hip hops | liquids from overseas breweries. Seen from this angle, 132 taps look more like a bottleneck than a cornucopia. Craft beer lovers have 132 savory choices at HopCat. Concurrently, HopCat has five or six times this number of beers from which to choose. How to decide, and who makes the decision? Chase Myers does.
Meet the master draughtsman On a humid, 90-degree scorcher in early September, I met Myers for the first time, only to find HopCat’s inaugural beer program manager swaddled in a thick winter’s hoodie. “People ask me why I’m always wearing a sweatshirt,” he smiled. “It’s because I spend so much time in the walk-in cooler.” Chilly beer coolers aren’t for the faint of heart. A standard American keg weighs 160 pounds filled, and in a world gone robotic, replete with selfie sticks, self-service buffets, self-checkout lanes at the grocery and even selfdriving cars, one invention is lacking: the self-stacking, auto-tapping keg of beer. “Do you want to see the walk-in?” Absolutely, so up the staircase we went, because HopCat’s walk-in cooler is situated directly above the main ground floor bar. A brightly lit space the size of a handball court, it is immaculately scrubbed and organized. Gleaming stainless-steel kegs are stacked in rows on three sides, with lines and gauges all around. An imposing mass towering in the middle comprises HopCat’s core lineup of 20 non-rotating Kentucky beers, which Myers said would increase to 30 when practicable. For Derek Selznick, the executive director of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, HopCat’s Local 20 is the perfect deal-maker. “HopCat offers a tremendous opportunity to highlight and push Kentucky’s craft breweries,” Selznick told me by email. “They feature beers from 12 different breweries in Louisville, Lexington and Paducah, which represents the great and growing diversity of Kentucky’s craft beer industry.” Naturally, the same is true of HopCat outlets in Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan. Beer aficionados might grouse about the feline’s sheer size, but for local craft brewers, placement at HopCat is helpful, indeed.
When liquid bread isn’t enough, a cracking good kitchen HopCat’s craft beers rotate constantly, but its kitchen is the real foundation, anchoring the
proceedings with an array of “homemade comfort foods.” They’re familiar, but with signature twists and numerous options to keep things interesting. The pizza is Detroit-style, square and thick. Offbeat toppings include cheese curds, porter mushrooms and stout-caramelized onion. A custom blend of brisket and sirloin goes into each half-pound burger, but turkey and veggie burgers are available, too. The Mac and Cheese comes as is, or garnished with Polish sausage, fried egg salad or pickled jalapeños. Crack Fries are the biggest seller on the HopCat food menu. They’re beer-battered (with Pabst, not craft beer), seasoned with herbs and pepper, and function as the American craft beer equivalent of Bavaria’s salty soft pretzel. The pairing opportunities are infinite. Come to think of it, this may be on purpose. Back at the bar, it was time to examine the oversized, color-coded HopCat beer list, which noticeably highlights the Local 20, then proceeds through the remaining 112, numbered and grouped by style: Ambers & Browns, Pales & IPA, Belgians, and more. Another section lists beers due for tapping soon. “The menu is printed twice each week,” said Myers, “On Monday to catch up from the weekend, and again on Friday to get ready for the next one.” The menu also serves as a convenient touchstone for HopCat’s two-pronged program of education, targeting consumer and employee alike. Myers keeps bartenders and servers informed through style training, morning tastings, messages and fact sheets posted near the staff ’s locker room. It’s easy to imagine them gathering to watch game films. I ordered a Falls City Kentucky Common and popped the questions: How do you choose 132 beers to pour at HopCat? Is there a top-secret algorithm? A sophisticated computer program? Myers just laughed. “No, not at all. I look at the wholesaler sheets, sample the beers and, every now and then, go online for some background.” That’s it, folks; back to the basics, and oh-sodelightfully retro. It isn’t easy being the kid in the candy store, though at HopCat, Myers is ensuring that Louisville’s craft beer lovers have a place to call home. We appreciate it. F&D www.foodanddine.com Winter 2016 13