The Beer Cheese Burger at JK's at Forest Grove
At Hall’s on the River in Clark County, customers are clamoring for the beer cheese.
Located on the Kentucky River, near the site of the former Allman’s restaurant — where tradition has it beer cheese was served for the first time — beer cheese has long been a staple on the Hall’s menu.
Now, with the newly minted Beer Cheese Trail, the Clark County delicacy has proven more popular than ever, according to manager Ryan Curry.
“There’s a lot of curiosity about it,” Curry said.
The Beer Cheese Trail became official Oct. 25, thanks to the work of Nancy Turner, Winchester-Clark County’s tourism director, and her staff. Turner was familiar with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which encourages tourists to visit bourbon distilleries throughout the state. Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passports are available at all eight distilleries on the tour, and if stamps are collected at each site, visitors can receive a free shirt.
Clark County’s Beer Cheese Trail functions largely the same — visit one of five restaurants with an original beer-cheese recipe; sample the cheese, either as an appetizer or part of a main dish; and receive a stamp on a Beer Cheese Log. After a log is stamped at all Trail restaurants, it can be returned to Winchester-Clark County Tourism for a shirt.
“All five of these beer cheeses are really good, and they’re different. If you’re not from here, you get a good idea of what beer cheese is,” Turner said.
Greg and Alice Keller
At JK’s at Forest Grove, Greg Keller said the Beer Cheese Trail opening coincided perfectly with the addition of beer cheese to his restaurant’s menu. Keller and his wife, Alice, operated JK’s Cafe on Main Street in Winchester, Ky., for several years before opening JK’s at Forest Grove in the Boonesboro area of Clark County in October 2012. After the move, Keller said they wanted to offer some new items on the menu and began trying various beer-cheese recipes.
Eventually, an employee shared an old family recipe with a secret ingredient, something Keller said, “no one would ever think to put in beer cheese.”
Thanks to the Beer Cheese Trail, and new beer-cheese burgers, Keller said he has been able to promote the new restaurant and its offerings better.
“We’ve seen a lot of people from out of town, from in town. We’ve had people from Cincinnati, North Carolina — just some different tourist-type people, kind of like the Bourbon Trail,” Keller said.
Since the Kellers are new to beer cheese, they are hopeful that the Beer Cheese Trail will help generate business. Both Curry and Keller said the real appeal of the Beer Cheese Trail is the ability to use it in marketing, and for both established beer-cheese makers like Hall’s and those still hoping to become established, like JK’s.
“It’s just a great idea, good for business and good for the area,” Curry said.
According to Turner, the Beer Cheese Trail was designed to not only spur tourism, but also economic development. Restaurant owners have a new tool they can use when trying to appeal to customers.
So far, it seems to be working. Several people have already completed the trail, including out-of-town visitors. Teri and John Hass of Burlington, Ky., completed the trail and were so impressed that they plan to bring their antique car club to Clark County so they can try to earn T-shirts as well.
On opening day, Hank Phillips, Kentucky’s deputy commissioner of travel, joined a group of Clark County residents in completing the trail. Thirteen people participated in the opening tour and are helping to promote it to others. The trail has also received coverage in national media outlets.
“I hope this continues and grows and we add locations,” Turner said.
Right now, participation is limited to restaurants that have their own original beer-cheese recipe. The trail may be expanded, however, to include stores and restaurants that don’t make their own beer cheese but have beer-cheese items on the menu. Both JK’s and Engine House Deli serve beer-cheese burgers, and Engine House has a beer-cheese chili dog.
“We want it to be all things beer cheese,” Turner said.