Beer and cheese, staples of snack platters everywhere, have long been romantically involved, but it wasn’t until the 1930s, in the small Kentucky town of Winchester, that they came together to form the mouthwatering power couple known as beer cheese.
A man named Johnnie Allman helped design and then served his cousin Joe’s Snappy Cheese at the storied Driftwood Hotel, which led to this culinary match made in heaven.
Its murky past suggests that the cousins intended to serve something that would increase drink orders by making their patrons thirsty.
In a description of the creation’s creation, Joe Allman’s son Tim Allman writes, “The outcome was a sharp cheddar cheese with a little kick.” Guests would be greeted at their table or bar and served what we dubbed “beer cheese” in a little souffle cup with saltine crackers, radishes, and celery before placing their drink order.
The cousins’ plan was successful, and now cheese enthusiasts may visit the birthplace of beer cheese thanks to the Clark County Beer Cheese Trail. Come savor flavours along a trail of 14 sites, six of which will be added to the trail in 2021, whether you’re a beer cheese connoisseur or a novice, to try this authentic Kentucky treat.
Cheese, Glorious Cheese
Picking up an official Cheese Log at any of the participating eateries or from the Winchester/Clark County Visitor Center is the first step in the cheesy extravaganza. You and your fellow beer cheese trailblazers will enjoy a distinctive flavor at each stop while also enjoying a different ambience and vibe because each restaurant offers its own take on beer cheese.
Abettor Brewing Company, the first brewery in Winchester, with its indoor and outdoor patio seating, is one of the stops. Another is Wildcat Willy’s, a farm-to-table restaurant, moonshine distillery, and bourbon distillery. Its architectural oddities show a history that includes “the old Williams Factory” from 1833 and the CME Church of Winchester from 1870 to 1926.
Beech Springs Farm Market is a vintage country store that looks much like it did when it was built nearly 100 years ago. Full Circle Market, whose gluten-free recipe is a Beer Cheese Festival champ, ships its beer cheese all over the country. “Some of our biggest fans are in Bozeman, Montana and Las Vegas, Nevada,” says owner Laura Sheehan.
In the 1950s, the Gaunce’s Café & Deli, now known as Smitty’s Country Ham, was a modest sandwich shop run by Carlton “Smitty” Gaunce. Pilot View Mini Store, a grocery store and restaurant, was formerly a frontier stagecoach stop.
Beer cheese biscuits with gourmet jams or preserves or a slice of Kentucky Proud sausage, Kentucky hot ham and beer cheese, beer cheese quesadilla, shrimp and beer cheese grits, beer cheese nachos, and a beer cheese platter with chips, pickles, and a few other surprises are some of the trail’s signature dishes. Indulgent bites of beer cheese can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, supper, as well as an after-hours snack, getting you that much closer to the desired object of desire: a beer cheese T-shirt.
Julie Staton, often known as Miss Julie to her regulars at the Pilot View, says that making this gooey, melted cheese treat requires more than just cracking open a cold beer. She explains, “It’s in the wrist and how you blend.” My magic is that.
The Engine House Deli’s special recipe “rough and ready beer cheese,” which is named after the fire brigade that once called the Engine House home, and the hot brown, that oh-so-cheesy Kentucky sensation spiked with crisp bacon and juicy tomatoes, combine to create the Winchester hot brown pizza. The Engine House Deli is housed inside Winchester’s original fire station on land that was deeded for this purpose in 1885. One of Hall’s on the River’s two distinctive beers cheese dishes, the beer cheese burger, demonstrates why the beer cheese’s secret formula in combination with banana peppers made it the winner of 2020 Beer Cheese Week.
Fun Facts, on the Side
You’ll learn some amusing stuff as you munch your way throughout the county. For instance, Daniel Boone’s daughter Jemima and two of her friends were abducted not far from the location of the Waterfront Grill, which is known for its grilled beer cheese melt cooked on a salt block. Or that on February 19, 1916, Helen Keller addressed a sizable group of people at the first-floor Loma’s at the Opera House restaurant located in the exquisitely restored Winchester Opera House, built in 1873. Candied bacon crumbs, in three words. It is the topping for Loma’s famous beer cheese dish.)
Caseophiles (also known as cheese lovers) who also enjoy television may be interested to learn that there are 22 televisions available for tuning in while enjoying the main course at Woody’s Sports Bar & Grill.
DJ at DJs Steakhouse won’t be serving the homemade potato chips topped with chili, chopped lettuce, and jalapeno peppers, then drizzled with warm beer cheese. The Winchester-Clark County Tourist Commission’s executive director, Nancy Turner, exhorts visitors to inquire as to why when they arrive.
According to legend, Ale-8s at JK’s Café in Forest Grove are the coldest in the region. Another Winchester creation and the only soft drink created in Kentucky that is still available, Ale-8-One, is regarded as the official soft drink of the state. (By the way, beer cheese pairs incredibly well with its ginger-citrus flavor.)
Beer Cheese: The Celebration
It seems fitting that the Winchester/Clark County Beer Cheese Festival, which is also a stop on the Beer Cheese Trail, is held in June given that National Cheese Day is observed annually on June 4. The second Saturday of the month is often when it happens. This year, due to the pandemic, it will take place that evening on June 11 in downtown Winchester.
With a Beer Cheese Shop showcasing favorite beer cheese producers set up from 5 to 9 p.m., along with arts and crafts and food vendors, the event will look a little different than in years past. The Ranahans are the musical guests for Winchester’s Rock the Block series, which starts at 7 o’clock. The Remember When Cruiserz automobile exhibition will increase the enjoyment. You can get current information here. All that tasty beer cheese will continue to exist.
Courtesy Woody’s Sports Bar and Grill Beer Cheese and The Beer Cheese Book by Garin Parnia
1 Tablespoon cayenne
1 Tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 lb. sharp cold-pack cheddar
1 lb. Velveeta, room temperature
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 bottle (8 oz) Miller Lite beer
To the food processor’s work bowl, add all the ingredients except the beer, and then begin blending. Once the mixture is smooth, gradually add the beer.
All year long, the Clark County Beer Cheese Trail is accessible. You can obtain the official Cheese Log from this page. Visit the participating restaurants and collect a stamp at each one, or use the free Tour Winchester app and select the Beer Cheese Trail icon to keep track of your progress. The official Beer Cheese Trail T-shirt can only be obtained by Beer Cheese Trailblazers who have collected a minimum of seven stamps. Those who sample their way to 13 stops on the trail will be awarded the title of Beer Cheese Ambassador and entered into a lottery. The award? attending the Beer Cheese Festival as a judge.
Read up on all things beer cheese in Garin Parnia’s The Beer Cheese Book, published in 2017 by the University of Kentucky Press.
The Historic Log Cabin on Mt. Holly Farm, an off-the-grid hideaway on a working hemp farm, has ties to both Daniel Boone and Wildcat Willy’s. The former trod upon the land and the latter gets its grain for its bourbon from the farm. Overnight guests are free to hike, stroll, bike and go birding and, depending on coronavirus regulations, help with planting the farm garden and feeding the goats.