Ethereal Brewing | Lexington, Kentucky
Average Reading Time: 5 minutes
1224 Manchester Street
Lexington, KY 40504
Monday – Thursday: 4pm -11pm
Friday – Saturday: Noon – Midnight
Sunday: Noon – 11pm
Tucked away inside the infrequently-traveled Distillery District hides Lexington’s newest and most aesthetically unique brewery. Taking up residence in the old James E. Pepper distillery, Ethereal Brewing has revived the historic building without erasing an ounce of its character.
Brandon Floan, co-founder and head brewer, was gracious enough to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon walking me through the birth of the business, from the passion behind the beer to the building they now call home. Andrew Bishop, the other co-founder and son of owner John Bishop, was originally inspired to begin home brewing after watching his uncle in Iowa long before he was old enough to legally drink. He and Brandon, friends who met in high school, later began experimenting with small batches back at home in Kentucky with a system that they developed together. Creating a batch about twice a month, they always tossed around the idea of one day opening a brewery. In the meantime, Brandon took a job at a well-established brewery in Lexington to learn what he could about the professional brewing process. The two then began seeking investors once they felt they’d nailed down some great brews.
John Bishop enjoyed a fair amount of beer over the years before he realized how serious the guys were about taking their hobby to the next level. He agreed to invest in their business idea, and Ethereal quickly became a reality. The project then began to develop in January of last year. Finding a location was the crucial first step; the current site was not the originally planned location. “Some things fell through” with this first spot, Brandon explains, and the realtor pleaded to show them the unassuming and somewhat tattered building in the Distillery District. It didn’t take much persuasion once he brought them to the vacant distillery. He says, “As soon as I saw it, I instantly fell in love with it.”
After getting through the “headache of all the red tape and paperwork” and purchasing the massive equipment needed for a 10-barrel system capable of brewing 20 kegs per batch, it all began to come together. When I ask about the biggest obstacle they have overcome transitioning from home brewing to professional, he says, “Documenting every step. Keeping notes, making sure every recipe is repeatable and consistent with the last. Customers want to come back tasting the same beer they had before, not one that varies each time they come in.” Another challenge was learning how to brew in such massive quantities. “The difference in batch size isn’t to scale, “Brandon explains. “Going between 10 and 310 gallons isn’t as simple as taking the ingredients for 10 gallons times 31.”
Aside from the beer, extensive work to the building was also necessary prior to opening day. Creating a historically modern vibe, if there is such a thing, is the ambiance that the interior has captured. The tap room itself boasts an exceptionally tall 33-foot ceiling with exposed beams and is bordered by red brick walls. Graffiti-covered cinder blocks, once forming a wall that separated the small river behind the property and the location where the patio has now been built, were used to construct a single wall along the back of the tap room. Above these bricks is a massive black and white concept drawing of the original Pepper distillery, which caught fire and was rebuilt in the 30’s. Four sequential photographs along the side wall represent the original construction of the building.
At the front of the tap room is an industrial garage door, which has recently opened to the patio for beer drinkers who want to take advantage of warm Kentucky weather after being buried recently under an absurd 17 inches of snow. I asked Brandon what other noteworthy characteristics the history of the building holds. He says, “We are now brewing beer in the same room that was used for fermenting before in the original business long ago. That’s been pretty cool, I think.”
One of the defining characteristics of the tap room rather noteworthy are the unique glass tap handles, which Brandon tells me were created by his brother-in-law Ben Elliot, a glass sculptor in Asheville, NC. These glossy levers are the floodgates to 16 delicious beers: 9 on a rotating tap from a great selection of non-Ethereal craft brews, and 7 originals from the brewery:
Anomaly Saison 6.8% ABV
Wanderlust IPA 6.5% ABV
Abbadon Strong Golden Ale 8.0% ABV
Oatmeal Stout 5.7% ABV (my personal favorite!)
Overflow APA 5/5% ABV
ESB (the Ethereal Strength Bitter) 5.3% ABV
Ancient Bone Saber 6.7% ABV
The Ancient Bone Happy Saison, Lambda Oatmeal Stout, Anomaly Saison, Wonderland IPA, Ethereal Strength Bitter, Overflow APA, and the Abaddon Strong Golden Ale. I ask him about the inspiration behind the names of the beers. “We just drink a lot of them, and then it happens.” He laughs and adds, “A lot of them are inspired by Adult Swim. The ‘Ancient Bone’ is a great example.” The Lambda Oatmeal Stout and the Anomaly Saison are by far my favorites. As far as other customers, Brandon says, “The IPA has definitely been the favorite. The oatmeal stout comes in a close second, but when Spring and Summer come, preferences will change. We’ll pour more of the saisons and wheats when customers want something lighter.
As for the other beers that don’t make it onto the main list, the small 10 gallon fermenters can still be found behind the bar holding experimental batches that are tapped on occasion for customers to enjoy in their limited quantities. I drool a little when he tells me that a peanut butter porter is fermenting currently, and an imperial stout with coffee and maple syrup in the future. When I ask if they will be testing out any recipes with bourbon, he says, “Oh, yes. Of course!” This is Kentucky, after all. (All I can think about at this point in our interview is putting all of these delectable brews in a pint with a scoop of Crank and Boom ice cream!)
As far as the types of brews that the guys wanted to offer in the future, Brandon tells me, “We really want to focus on Belgians and have enjoyed brewing them. Looking at what the other breweries in Lexington have to offer, no one has really taken on this style. We’d like to carve that niche into the market.” A line of sours are another area of exploration for the future. As far as plans to distribute, he says the plans are to start this process in the next couple of months, beginning with the core beers: the Lambda, Anomally and Wanderland.
Finally, I ask about the name “Ethereal” as well as their logo. “Ethereal” (aside from being a word that has a few of my friends tripping over their tongues pronouncing) is a Latin word meaning “not of this world” or “intangible, characterized by lightness and insubstantiality.” The symbol is derived from an alchemical glyph, “quintessence,” which represents the classic 5th element, ether, which was once thought to make up heavenly bodies and cosmos in Medieval times.
The gorgeous Kentucky springtime will hold much promise for this bustling new brewery. The opening of the patio has customers and employees alike beaming with excitement. The spacious area, lined by an old cast iron fence bordering a creek, will feature corn hole sets as well as “maybe a giant four-square game.” On April 3, owner of the Fork in the Road food truck Mark Jensen, will be opening his first restaurant Middle Fork next to Ethereal. Across the parking lot is also a vibrant new bar, Break Room, from the owners of Sidebar, Lisa and Johnny Cox.
There’s a lot in store for Ethereal in the future while the Distillery District continues to expand. This is surely an area to watch out for this year if you live in Lexington or are visiting. Make sure to make Ethereal your first stop—it’s by far one of the greatest hidden gems of the Bluegrass!