THE BEER BEAT: Pints for Parkinson’s returns with Maibock, so let’s have a look at Gordon Biersch, day drinking and TARC.

Czech Pilsner, from a recent Biersch excursion.

Spurred by the groundbreaking commuter research conducted by my friend Jeff, who works in downtown Louisville — and with a wife who does, too — I have belatedly grasped that the #71 bus eastbound from State and Elm in New Albany (a short walk from my house) travels all the way to Jeffersonville on roughly an hourly basis during the day, stopping a mere block away from Pearl Street Taphouse, and also pauses right in front of Gordon Biersch, returning via Jefferson Street, only a block away.

Day drinking will never be the same again.

Granted, commuting by bus in Louisville metro gets more difficult and time-consuming as one moves outward, toward the periphery. But for simple needs like mine, situated in the urban core, TARC is reasonably punctual and costs only $1.75 a ride. If I play my cards right, I can ride home with the missus. Downtown New Albany remains the first option, but expanded choice is a good thing, especially where beer is concerned.

Consequently, let’s examine two Biersch-related items, beginning with a very worthy event coming on April 18, as stewarded by a great guy. I intend to attend this year.

Pints for Parkinson’s celebrates year four on April 18, continues to grow, by Kevin Gibson (Insider Louisville)

When Jason Smith’s doctor told him he had Parkinson’s Disease, it wasn’t exactly what he was expecting to hear at age 41.

“It was a WTF moment,” says Smith, general manager of Gordon Biersch. But the surprise and disappointment manifested itself in a positive way, as the active dad, now 45, soon afterward had the idea for an event to raise funds and awareness for Parkinson Support Center of Kentuckiana.

The “WTF moment” didn’t last long.

“Once you get past that stage, being involved with these types of events, it helps me keep my mind busy, which is part of my wellness,” Smith says.

So, in 2014, with the annual tapping of maibock beer at Gordon Biersch, Smith and his friends and co-workers launched Pints for Parkinson’s, figuring on a modest turnout. Instead, $3,000 was raised for the Parkinson’s charity.

“To my surprise, on a snowy night, they packed out the place,” he says. “A year later, the center came back and said, ‘Hey, can we do this again?’”

A tradition was born. In year two, Pints raised $20,000 and grew to the point that it spilled outside the patio adjacent to the brewery and restaurant located at Fourth Street Live. In year three, it took over the street outside, raising nearly $24,000. This year’s event is Wednesday, April 18, and no drop-off in attendance is expected …

For more about Gordon Biersch, there’s my column from November 30, 2015, which appeared at the beer blog and is reprinted here.

“Gordon Biersch: Still Leading with Lager.”

Following is my Food & Dining Magazinecolumn from the Fall 2015 issue (Vol. 49; August/September/October). You also can read the column at issuu, as formatted for the magazine.

Nicholas Landers brews all the Gordon Biersch beers right here in Louisville, and while he is understandably excited to have the leeway to brew a selection of American and Belgian ales, my focus is on the lager side of the Biersch portfolio.

Gordon Biersch: Still Leading with Lager

Brewing comes full circle with locally-crafted beer styles in the Central European tradition

Märzen, known as Oktoberfest in its autumnal guise, is an Old World style of lager beer originating in the German state of Bavaria.

Talk is cheap, so let’s have a sip – strictly for research purposes.

This Märzen is orange-tinged amber, with a rich, malty aroma. There is a toasted, malty sweetness in the mouth, yielding to impeccable balance and dryness in the finish, albeit without discernable hoppiness. The body is medium, and the flavor is clean and crisp, as lager should be, with absolutely none of the fruitiness characteristic to ale.

The elegant Märzen in my glass disappears all too quickly, even as it conjures totemic images of sausages, dirndls, onion-domed churches and festive maypoles.

However, while my brain screams “Munich”, the growler before me calmly reads “Louisville”, as referring to our local 4th Street branch of the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant network.

Here in River City, Märzen is an everyday Gordon Biersch draft, brewed on site by brewer Nicholas Landers, who is a transplanted Cincinnatian who sharpened his skills at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee after attending Chicago’s Siebel Institute.

Most American brewpubs of a similar capacity (circa 700 barrels per annum) do not specialize in lager styles, which take longer to brew than ale. However, Gordon Biersch, named for founders Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch, has always been something different.

Befitting Dan Gordon’s brewing studies at the prestigious Technical University of Munich, a core of lager styles from the German, Czech and Central European pantheon has comprised Gordon Biersch’s niche since its 1988 inception in Palo Alto, California.

These include Märzen, Export, Pilsner, Dunkel and Maibock, all brewed according the Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law), and all familiar to anyone who has traveled in Bavaria or dined stateside at a good German restaurant like Louisville’s Gasthaus.

In recent times, brewers like Landers at Gordon Biersch’s 34 company-owned locations have considerably more freedom than before to create seasonal and one-off ale styles, providing guests with counterpoint to the lagers and “guest” beers already on tap.

“We’re holding to tradition with our lagers, but being able to do India Pale Ales now is awesome,’’ Landers says, noting that in addition to his house lagers and certain contrarian German ales (Hefeweizen and Kölsch), he’s also been crafting limited editions of Porter, Stout and even a few Belgian styles.

However, here we must pause, because an important question needs to be addressed.

What is the difference between ale and lager?

It’s fundamental, and the legendary Fred Eckhardt, dean of American beer writers, offers a deceptively simple answer.

Ale and lager are both beers; that is, they are fermented from grain. The major difference between these two beer families stems from the temperature at which fermentation is carried out. And the importance of these differences in temperature is that chemical reactions happen more slowly at lower temperatures.

From the very beginning, mankind has harnessed the natural process of fermentation to produce alcoholic beverages, using grains, grapes, fruits, vegetables and honey. Eons of experience abundantly illustrate that when humans mix water, sugar and yeast in stray bowels or pottery, it takes little time before fermentation gets underway.

However, the story of ale and lager is one of contrasting brewing methodologies, and it is a specifically Eurocentric tale, evolving comparatively recently with the march of science.

Beginning in medieval times, brewers in Central Europe learned through trial and error that cooler fermentation temperatures and lengthier aging (the word “lager” in German means “to store”) made for a crisper, cleaner and mellower end product. But why?

They couldn’t possibly know until the invention of the microscope, which provided the means to view the activity of yeast, the living micro-organism that diligently converts sugars into alcohol. Once yeast’s role was unmasked, science started deciphering fermentation’s perennial mysteries, and by the 1830s lager yeast began coming into common use.

Lager brewing’s cooler fermentation temperatures slow chemical reactions, and by doing so, substantially reduce flavor and aroma by-products.

Conversely, at warmer fermentation temperatures, these flavors and aroma by-products are purposefully enhanced, and remain cherished components of ale’s “fruity” charm.

Like the Beatles much later, lager brewing blossomed at just the right time. By the late 19th century, lager was an international sensation, perfectly suited to burgeoning consumer cultures, industrial economies of scale and a zeal for scientific advancement. Lager consciousness swept the world, and ale was pushed into localized (and stubborn) corners like Great Britain and Belgium.

Inevitably, lager became too perfect. Crisp, clean and mellow yielded to cynical mass-market flavorlessness, which inspired the American craft beer backlash of the present era.

In 1988, Dan Gordon saw the issue from a different angle.

To the Bavarian-trained Gordon, lager wasn’t something to be overthrown and excluded. Rather, lager needed reclaiming and rehabilitation. He would emphasize the flavorful origins of classic lager styles, and localize their production as his new company grew.

Consequently, unlike some other national brewery concepts, all Gordon Biersch house beers right here in Louisville, where chain or not, the company helped launch the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, working alongside the state’s independent small brewers.

“At first, some of them probably wondered who we were,” says Landers, “but we’re all brewers, and we all helped get KGB started.”

Jason Smith is Gordon Biersch’s general manager, and when asked to specify the single most important aspect of his work, he does not hesitate.

“Commitment,” Smith replies, and then elaborates.

“Commitment to the Reinheitsgebot in the brewery, and to locally sourcing food in the kitchen. We’re committed to this community, and to helping local charities. Yes, it may be a company checkbook, but we’re local guys.”

Chain skeptics, of whom the author is one, might yet scoff; after all, 4th Street Live lies at Gordon Biersch’s front door. However, the prevailing evidence illustrates that ample localism is being served alongside the beer and food, owing to the daily commitment of the people working for Gordon Biersch.


I’m just sitting here finishing this growler of Märzen, watching the craft beer pendulum swing back and forth.

Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
Open seven days a week at 11:00 a.m.
400 S. 4th Street
Louisville, KY 40202