In the interest of transparency, I must divulge that I’ve known Imbib Custom Brews founding partner Matt Johnson for a while, although I can’t remember when or how we met. When he and cofounders Jason Green and Bart Blank were raising funds for their planned brewery/homebrew store/brewed-to-order business, I chipped in a few bucks. I’ve enrolled in their Collaborator’s Club, enjoying exclusive beers and discounts for a fee. After I went through instruction at his brewery and passed the exam, Matt and I volunteered on beer competitions together. In short, I didn’t walk into Imbib with unfamiliarity.
I took a vacation day recently with a singular purpose—my kids decided to take on the task of getting rid of some of our excesses by way of a garage sale, so seizing the opportunity of having us all in the garage for a few hours, I convinced my wife that yard sale Sunday would be ideal to clean out the garage. After the morning full of tidying, sweeping, discarding and depressingly few customers, we rewarded ourselves—first, with showers and a quick lunch. Then, ironically, after divesting ourselves of our old stuff, my wife insisted on a thrift store visit. I opted for a stop by Imbib for beer. Not only would this mid-afternoon break let us recharge a bit, but, as an added bonus, we could pick up a 32-ounce can for a dinner party later.
If there’s any question or wonder what’s happening at Imbib’s brewery and taproom on East Second Street, the visual cues are hard to ignore. Entering through the front door, you run a small gauntlet of barrels on racks towards the barrel stave-clad bar, above which is a light fixture, decorated in still more barrel parts. A giant oak foeder—an aging barrel—stands as a stoic centerpiece behind the bar.
I’ve mentioned briefly in past columns the focus on sour beers and barrel-aging at Imbib, and the draft selection did not disappoint. I love the complexity of sour beers that have spent time in former wine barrels, picking up nuances of oak, wild yeasts and bacteria, and, often, added fruit. Fifteen house beers were available, about half of them in this vein. They were also pouring a few different hoppy beers and other interesting styles. The only noted gap was dark beer—the only porter or stout was the single guest beer. (Also available were one guest cider, two wines, root beer and small snack plates.)
While I sampled a whiskey-barrel-aged “Kentucky Common” and a blackberry sour, my wife enjoyed—to varying degrees—tasters of the IPAs. As in past visits, Imbib beers could be counted on to represent their intended beer styles well, though they sometimes have broad guidelines allowing wide interpretation by the brewer. I haven’t loved every Imbib beer I’ve had, but I can always appreciate the thought and skill that went into making it, even if it’s not my thing.
Imbib has evolved into a fairly typical brewery business model since opening in 2015. Beyond the usual on-site sales and local draft accounts, hand-bottled club releases and small batches have been Imbib’s most recent step. During my visit, Johnson and Blank were struggling to bottle the latest, an effervescent foeder-aged amber saison. They looked like garage homebrewers, trying to contain the mess of spilled beer, frustratedly muttering at things not going smoothly. Somehow, this laborious process fits this brewery, a labor of love by three homebrewers pouring well-crafted beers for our imbibing enjoyment.