Mike Stokes was never a beer guy until about nine years ago when he went to a beer tasting at Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati. He was sampling Goose Island beers with the original owners of the brewery when it hit him.
“I tried all these fantastic beers, they told us about the process for brewing them,” he tells Insider. “It just fascinated me.”
The experience propelled the former banking professional to not only explore the depths of beer like he never had before, but also to launch a side business: Cincy Brew Bus. It started as a part-time side endeavor with a tour that included 12 people, and it has grown into a full-blown business. Multiple bus tours every weekend carry 150-200 people.
And now Stokes is bringing it to Louisville in the form of Lou’s Brew Bus. The first public tour takes place this Saturday, Oct. 24; it launches at Gordon Biersch downtown with stops at Great Flood Brewing, Goodwood Brewing, Against the Grain and Flat 12 Bierwerks.
Riders will get a pint or a flight at each stop; the cost is $50 per person, but part of the deal is that for first-time riders, there is a code for one free Uber ride included, as well as a discount at the Hyatt Regency downtown for people who want to stay downtown and not drive home when the tour is over.
Of course, what Stokes wants to avoid is Lou’s Brew Tours becoming what he calls a “party bus.” In other words, this bus tour isn’t about drinking for drinking’s sake; it’s about appreciating good beer. As such, the tours will include Louisville beer history, historical site stops, as well as tours at most of the brewery stops, tips on proper tasting techniques, trivia, prize giveaways and more.
“We’re going to talk beer all day,” Stokes says of the tour. “We’ll talk beer and we’ll talk Louisville.”
While he is a Cincinnati native, Stokes’ interest in Louisville comes in part because his grandfather is a Louisvillian. In addition, Stokes last year began reading about Louisville’s brewing history and became intrigued.
“Here, you have the bourbon empire of the world, but nestled underneath that is this brewing industry that flourished for decades,” he says. Adding some history to the tour “only enhances the experience.”
Stokes believes Cincinnati, which has a rich brewing history of its own, and Louisville are a lot alike in that way, making his expansion into this market an easy fit.
“The two cities really parallel each other,” Stokes says.
While he owns buses that shuttle customers in the Cincy Brew Bus tours, he says he will rent buses here until he knows the business is sustainable.
Brewery tours are not a new concept for Louisville; Mint Julep Tours does brewery and distillery tours, and other such tours have begun to spring up sporadically as well, but the city has yet to get a permanent tour. Stokes wants Lou’s Brew Bus tours to run every weekend, barring holidays or harsh weather.
“If there are people there,” he says, “we’ll run it.”
Meanwhile, Derby City Brew Bus is eyeing a Friday, Nov. 13, launch. This fledgling operation, which is the creation of Keith Joy, will start with a street bonfire in front of the Falls City brewery on 10th Street. Joy says the event, which will run 5-9 p.m., will include several breweries and food trucks.
Joy is already conducting private, by-appointment tours; the first public Derby City brewery tour will happen the day after the launch event, on Nov. 14 at 2 p.m., with stops at Falls City, Akasha and Goodwood.
“We will basically tour the operation,” Joy says. “People will get a chance to talk to the brewers and see how their beer is made.”
From there, Joy hopes to have tours every weekend, including Fridays at 6:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Brewery stops will always be rotating, much like with the Lou’s Brew Bus tours.
For Stokes, brewery tours are simply a natural evolution of the craft beer scene, not just here, but everywhere.
“Every good brewing town has a brew bus,” he says. “It’s already a thing to do in Cincinnati. I only see it getting bigger.”