Morris Discusses Drakes’ Passion for Craft

Drakes Come and Play

Drakes Come and PlayOne of the main contributors to the craft beer movement has been from the support of local restaurant establishments. Of those, one of the more focused restaurants throughout the south region has been Blue Grass Hospitality Group (BHG), with its brand Drakes.

Josh Morris has been with BHG for 12 years. He’s watched many of the larger craft breweries gain their first foothold, but has also assisted in bringing up-and-coming craft breweries, such as SweetWater, to Kentucky.

The first Drakes opened in 2009. “I had been with them for several years before then,” explained Morris in his southern accent. “I was the GM at the original Drakes in 2009 when we opened, as well as the Malone’s Steak House in Lexington, kind of as a two headed monster. I was the GM of the steakhouse and Drakes. [We] started the beer with the program there in 2009, and when I moved up to the corporate office last year I’ve been sort of multi-unit management. I’m not in the day-to-day beer buying anymore, but I have some input into what goes on and how we treat our rotating beer program.”

Morris said when Drakes first opened it initially went with all craft and import. “We knew when we opened in 2009 the craft movement was pretty early on, so we knew we wanted to do some crafts,” he said. “As the craft beer movement really started to gain a lot of steam, we kind of rolled with it — went more with crafts and got rid of the imports. We’ve kind of developed it from there.”

As the breweries became more creative with seasonals, Morris and Drakes knew they needed to become more open to rotating taps as well. “[We] have the ability to get as many seasonals in as possible and be able to move as many of the breweries through, as well as many of their beers.”

Drakes keeps the permanent to rotating taps at about half and half. “We keep about 12 or 13 as permanent, and the other 11 or 12 we keep for rotating drafts,” said Morris. “We do a menu that we can print at the drop of a hat and change any rotators. We do a lot of one-offs, so we’ll get one keg of something in and when it blows we’ve got something else on deck and we can replace that on the menu that second, and replace those [menus] on the tables.”

BHG as a whole, in Lexington, Kentucky, has tried to stay on the cutting edge on all movements. “Craft beer was another one of those avenues,” said Morris. “Drakes was a new brand to us, we had another bar there before, and when we decided to do Drakes, our owners traveled to Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Scottsdale, a lot of big restaurant bar cities, and got a lot of ideas.”

Early on Drakes saw that the craft movement was emerging and decided they would be a forerunner for Kentucky, as well as the craft presence in the south. “We thought it appealed to a customer we weren’t servicing already,” explained Morris. “We thought it would be a good angle to capture more guests that may not be coming in to our steakhouse and some of our other concepts.”

Drakes has multiple locations throughout the south including, Franklin, Tennessee, Huntsville, Alabama, Lexington, Kentucky, two in Louisville, Kentucky and one in Florence, Kentucky, as well as one in the north with Indianapolis, Indiana.

With each Drakes location, Morris said the stores strive to also build relationships with the local breweries. “We let the managing partner and the bar manager at each one of those stores really control their own list,” said Morris, “We don’t do any of that from the corporate level, they may have some guidelines on pricing, but really we let them go at it from the rotating part. We may set the resident drafts with the help of the help of the managing partner knowing their market, then we just let them have fun with the rotating drafts. We let them control their pint nights, we let them have control with their bottles — we opened that up a few months ago to get more craft options in there — but we let the GMs and the bar managers in those markets determine what their customers are looking for.

“We’ve got a store in Huntsville, Alabama, and there’s a ton of breweries in Huntsville, and throughout Alabama as well. So they get to have a lot of fun with tap takeovers and there’s one brewery right next door basically, and we do some catering for their events and they do a lot of tap takeovers and giveaways with us. There is a ton of other stuff around Huntsville and they do special events with other local brewers. That obviously drives a lot of their rotators with those that are right there in the same city.”

Each Drakes makes an effort to bring in the local breweries, but it has a desire to continually be known as a great resource for craft enthusiasts throughout its region. “We try and keep the locals in play, but try and get as much of the funky stuff from around the nation that we can too,” concluded Morris.

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