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HopCat is the Craft Beer Lover’s Meow The anti-chain thrives on localism, sustainability and great beer

HopCat is a beer bar like the Rolling Stones are a rock band and LeBron James is a basketball player. Simple descriptions don’t always tell the whole story. In fact, HopCat is a craft beer conundrum. It’s a growing Midwestern company boasting 12 regional locations, with more to come, and yet each one generally has more locally brewed beers on tap than nearby “indie” craft beer bars. Uniquely tailored to their chosen neighborhoods, HopCat locations consciously seek to be as much a part of their community as the mom-and-pop joint right down the street. HopCat garners national praise, but it soft-pedals superlatives, modestly describing itself as “a home for craft beer lovers,” as well as promoting recycling and sustainability, engaging with local breweries and beer geeks, and serving food “like mom would make if she loved craft beer.” That is, if your mom had room for an eye-popping 132 draft beers, which is HopCat’s signature. BY ROGER BAYLOR | PHOTO BY ANDY HYSLOP

ouisville’s HopCat opened for business in August near the intersection of Bardstown Road and Grinstead Drive. It occupies a refashioned commercial structure, seating around 500 (!) people amid two floors and a rooftop beer garden. Perhaps the best way to understand HopCat’s conceptual lineage is to consider the traditional Bavarian beer hall, meant to function as a “beer city” within the larger expanse outside its doors. The Bavarian beer hall is a showplace, built for the express purpose of accommodating huge nighttime crowds, and capable of serving beers and food to hundreds of guests as the oom-pah bands entertain, and the rafters gyrate. However, the daily soul of a Bavarian beer hall is far more subtle. During non-peak hours, it plays host to a varied social tableau, harboring isolated nooks, colonnaded galleries, mysterious private rooms and outdoor seating areas where people from all stations of life take precious moments to relax. Some have a bite to eat. Others drink steins of beer. Creased newspapers are passed from person to person. There are chess games, raucous conversations, sporting wagers and dreamy ceiling-staring. In a pleasingly egalitarian way, HopCat reflects this timeless Bavarian culture, though it’s also the cutting edge where American craft beer’s older school meets its newest wave; after all, there are 132 craft beers on tap, as opposed to four or six at a beer hall in Munich.

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12 Winter 2016 www.foodanddine.com

Craft beer’s emerging vanguard craves diversity borne of expanding choice. No wonder craft beer lovers feel at home at HopCat.

Burning this draft card makes absolutely no sense HopCat’s 132 taps signify the dizzying proliferation of draft beer during our contemporary age. The new norm is 12 to 20 draft lines at a bar or restaurant, and there is much more to a successful draft program than meets the bar fly’s eye. A draft system is complicated. A specialized contractor builds the draft systems for all HopCats, and in Louisville, the friendly folks at Drinkswell maintain it, because once the equipment is installed and the kegs are tapped, a fanatically rigorous approach to cleanliness is imperative. Accordingly, HopCat’s 132 draft lines are cleaned twice monthly, which costs the bar more than Drinkswell’s fee, as any beer already inside a draft line is lost when cleaning takes place. This translates into two-and-a-half pints of beer per keg, multiplied by 132, or five kegs of beer a month willingly sacrificed to ensure quality. It’s enough to make a grown man cry, but luckily, keg reinforcements are available in abundance, literally hundreds of them, as handled by a half-dozen Kentucky wholesaling companies, who represent dozens of America’s 4,700 craft breweries, in addition to vending product lines


Winter 2016 (Vol. 54)