The owners of Country Boy Brewing started their business a year ago with one goal in mind: to make great craft beer.
They estimated that selling 30 pints per day would keep their doors open. As they celebrate their company’s first anniversary, they are selling roughly 1,000 pints per day, and the number is rising.
A few months prior to Country Boy’s opening, there wasn’t a place in town where patrons could go right to the brewery and drink a beer made on site. The past year has seen three craft breweries open in Lexington, and restaurants are adding local craft beer to their portfolios. When Country Boy opened, they were the ninth craft brewery in the state of Kentucky. Danville had two breweries with a tap room before Lexington had one.
“Craft beer is just now making it into the south,” explained Daniel Harrison, who, along with co-owners Evan Coppage and Jeff Beagle, is a Kentucky native.
Alltech first changed the local beer market with its well-received bourbon barrel ale. The timing was perfect for Country Boy. At about the same time, West Sixth Brewing and Lexington Beerworks were launching their own craft beer enterprises.
“We don’t think of craft beer as a fad, but as a rebirth or a rediscovery of what we used to have. There’s a value in local products,” said Harrison.
The idea for Country Boy began when Harrison was in Japan and met an expatriate who owned a brewery. He’d never known someone with a passion for beer who could explain the types of beer he was sampling.
“Going to the brewery, drinking a beer straight off the tank within a day or two of being kegged, realizing, ‘Wow, this is the freshest beer I’ve ever had’ — there is a difference,” he said.
Harrison teamed up with Coppage, and they brewed their own beer in the backyard for two years. Harrison also worked in the restaurant business to learn how to run a bar. Then they met Beagle, an award-winning homebrewer. He was the one who set the wheels in motion by motivating them to start an LLC, scout out a building and sign a lease.
According to Harrison, the three owners didn’t get into it for the money. It’s a passion, and they enjoy being their own bosses.
“We have the greatest jobs in the world,” Harrison said. “We make beer for people.”
In the brewhouse, it’s just the three of them, and Coppage is the lead brewer. When they first opened, they’d start the day brewing and then tend bar from opening to close, working 15-hour days. They have since hired bartenders.
At Country Boy, the daily menu features two dozen beers, most of them brewed on-site. This includes bourbon barrel beers in addition to hoppy IPAs and roasty coffee stouts.
“We’re bourbon-centric,” Harrison said, referring once again to Kentucky roots. “This reflects Lexington; this is what Lexington is about.”
They’ve brewed 10 bourbon barrel beers in the first year, with four on tap in a typical day.
“We can get Pappy Van Winkle 20-year barrels fairly easily,” Harrison said.
They do offer guest beers, and they try to keep them as local as they can, Harrison said.
“No. 1 rule: the beer’s got to be good,” he said.
When asked if Lexington has room for more craft breweries, Harrison estimated that 60 percent of Lexington could still be an untapped market.
“There’s room for six new breweries, as long as everybody puts out good beer,” he said.
They see themselves as allies with other breweries in town, particularly the owners of West Sixth. Both parties have worked together on legislation in Frankfort. They serve on the board of directors of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, and they drink each others’ beer, Harrison said. “There is no competition when you’re making good beer,” Harrison said.
Nothing goes on tap at Country Boy that doesn’t meet high standards, according to Harrison. He added that the beer has grown incrementally better, and there are some beers they wouldn’t put on tap now that they offered in the beginning.
“We say we make beer decisions, not business decisions,” he said.
That includes limiting the offerings of some popular varieties, such as their Jalapeno Smoked Porter. Customers request it year-round, but jalapenos are freshest when they’re in season, Harrison said. Country Boy uses local farms for jalapenos, and they grow some of them personally, but they don’t make the beer available in the winter months because it just doesn’t have the same flavor.
And they know what doesn’t work: session-type beers and beers with less than 4 percent alcohol content. Harrison explained how customers equate alcohol content to price. The lower percent alcohol beers aren’t popular here, but they’ll still keep making them because they like drinking them.
The bottom line: “We always say beer is No. 1,” Harrison said.
Country Boy is on tap at BD’s Mongolian Grill, and they host pint nights at Pazzo’s Pizza, as well. Country Boy Brewing is located at 436 Chair Ave. For more information, check online at countryboybrewing.com or call (859) 554-6200.