Living in Georgetown, near Toyota, I’ve learned a lot about Country Boy, especially the tap room here locally. After several interviews and asking others who I should include, “DH at Country Boy” came up over and over. Here’s my interview with Daniel Harrison, Brand Manager of Country Boy Brewing.
Were you born in Kentucky or are you a transplant?
I am not only a Kentuckian by birth, I am a Scott Countian by birth. I was born in Central Baptist, so guess Fayette County but I grew up in Statesville. I lived here most of my life minus a few years where I was out travelling. I live about a mile from where I grew up.
I love Central Kentucky just because of the feel, first of all, it’s beautiful. I feel like we take it for granted a lot. I’ve been blessed to travel to a lot of places and see a lot of things and like Central Kentucky is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’m a big fisherman so I love Elkhorn Creek and then our natural resources that we have. We’re an hour and a half from the gorge in Central Kentucky.
But the people here are just the best you know. We’re progressive, educated and smart minded people but at the same time we hold on to southern hospitality. We know what it means to just love your neighbor and I feel like that’s embodied in Lexington.
Tell me the history behind Country Boy.
I always knew I wanted to brew beer. I was always very adventurous with eating and drinking and things like that. I was the guy that when we went out to bars, I was drinking the weird beers and trying the weird stuff, just because it was fun. After graduating from high school, I went to Georgetown College and grad school at UK, then ventured out to teach English in Japan. So Nathan and I, we applied separately but both ended up getting the position. Now, obviously the business just wasn’t even being thought about at that time, but we ended up living in Japan for about three years. That’s where I got into craft beer.
We had a blog writing about beer and we met a bunch of brewers there but we met our mentor Brian Baird and he let us see him feel his passion for craft beer and how he went about translating his ideas for beer and his ideas for business into liquid.
We fell in love with craft beer and started making it over there, just kind of messing around. What was actually illegal back then made is scandalous fun. But, you know, we came back in 2010 with the idea that we were eventually going to get a brewery open. I started working for a small craft beer bar here in Georgetown called Galvin’s. I learned the bar management and customer service side of everything in this industry. First, we got to have great beer. What is almost as important, if not as important, is customer service and cleanliness. Learning that from the best, Stephanie Jones and Dan Galvin, they’re just the best. They took me under their wing and I learned that side from them. Nate learned the production side from Altech. We then met my partner Jeff and Nate’s brother Evan has just graduated from grad school. The four of us back then, we were so dumb and knew so little, so we said, “hey let’s start a brewery and a business.”
If we knew then what we know now we may have been more scared and not done it. We just gave it a rip and rolled with it and started the business in 2011 and opened in February of 2012.
Tell me about some of your products and what makes them unique
There are 10,000 breweries in America right now, when we started it was only 2000. We’ve seen a resurgence in craft beer and breweries. We’re all making great beer but everybody goes about it in a slightly different way. For us, I think the culture and mentality is not like country as in redneck and boy being male, but country in the way that we’re proud of our work. It’s hard work. You know, attention to detail and dedicating our lives to perfection of our craft. Our way is minimally processed ingredients as fresh and local as we can. We have real integrity in our process, we’re not cutting corners, we’re putting the beer first. Our people first and everything else falls in line after that.
I think when you taste our beers they have a certain fullness to them. They have a certain flavor profile that we’re very proud of.
What was your first beer?
The first beer we ever put on tap in the Lexington Tap Room was Snake Bite. It was absolutely awful. A lot of our beers back then weren’t near as good as they are now and we had the benefit back then that everyone wasn’t as educated about craft beer, both the consumer and the brewer. You couldn’t make the beer that we made in 2012 and still survive today.
What has been your most innovative beer?
Jalapeno Smoked Porter. Out of the gate. It was one of those beers we make every fall with local jalapenos. The malt is smoked, the jalapenos aren’t smoked, but it’s fresh jalapenos both in the boil and in the fermenter so it’s both brewed ad infused with peppers. That was actually one of Nate’s home brew recipes that we had. I can remember being at a tailgate and people were like, “what the hell ya’ll….wait…that is so delicious, so good.” It’s still a great beer and we do it every year.
If you could collaborate on a beer with anyone, who would it be?
Easy, Sierra Nevada (he said without any hesitation). Sierra Nevada! (he looks like a kid in a candy store and lights up dramatically with this question.) If I can emulate one brewery it’d be Sierra Nevada. Be as clean as one brewery, it’d be Sierra Nevada. Have my beers taste as good as anybody’s, it’d be Sierra Nevada. If I had the business acumen of anybody, it’s be the Grossman’s that run Sierra Nevada. Everything about them is phenomenal. I would do anything to have a chance to be able to make a beer with those guys. They’re awesome.
How do you come up with the names for your beers?
We drink a lot, he says with a chuckle. Honestly, the most difficult thing to do is come up with a fanciful name for beers because there are so many breweries. We don’t want to just straight up rip off an IP and obviously, anyone’s intellectual property. We want to have some originality. Some of them we just choose because of the ingredients, like mocha stout.
Which comes first, the name or the beer?
The beer comes first unless it’s just a rock solid home run of a name. Then we can have the beer come after like we knew we needed the Legend of the Swamp. We knew it needed to be a gigantic imperial stout. That was just vicious and black and swampish, so in that case the name came first. It all depends, every beer is different. That’s what’s fun and that’s what gives us a great amount of joy – having a name that just takes legs and flies.
If you weren’t brewing beer, what would you be doing?
Radio host. From when I was little, I was always enamored with radio and I’ve been blessed to know a lot of folks in radio. When I was little, my mom used to call the radio station and say that she had a son that loved radio. They would let us come and just sit in the radio station and watch them do the broadcast. One time, when I was in like fifth grade, I got to introduce a song. I tell my friends who are in radio that when I grow up I want to be in radio and they are like dude, you make beer, I want to be in the beer world.
What hobbies do you have outside of brewing beer?
Fishing. I love kayak fishing. Elkhorn Creek is the most undervalued resource in Central Kentucky. It’s absolutely beautiful and the fishing is great. My Uncle Chuck said he thought that there was nobody that liked fishing more than him but he may have met his match when he was fishing with me.
Is there a dream location you want to fish?
I would love to peacock bass fish in the Amazon. They are really large mouth bass and they put up a huge fight like an alligator. I’d love to do that trip but with somebody local that knew the places we could go where nothing would eat me. Like, I don’t want to fish in Australia, where basically everything can eat you. I’m good. That’s why I like Kentucky because there is nothing that can eat you if you go outside. We haven’t seen any bears or cougars in Scott County and I don’t think there are poisonous snakes. You can be plopped anywhere in Scott County with a very, very low change that something’s going to be able to poison you or kill you.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Country Boy or what do you want people to know about the brand?
I think it’s the underlying thought that we’re big and corporate now and that we’re not small anymore. Granted, we’ve changed over time, the business plan,the business model and how we go about things. In the end were still just, we’re the same four guys that started the company but now we’re surrounded by a cast of 40 something people that are the best in the industry that are still true and trying to be true to how we started.
The other thing is our name, Country Boy. We’re not all country and we’re damn sure not all boys. And that we try to live that and push back against that every day in both our marketing efforts and with our voice and with the people that we have hired. We want to let their personalities come out and shine. You don’t have to be country and a boy to work here, in fact it’s quite the opposite. We are a place for everybody and we make the best damn beer in America and have a good time. Everybody that is down with that is welcome to come do it with us.