Olivia’s Beer Cheese gaining popularity in Lexington
The sharp, spicy taste that beer cheese brings to a simple cracker can be the basis of a lifelong addiction for some central Kentucky residents. For Olivia Swan and her family, that first taste was much more than a fantastic finger food at a tailgate or picnic.
“My dad tells me that he tried to give me a taste of beer cheese when I was a baby, but I didn’t like it. But by age 3, I started liking it, and I never stopped,” Swan said. “Growing up, my brother (Michael Hurter) and I loved beer cheese. We went to Hall’s on the River and Hall’s on Main Street and got hooked. When my brother was 7 or 8 years old, he even included beer cheese on his Christmas list for Santa.”
Swan says she and her brother missed beer cheese when they moved away to go to college. They stocked up on containers of beer cheese during trips home, and succeeded in getting their college friends interested in the spread. While Swan was at home from the University of Chicago during winter break in 2006, she and her father began experimenting with making their own beer cheese, which they eventually began sharing with family and friends.
In 2010, Swan and her father entered the beer cheese contest in Winchester’s Beer Cheese Festival Amateur Competition, and they won.
At that point, Swan says, she began wondering whether her family could turn their love of beer cheese into a business.
Swan believes that it was her father’s entrepreneurial pursuits as a commercial landlord that led her and her brother to feel comfortable launching a new business despite the depressed economy. Surprisingly, she did not pursue the entrepreneur concentration in school because she couldn’t imagine starting her own business at the time.
“To me, what is compelling about working for a beer cheese business is realizing that my sister and I had a hobby that we were talented at, and that we could develop a business from our hobby,” Hurter agreed. “It is the entrepreneurial spirit, and I believe that my sister and I are both inspired by our father’s entrepreneurial spirit.”
Today the siblings and their father, Mike Hunter, make one batch of Olivia’s Beer Cheese every week or two in a commercial kitchen, and distribute it for sale at Wine + Market, Shorty’s Cellar, Wines on Vine, West Sixth Brewing and soon at Beer Trappe.
Swan says the group had to rework the recipe a little to adjust to the commercial equipment and larger batch sizes, but they used the experience to develop an improved taste. The process takes about four hours, which is mostly prep work and hand-packing. The product line includes flavors with equine-inspired names (the bourbon and beer cheese is called “I’ll Have Another,” after this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, while the beer and whiskey flavored spread is named “Unbrydled”), as well as a special edition “Wines on Vine Blend.”
Hurter handles the cooking and delivery of the beer cheese, while Swan handles the company’s marketing and finances. Their father and mother help out when needed.
For Swan, the business has given her an opportunity to combine the marketing management and strategy she gained in school and her natural inclination toward art and creativity. In addition to managing marketing for the business, she designed the Olivia’s Beer Cheese logo as well as the packaging.
“I’ve always wondered why I have these creative tendencies – undergraduate degrees in economics and MBAs don’t typically call for ‘artistic tendencies and great penmanship,’” Swan said. “I’ve been able to sketch out my labels, business cards, marketing pieces and website design for professional designers and artists to bring to life for me.”
Moving forward, Swan is optimistic about the future of Olivia’s Beer Cheese in the Lexington community. Along with growing their list of local places where their product is sold and appearing at the Incredible Food Show in October, Swan hopes to debut a new flavor in the coming months, and is working to bring beer cheese to the Chicago market.
What’s even better for Swan has been the chance to become closer to her family as they build, and make, Olivia’s Beer Cheese.
“With my brother and I, we talk on a weekly basis about business stuff, and that consistent communication has certainly brought us closer together,” Swan said.
“So far, [working with family] has only been a positive,” she continued. “I have found that all three of my family members are 100 percent reliable – none of us is getting paid for any of this. Whatever it is that I ask, the three of them get it done. For our entire family, it’s kind of unified us toward a common goal.”