Not long ago, Tyler Trotter and Lori Beck were your typical twentysomething couple, living together not far from downtown Louisville. He was a guitarist and sound man for the band California Guitar Trio; she was earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in art from the University of Louisville and creating pieces at Glassworks.
They loved each other. And they had discovered another mutual passion: beer.
Now, with the deep breaths that accompany any new business venture, they've opened the Louisville Beer Store at 746 E. Market St. Tucked into what used to be a florist's shop, the LBS seeks to raise the profile of a beverage that's often grievously misunderstood.
Don't look for anything along the lines of Coors, Samuel Adams or, heaven forbid, Bud Light. Indeed, you also won't find terribly much from local brewers except the occasional specialty or seasonal product. These omissions are not by chance. They are fundamental to the mission that Trotter and Beck espouse as evangelists for beers you won't easily find elsewhere.
Inside their compact, white-bricked space, they've built a combination retail shop and tasting room. One broad wall is devoted to shelves filled with the likes of Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Brooklyn Cuvee De Cardoz.
Running along the center of the room is a sleek, modestly proportioned counter and set of eight (eventually to become 16) taps, where patrons can sample a rotating series of high-end brews.
The Louisville Beer Store is certainly not the first area destination for specialty, craft beers. Indeed, both Trotter and Beck cite such across-the-Ohio pioneers as New Albany's Rich O's and Clarksville's The Keg as establishments bearing the standard for quality beer.
Kentucky has tended to be less hospitable to small beer emporiums that buck the Anheuser-Busch mindset. The state imposes an 11 percent tax on beer distributors, which has diminished already-tight profit margins. Add to this the plethora of dry Kentucky counties and the challenges become apparent.
None of this, however, appears to have deterred Trotter and Beck. They are determined, with their heads and hearts, to give fine beer the same respect long accorded to fine wine.
“People are saying beer is the new wine,” Beck, 27, emphasizes, adding that “there is so much to learn about the way things are made and who's making them, in what is happening in the brewing industry. There are lots of new styles being developed. I think that's what's most interesting in comparison to wine — the possibilities of beer are endless. There are no boundaries.”
Growing up in Prospect and attending Ballard High School, Beck had always considered herself something of an art connoisseur. She had little notion of becoming a beer geek, though, until she got a job in 2002 working at Cumberland Brews on Bardstown Road.
Beforehand, “I'd kind of been a bit of the beer snob,” she acknowledges, “but an uneducated one. A turning point for me was going to be Great American Beer Festival in Denver. I was able to sample every single style of beer you could imagine. It had huge impact.”
So did meeting Trotter, who came into her workplace one day and was suitably impressed by a certain employee. “He started trying to court me at Cumberland Brews,” Beck says. “It was a couple of years before I started showing attention.”
Frequently on the road with his band, Trotter got into the habit of dropping into every specialty beer joint he could find. Before long, he was bringing back armfuls of exotic stuff for Beck and their friends to sample.
“He stopped collecting records when he went out on tour and started collecting beers,” Beck says. “He'd come home with 10 or 12 cases of beer I'd never heard of before.”
Having already been inducted by Rich O's into the fellowship of craft beer aficionados, Trotter had his antennae well-tuned to sniff out appropriate outlets. He'd reached a certain plateau. But he craved further enlightenment.
“It was hard to find imports, which is what I'm really interested in,” he says. “Through traveling, I began to notice places that were specific beer stores. On the West Coast they are popping up everywhere. That proved to me that was only a matter of time until they get the East Coast” — and smaller cities such as Louisville, which had the advantage of nurturing an unusual number of independent breweries.
Two years ago, Todd and Beck began dating and soon found themselves trekking to places they could search for beer-borne pleasure. With the opening of their new venture, that imperative has become a less pressing.
“They used to go where there's good beer — now they don't have to go anywhere,” says their friend and mentor Sergio Ribenboim, who used to operate a business in Shelbyville before opening a small restaurant on Story Avenue in Louisville.
Acknowledging that interest in high-quality beer “seems to have exploded,” Ribenboim believes that the Louisville Beer Store “is going to be the best selection of rare beers in the state.”
Meanwhile, the young owners are organizing a series of special events over the next few weeks. There will be a tasting of beers from St. Louis' Schlafly Bottleworks on Dec. 4, and the LBS is partnering with nearby My Old Kentucky Homebrew for series of sessions devoted to making your own beer.
Additionally, Trotter and Beck are collaborating with The Patron restaurant to offer pairings of beer and food at LBS.
You might say all this is a reflection of how beer can be a tasty lubricant for social breakthroughs. Tasty and yes, sophisticated.
“Art is how you live and how you think,” Beck says, “and part of that is appreciating and noting the good things in life — sipping a glass of beer with close friends and having good conversation. You have to form an engagement; you have to find ways of that to live an artful life.”
Reporter Andrew Adler can be reached at (502) 582-4668.