 brewers, we are lucky to have five females. I don’t understand why there aren’t more female homebrewers, but I hope it changes with time, as brewing is a fascinating combination of creativity, chemistry, cooking, and engineering.

My favorite beer in the world, at that time, was BBC’s Bourbon Barrel Stout (now Goodwood – also the primary meeting location for the LAGERS). I had recently purchased 1,000 bourbon barrel staves (yes, 1,000 – built a deck with them) and for my first beer, aimed high, and successfully brewed a bourbon-barrel stout with extract brewing. I love barrel-aged beers. Another reason why I HAD to win this competition! The bourbon-barrel stout was good, but using staves and not a barrel, not truly what I would want from a barrel-aged beer.

IMG_2321A beer with German-American historical significance

A few months later, a veteran homebrewer taught me and another willing learner to do all-grain brewing which really expanded my options to customize my recipes. Eight months after we brewed an all-grain Kolsch on his system and after I had brewed a few more recipes alone, I found myself in the Falls City brewery on 10th Street in downtown Louisville with other LAGERS club members brewing my recipe for the red wine barrel-aged brew-off competition. After a lot of research into historical beer styles, I chose to brew a Cream Ale, an American indigenous light hybrid beer descending from German immigrants introducing lagers to Americans and the ale producers picking up on the trend to make a more economical ale version of the American lager style. Cream Ale is a light-bodied, pale straw to pale gold color, crisp, refreshing, and effervescent beer with a sweet, corn-like aroma. I hoped the light-bodied cream ale would pick up the red wine and oak flavor from the barrel as well as producing a beer with a unique wine-like color.

Brewing a beer with German roots at a historical local Louisville brewery, was apropos to my German and Louisville family history. The first immigrant “Augustine” in my family line was Adam, my paternal second great grandfather. He arrived from Germany to Kentucky in 1875, established residency in Louisville, Kentucky in 1900 (at the height of Cream Ale popularity) in a home on Winter Avenue where the Monkey Wrench is now located. He was buried in St. Louis Cemetery on the same day as my birthday and right down the street from my current residence in the Highlands of Louisville. I don’t know how much closer to home and my roots you can get.

I spent weeks researching recipes, hops, ingredient ratios, style guidelines, and the historical components of Cream Ales. It intrigued me that before prohibition in the U.S., the Cream Ale was one of the most popularly brewed beer styles, but lost its momentum due to prohibition and only in the last decade or so has made a significant reappearance in craft breweries. My maternal grandmother, with her German ancestry, a beer-drinker herself, and proud matriarch of my family, had passed away a month prior to the brew-off at 95 years of age. Just think of how many beers she drank in that time! She was born in 1919 which was also the year prohibition began in Louisville, Kentucky, two months earlier than the rest of the country. I named the beer “1919” after her and our Louisville a.k.a “Falls City” history.[nextpage]

The winning entry

I won! I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it. I wanted this so badly, more than any other competition for which I’ve participated in some time because it had such personal meaning to me but I really never thought I actually could win or had a chance against the other brewers. Goes to show you that homebrewing is for everyone from the beginner to the advanced brewer. I was completely shocked by the news. The year had started out terribly on my end and the win was the first sign of good things to come! It lifted my spirits and I was so grateful for the opportunity to present my beer to Louisville, have the opportunity to age it in a barrel, and brew with Dylan at Falls City.

Falls City Beer Brew-Off Wine Barrel Aged Cream Ale Brew Day

Brewing with Dylan

If you have ever met Dylan Greenwood, the last thing you would think he would have quit doing to become a brewer would be teaching. Yes, Dylan taught primary education. A tall, burly man with a brewer’s beard and a contagious laugh, picturing him in front of a bunch of kids educating them on the basics is a far-fetched idea, but the truth. I asked him the age-old question of how he became a brewer and he told me the story of working full-time as a teacher and part-time as a brewer to gain experience. He came to the realization that he had to commit to one or the other. “I had become a mediocre teacher and a mediocre brewer. I had to make a choice as to whether I wanted to remain mediocre at both or become good at just one.” He took the plunge and was chosen by Falls City as their brewmaster over many other candidates due his great nose and taste for beer, yet also, because he did lack extensive experience in brewing. They wanted a “fresh” brewer, one who could make the brand, not bring over another brewery’s style. Recently promoted to Director of Brewing Operations, Dylan is now tasked to expand the production from a one-man operation to being the boss over others at the 10th Street Falls City brewery.

Brewing on a commercial system was an education, an experience, and an adventure. I arrived in shorts, tennis shoes, and a pink LAGERS t-shirt and introduced myself to Dylan who was wearing work pants and rubber boots up past his calves.

“Ummm… I feel like I may be wearing the wrong thing.”

Dylan, “Hmmm… yeah, I guess I should have told you what to wear. That’s okay, I’ll do the hot liquid parts!”

Dylan asked me how much I wanted to do and my answer was “as much as I can!” He was happy!

“Alright then, I have a helper! This is unusual.”

Falls City Beer Brew-Off Wine Barrel Aged Cream Ale Brew Day

I asked him many questions. Got to load the grain and clear the mash tun. Log our times and temperatures. Measure the hops and add. Measure gravity. Take my beer notes as I usually do. Listen to music over the loud speaker and watch Dylan change hot water lines. Dylan is a light-hearted man who smiles and laughs often. Brewing with him was a hoot. Not only did I get to learn about commercial brewing, I got to personally ask him 100 questions about brewing and his experiences.

Dylan and Sales Manager, David Hawkins, also let me do a photo shoot of them in the brewery, appealing to one of my other hobbies – my love of photography. They both looked miserably awkward at the beginning, but I got them to let go of their in-front of the camera anxiety and got some shots for which I was really pleased. One of them was used in Dylan’s hometown paper making me a proud photog and I really appreciated their willingness to participate making the day even more fun than it already was.

Dylan asked me if I had an okay time.

“Are you kidding me? This was the best day of 2015! I had a blast!”

We finished off the day sitting in the “living room” (four leather chairs, some tables, a rug and multiple taps in a corner of the brewery) chit-chatting with Dylan’s wife and drinking Falls City Beer from the tap and then headed over to Goodwood’s soft opening in the spirit of brewing collaboration. I really couldn’t have asked for a better day or experience.

IMG_2328The Tapping

There are two parts to the tapping of the Cream Ale. First, the Cream Ale was released to the public and was served at multiple locations across Louisville including the new “Over the 9” restaurant/bar, which is a partnership between Old 502 Winery and Falls City Brewing Company at the corner of 10th and Market Streets. It was very surreal walking into the Crescent Hill Craft House, one of the locations where it was served, with a friend and seeing my beer on the wall “Falls City Cream Ale” along with other beers from well-known regional breweries. When I attended the Mayor’s “Lou’s Brews” cycling tour of our city’s breweries which ended at Falls City, I went into Over the 9 and about ½ the cyclists were drinking the Cream Ale. I had meant for it to be a refreshing beer and they showed me it was by drinking it after a cycling tour! I was sitting there observing, and a cyclist walked up and ordered two more Cream Ales. I smiled and quietly enjoyed the moment to myself still in disbelief my recipe was being served commercially.

After waiting five months to both age and have a spot on the tap for the Red Wine Barrel-Aged Cream Ale, I was finally able to try it myself on October 21st at Over the 9 for the Release and Tapping Party. I had seen Dylan out and about before that and asked him how it turned out and he said he was very happy with it and that it had a champagne-like taste and was pink in color! How cool was that? A female brewer with a pink beer! I was very excited to try it and he invited me down to sample it beforehand but I never got the opportunity to go, so that night was my first taste of the beer.

The color! When it was poured, I was absolutely mesmerized by the color. It was perfect! Not pink, per se, but a rosy red. It was unique in appearance and a pleasure to view. The taste of the beer was close to an effervescent wine. It appealed to wine drinkers and beer drinkers both. The reviews from the crowd were fantastic! One person commented, “It is a damn good beer”. I, personally, loved it! I went home with two growlers full and saw several others leave with growlers, as well. Dylan was pumped with its outcome and happy to entertain my friends and family with their questions and stories. Dylan had told me that a restaurant had wanted some of the beer and he had to tell them “sorry, this one is exclusive to Over the 9”. Looking around the restaurant seeing so many people in the bar drinking the beer, I was happy and honored to be in the moment. Fulfilled. There the beer was, tasting delicious, and brightening the room with its color. My first true barrel-aged beer being drank by my hometown community at a historical Louisville brewery!

“What was in the neck”

Being surrounded by homebrewers and my friends who came to give me a hoorah was gratifying and I was overjoyed by the support. Yet, the best part of the night had nothing to do with any of them and had everything to do with my Dad. My father had come to sample the beer and was so very proud of my accomplishments as his daughter. We stood in a circle chatting with some friends, Dylan, and the CEO of Falls City, Cezary Wlodarczyk, who personally congratulated me on a successful brew. Wlodarcyzk was a friendly man, smiling constantly and relaying the stories of others, with whom Falls City Beer never fails to bring back memories from the past. My father told the story of how half of his family were Falls City Beer drinkers and the other half were Oertel’s Beer drinkers and how they were always IMG_2337at battle for which one was the best. I then relayed how my father was the one who got me loving beer and gave me my first drink of beer, which was Falls City Beer. Wlodarcyzk congratulated him, as well, for giving me the gift of the love of beer, which was the beginning of the journey to where I was that night. Dad told the story of how, when he was a kid, his father would sit around drinking Falls City Beer with family and would send him to fetch a beer for him. Doing so gave my father the privilege of being able to drink “what was in the neck” of the bottle before returning it to his own father. Having my father there, the one who has always inspired me, supported and encouraged me, drinking my beer made at the Falls City Brewery made me feel that the whole experience from start to end had met my every expectation and desire. I had given homage to the ancestry and history of my family in Louisville, our personal history with Falls City Beer while also paying tribute to the brewing history of our big town, small city, Louisville, Kentucky, the place I call home.

Thank you to Dylan Greenwood, Falls City Beer, and the LAGERS Homebrewing Club for making this happen. You have my deepest appreciation.