Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with local brewers.
When the time came to pick a name for her new brewery, Leah Dienes and then-business partner Paul Grignon arrived with plenty of ideas to discuss.
“Paul and I had sheets of paper, with 20 names each,” she says. Fellow business partner Bill Krauth arrived at the meeting empty-handed. But he had the name in his back pocket — sort of.
“What he said was, ‘What’s that end-of-the-world thing?’ I happened to have in my pocket a label I’d already designed that said, ‘Apocalypse Pale Ale.’ I said, ‘Yeah, Apocalypse would be a really great name.’”
More than six years later, Apocalypse Brew Works is still going strong, and the unassuming Dienes still splits brewing duties with Krauth. But she keeps busy with beer in many ways, most notably as a national beer judge who recently has served as a judge at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, among many others.
She sips a Bud Light as the subject turns from fantasy football — she is happy to discuss the finer points of strategy — to home-brew contests, an area where she once was a dominant force nationwide.
For years prior to opening Apocalypse, she was an active member of Lagers Homebrew Club and someone obsessed with entering homebrew contests.
“That’s all I was doing,” she says. “I was entering beer competitions. I would plan all my recipes where I could re-pitch my yeast, what I was going to brew next and what part of the country I was going to send it to.”
Asked how many medals she has, she stops and goes silent. She then says she has them all hanging on a wall in her house — but an estimate escapes her. In other words, it’s a lot of medals.
Three times her beers went to the finals of the National Homebrew Competition, and then in 2010, she won her first national medal.
“Once you get that national medal, that’s when you start to feel legit,” she says, and that win helped propel her and her partners to open the brewery named after that end-of-the-world thing.
Many people get their start drinking beer in college; Dienes didn’t like beer in college. She was on the rowing team, for starters, so as an athlete, she didn’t drink much to begin with.
She did have one beer per week with friends, but only to be sociable.
After college, however, she began working at the Bristol Bar & Grille, and the two premium beers the restaurant had in bottles were Heineken and Anchor Steam. She took notice.
Her manager was a home brewer and began sharing his beers with Dienes, which inspired her to buy a copy of “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing” by Charlie Papazian. She never looked back.
Part of her experience being a beer judge included three years ago collaborating with fellow BJCP judge Dibbs Harting to write style guides and present to the certification body for Kentucky Common, a beer style that was invented in Louisville in the 1800s. It has since been accepted as a recognized, certified style.
A version of the beer based on brew logs from Oertel’s Brewery, which operated in Louisville from 1891 until 1964, is available at Apocalypse.
These days, Krauth does a lot of the brewing at Apocalypse, but recipes are usually collaborative.
One such collaboration is the popular Watermelon Crack, a watermelon-based ale that keeps people coming back every summer. The beer always releases in May to commemorate the brewery’s birthday — the sixth birthday took place this past May.
It isn’t uncommon for people to come into the brewery in February asking when Watermelon Crack, so named because it seems to be addictive to the taste buds for many, will be released.
Of course, ripe watermelons aren’t easy to come by in Kentucky in February.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I’ll go to Mexico, I will bring them back for you,’” Dienes says with a smile.
It’s the experimental beers Dienes finds the most enjoyment in brewing, and they usually come in small batches to keep them moving through. She says beers she’s about to work on include a smoked porter and a green chili wheat. For the upcoming Yappy Hour Brew-In & Chili Cook-Off event on Sunday, Aug. 19, she plans to brew a cider.
While she enjoys drinking the end product, brewing is where she finds her peace.
“It’s like cooking, you know?” she says. “It keeps you in the moment, and that’s real important to me. With the world we’re in now, with all the electronics, all the stimulation we get, we get bombarded with information. I think brewing and cooking … it gives you that bit of peace.”
She also credits her blue heeler, Rascal, for keeping her focused on being in the moment. Dogs, she says, are masters of being in the moment. They are masters of being peaceful and having fun.
And as she sips her Bud Light, she reminds that beer also is supposed to be peaceful and fun. She rolls her eyes when she thinks of those who take it too seriously, stockpiling and trading beer like it’s a commodity.
She cautions that most beer will lose its optimal flavor if it sits around for too long. Beer, she strongly believes, is meant to be enjoyed fresh. And she likes watching people’s faces when they drink her beer in the Apocalypse taproom.
“I like creating a product and getting feedback in their reaction,” she says. “I try to make something that’s delicious and fun. The universe of beer is pretty large, and it’s growing and growing, and there’s lot of people who haven’t been exposed to it. What I enjoy is educating people about beer. Beer needs to be accessible; it needs to be fun. It’s not magic, it’s beer.”