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ORGANIC FARMS ADAPTING FOR COVID-19

Flexibility, Diversity & Direct-to-Consumer Sales Winning Strategies

by Noah Cohen, Organic Farmers Association

Jul 14, 2020

Despite uncertainty at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020—as restaurants, schools, and other institutions shuttered to a close—many organic farms have been bright spots of the COVID-19 economy. Nearly every organic category has seen year-over-year sales gains since March, and, with the pandemic radically reshaping consumer behavior, that growth could continue. Steve Lutz, senior VP of strategic insights firm Category Partners, says consumers are prioritizing immune health more than ever before, and expects this newfound focus to have a “lasting impact” on their spending habits.

Meanwhile, safety-conscious consumers are more wary about who is touching their food, driving direct-to-consumer sales such as CSAs. Even while COVID-19 has presented many challenges, these shifting consumer priorities have created new opportunities for farmers—particularly organic farmers, who can market themselves as a healthy choice, and has benefited farmers that can sell direct-to-consumer or had diverse markets already established. Here’s how a handful of organic farmers (members of the Organic Farmers Association) from around the country have fared:

Laura Freeman, Mt. Folly Farm, Winchester, KY

Farm Facts: Mt. Folly Farm sells organic grains, hemp, pastured beef, chicken, and pork with “a local, shortened supply chain.”

Experience: “The biggest challenge we had was shutting down our farm-to-table restaurant” mid-March due to COVID restrictions, Freeman says. Immediately, she recouped by turning the restaurant into a “farm grocery store” for her farm-to-table market products. “We took out all the tables, put in coolers, and started selling beef and early spring crops.” Unlike many of her beef-farming neighbors, Freeman has “gone local,” which she says has made her relatively immune to processing chain disruptions. “We have a small USDA beef and lamb packer who is open, though now absolutely swamped,” she explains.

Takeaways: Freeman says going local has helped her “pivot” to meet COVID-era realities by “creating a food system we can watch and manage safely.” “We are small and committed, with a great team spirit,” she adds. Further buoying Mt. Folly, like many local organic farms, was its permanent staff of 25 employees, who “became cross-trained on all sorts of projects… from salesmen and saleswomen helping the distiller, to chefs working in the garden.”

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Breweries able to remain open and optimistic about future

Bars across the state have shut their doors for two weeks, following orders from the Governor. However, some breweries remain open and grateful for the opportunity.

WINCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) — Bars across the state have shut their doors for two weeks, following orders from the Governor. However, some breweries remain open and grateful for the opportunity.

The Abettor Brewing Company in Winchester is just one taking advantage of the open sign remaining on.

The Governor says breweries are considered venues since they sell what they make. Bars generally sell what they have sent-in. Breweries will be required to fall in line with the same capacity mandate of restaurants at 25%. Some bars have started selling foods to qualify as a restaurant and in turn able to stay open.

Tyler Montgomery, the owner of Abettor Brewing Company, says 2020 has not been easy but it will make his business stronger in the end.

“We could have never foreseen we would have to do this,” said Montgomery. “We thought the hardest thing would be making the beer and getting people to come inside and taste our beer. Now we have to go through different guidelines and every business has to overcome something so if we can overcome this and come out on the other side, there’s nothing that can hold us back.”

Abettor Brewing Company can only allow 16 people inside with the latest mandate but can allow the full capacity in the outside seating areas — as long as guests remain socially distanced. Masks have been also required when walking around the brewery and ordering a drink.

Copyright 2020 WKYT. All rights reserved.

North Main lights up: Parking lot project nearly finished

By Randy Patrick

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Published 11:14 am Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Last summer, the city parking lot on the east side of North Main Street next to Harper’s Pawn & Jewelry was overgrown and unremarkable.

Today, it’s ready to become a venue for festivals, concerts or car shows.

The space has antique-style lamp posts, a light canopy and plenty of electrical outlets for events.

The transformation is a collaboration of the city government, Rimar Electric, the University of Kentucky’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), Main Street Winchester and the Beer Cheese Festival committee, which provided $20,000 toward the costs.

The work was mostly finished two weeks ago, except for some landscaping that will be done by UK’s Winchester Design Studio downtown.

Winchester City Councilman Ramsey Flynn said that right after he was elected, he brought up the issue of overgrown bushes in the parking lot, and other city officials wanted them taken out. Public works employees took care of the cleanup.

He and a group that included City Commissioner Kitty Strode, Meredith Guy, Sherry Richardson and former Main Street Winchester Director Rachel Alexander got the idea for the overhead light canopy from similar canopies over alleys in Nashville and Hamburg Pavilion in Lexington.

Jenny Bailey and others with the Beer Cheese Festival agreed to fund it.

Guy, who chairs the design committee, gives Richardson of Howard’s Overhead Doors much of the credit.

“It was all kind of her baby,” she said. “She came up with all the ideas to redo the parking lot,” and she and Flynn started the remodeling.

“We’re trying to create an outdoor place where people can gather and where they want to gather … and that parking lot seems like a great location,” Guy said.

The city also wanted to address the issue of crime in the area, Flynn said.

“I had a retired state trooper tell me you can landscape crime away because it doesn’t feel welcome,” Flynn said.

Flynn said discussions about improving the lot began last November, but the project was delayed by weather until June.

Guy said that in addition to landscaping, the UK landscape architecture team also had plans for an interactive Twister game on the lot, but that was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the group wants to get George Rogers Clark High School students involved in that part of the project.

Flynn says the refurbished lot is a nice addition to North Main, that will bring more events to the area.

He said the space now has “plenty of electric” for food trucks, a concert stage, festival booths or whatever.

“We did it right. We didn’t cut any corners,” he said.

Now, Flynn said, there is some discussion of paving the alley behind the parking lot from Washington Street to Broadway and doing something to slow the traffic there, especially now that there is a new day care on the block.

Besides the day care, there is a new Italian restaurant and another restaurant planned across the street, and Wildcat Willy’s is around the corner and across the alley. Leeds Center for the Arts also has plans for expansion, including a new rear entrance.

Things are looking up down on North Main, the Flynn said.

In summer without festivals, travel showing signs of growth

By Fred Petke

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Published 11:12 am Tuesday, July 21, 2020

In a summer decimated by the effects of the coronavirus, the local tourism industry has been seeing a little growth and local interest.

Nancy Turner, director of the Winchester-Clark County Tourism Commission, said hotel occupancy rates are still very low, but it has been picking up in recent weeks.

“We’re seeing an increase in business travel,” Turner said. “We were at an all-time low of 12 percent (occupancy) in mid-March. We’re up to 41 percent in occupancy. We’re down 45 percent from where we were last year.”

The virus and fear of spreading it further led organizers to cancel a number of traditional summer events including the Beer Cheese Festival, the Clark County Fair and the Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival, which routinely brought thousands of people to town.

People are still traveling to visit family and friends, but the numbers are still down.

“It’s totally different with the lack of festivals and the lack of events,” she said.

People feel safer outside, she said, which is part of why locations such as Clark County’s Civil War Fort have been seeing crowds grow this summer.

“Our outdoor dining is popular, and carry-out is still popular,” she said. “Sadly, they closed Lower Howard’s Creek.”

Turner said she is not expecting tourism to really begin to rebound until next year.

“Research shows visitors are truly skeptical … until at least spring of 2021,” she said.

Business travelers, she said, are looking for consistency in where they travel, particularly in terms of health regulations.

“They want to travel safely,” she said. “They want to know what’s waiting when they arrive.”

More states, including Kentucky, have been adding mandatory mask regulations.

“As numbers rise everywhere, more and more states are mandating masks,” she said. “I think, overall, masks are effective.”

McCANN: Summer arts in Winchester and elsewhere around Kentucky

By Winchester Sun

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Published 9:23 am Friday, July 17, 2020

Summer arts and theatre activities have been mighty scarce this summer because of the pandemic and its affiliated social distancing requirements.

But gradually, the arts are making a reappearance.

Local and regional artists including Kendra Sexton, Karlee Grissam, Brandy Shumake, Dakotah Kat Brown and others will have their art displayed at Leeds Center for the Arts. 

In keeping with social distancing requirements the art will be displayed outside in the “coming attractions” windows.

Brown said that she had been approached by Leeds Board President Tracey Miller about an art exhibit on the topics of Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+  pride. The exhibit opens today and is available to all who walk past Leeds on North Main.

Leeds to produce zine

Leeds may be best known for its plays and musicals, but because of COVID-19, the arts organization is striking out in a new direction and producing an online literary magazine, a zine.

Called “Creativity in Quarantine” they are accepting submissions of art, photography, poetry, short stories, essays and more.

Deadline for submissions is July 31. For more information visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/leedscenterforthearts/posts/10158519290192929

LexArts gallery hop tonight

LexArts is having one of its traditional gallery hops in a nontraditional way: online.

You can be healthy at home and still enjoy some of the region’s best artists without taking a hike around downtown Lexington tonight.

This is not the usual way to enjoy art, but it is convenient.

To take part, visit their website at lexarts.org for more information.

‘Hazard County’ to be produced in Somerset

Flashback Theater is closing out its 2019-20 season with “Hazard County” by Allison Moore, at the newly constructed, open air Lake Cumberland Farmers Market on East Mt. Vernon Street in Somerset this weekend, July 17-19.

Flashback’s original plans for the production were impacted by COVID-19, including the plan to produce in  Flashback’s Black Box Theater in April and May.

Instead, the production team has worked with the non-profit’s board to create a plan for performances that follow Social Distancing guidelines.

“Hazard County” tells the story of what happens when a young producer stumbles into town looking for stories and a fresh start.

He believes he’s found both in Ruth. Her made-for-TV tale captures his attention – a broke young widow in a rural Kentucky town, unable to access the trust fund set up for her children after her husband’s murder.

But neither of them has told the other the whole truth, and a past tainted by racism threatens to destroy Ruth’s already shaky existence.

This story is interspersed with memorable monologues from fans and critics of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” who blow apart the Southern stereotypes that tend to define Ruth’s world.

Performances are at 7 p.m. July 17 and July 18 and 2:30 p.m. July 19. Reservations are not required.

This is a pay-what-you-can performance; donations of $10 to $20 are requested.

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Clark County sees increase in tourism, asks for caution in summer travels

by WDKY News StaffSaturday, July 18th 2020

WINCHESTER, Ky. (WDKY) – — If you have recently cancelled a trip to a hot tourist destination because of COVID-19, finding an adventure close to home might be your next option.

Clark County, Winchester Tourism Director Nancy Turner says when the pandemic made its way to the bluegrass it ended their run for a record breaking season of tourists. Since then, vacations have been cancelled and more Kentuckians are starting to get out and see what else is on the table.

“The visitor research shows that visitors are planning to travel,” Turner told WKYT’s Nick Oliver. “They are not comfortable taking a lot of transit systems, but they are willing to drive and drive further distances.”

Turner says the increase has been seen in the county and is hopeful it will remain as uncertainty with the growing number of cases loom. She says the pandemic has provided numbers that show nothing to brag about, but now is showing something the public should feel good seeing.

“Growth is growth,” said Turner. “We are grateful to see some folks traveling and staying in Winchester.”

Winchester was hit hard when the tough decisions was made to cancel the Beer Cheese Festival and the Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival later this fall — both events drawing thousands to the small town. However, Turner is seeing new numbers in small business and visits to popular spots like the Civil War Fort at Boonesboro.

As Kentuckians know, COVID-19 can’t be ignored. It’s the reason Turner is asking the public to think when traveling to other communities.

“I think that wearing a mask not only provides confidence to the traveler but it also provides confidence to the small businesses which are receiving that traveler and also citizens in the community,” said Turner.

She encourages others to reach out to their local tourism commission for ideas on the next Kentucky adventure.

Main Street Winchester earns 2020 national accreditation By Winchester Sun

By Winchester Sun

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Published 11:04 am Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Main Street Winchester has been designated as a 2020 Accredited Main Street America program by the National Main Street Center, which recognizes communities across the country that are working to restore their historic downtowns, bringing life back to city centers that were often left behind by sprawling commercial development in the second half of the 20th century.

Kentucky Main Street is a program of the Kentucky Heritage Council, the State Historic Preservation Office, an agency in the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.

Kentucky has the oldest Main Street program in the nation.

Main Street America has 10 “Standards of Performance” that it requires to be met before accrediting a program, among them that it “has broad-based community support for the commercial district revitalization process, with strong support from both the public and private sectors,” and that it “possesses a historic preservation ethic.”

Kentucky Main Street Coordinator Kitty Dougoud said, “Whenever you see a Kentucky Main Street sign or logo associated with a community you can be assured that something special is happening there.”

In 2019, Main Street Winchester worked to enhance, promote and preserve the vitality and livability of Downtown Winchester through some of the projects listed below:

— Promote downtown development with the Downtown Development Investment Fund.

— Increase pedestrian foot traffic with engaging promotions such as Rock The Block, Sip And Stroll, Christmas parade and the annual Beer Cheese Festival.

“We are proud to recognize this year’s 860 Nationally Accredited Main Street America programs that have dedicated themselves to strengthening their communities,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “These Accredited Main Street programs have proven to be powerful engines for revitalization by sparking impressive economic returns and preserving the character of their communities. During these challenging times, these Main Street programs will be key to bringing economic vitality back to commercial districts and improving quality of life during the recovery process.”

How a Winchester man turned his hobby into a flaming hot new business

BY BLAKE HANNON CONTRIBUTING WRITERJULY 09, 2020 06:00 AM

In 2017, Stacy Hicks retired as a security guard from Rupp Arena … at the age of 50 … because of hot sauce.

Wait. Hot sauce? This story is a subscriber exclusive

You read that right. More specifically, the long-time foodie became a local culinary entrepreneur – or as he describes it, the owner, manager and the “guy who sweeps up” for Back Porch Hot Sauce.

The condiment was something the Winchester native concocted to bring something distinct and local to the increasingly popular hot sauce market.

Growing up, Hicks remembers his late mother, Carol Simmons, used to grow peppers at their house, despite her inability to tolerate spicy food.

“Mom couldn’t take the heat at all,” he recalls.

Apparently, some of his former co-workers could. He remembers conversations with them talking about hot peppers and was given some extra spicy ghost pepper plants to plant at his house.

“When they came in, buddy, they came in,” he said. “I had so many peppers I didn’t know what to do with them all.”

One of his work friends suggested he turn them into a hot sauce so he could enjoy them year-round. Next thing you know, he’s ordering bottles online, trying out recipes and bringing them into work for employees to try. It led to requests to purchase bottles, eventually selling 100 of to friends and co-workers.

“A light kind of went off in my head,” Hicks said. “I just thought it would be something kind of as a sideline, something to do in my free time.”

Living in his subdivision in Winchester, his backyard soon became overgrown with hot peppers to the point where a friend of his loaned part of his farm in Clark County to grow more. Multiple freezers in his two-car garage to hold his fresh-picked supply.

He and his mother came up with the brand name Back Porch Hot Sauce inspired by the pepper plants she grew there. She also drew the label’s artwork.

His first official bottles of Back Porch Hot Sauce made their debut in 2013 at Lexington’s Incredible Food Show at Rupp Arena, the first of many food events, conventions and festivals Hicks set up throughout the year. There, he picked up a couple of contracts with retail stores and found a distributor out of Louisville, which eventually led to the hot sauce being available in more than 50 retail outlets in Kentucky, Ohio and North Carolina.

In creating the signature elements of Back Porch Hot Sauce, Hicks said he wanted to avoid common characteristics of other brands.

“I don’t like the mainstream stuff you get in the store. It’s almost all heat and vinegar. There’s hardly any flavor,” he said. “I actually wanted something that tasted like the peppers themselves. You get past the heat, there’s something really enjoyable about a hot pepper to where they have really good flavor.”

Back Porch Hot Sauce uses a vinegar and tomato base, a bit of water and xanthan gum.

Different types of peppers are the star of each of the brand’s five hot sauce offerings at $6.25 per bottle: Mild Heat (jalapeno), Medium Heat (habanero, jalapeno and Thai chiles), Extreme Heat (ghost, fatalii, habanero, jalapeno and Thai chiles), Hot Banana Pepper (Hungarian wax peppers) and its newest offering Bee Sting (habanero and honey).

He also has created special yearly offerings, like Shotgun made with scorpion peppers or Gone Fishing made with fish peppers, that sell out quickly.

Back Porch Hot Sauce’s slogan is based on one of the brand’s most commonly uttered compliments: “The Hot Sauce With Taste!” For Hicks, this unexpected success dabbling with heat has turned out pretty sweet.

“If it continues to grow and I spread out to more states, fine. If I stay right where I’m at, I’m comfortable with that,” he said. “If you do something you really like, it’s really not work, right?”

For more information on Back Porch Hot Sauce, or to purchase it online, visit backporchhotsauce.com.

Restaurant guide: Winchester’s dining renaissance from BBQ to cupcakes to moonshine

BY JACALYN CARFAGNO CONTRIBUTING WRITERJULY 08, 2020 06:00 AM 

Just a few years ago all the culinary action – if you can use that term – in Winchester was at the bypass where the predictable national chains fired up their deep fat fryers for drive-thru customers.

But that all began to change about five years ago when several entrepreneurs began opening restaurants, coffee shops, a specialty bakery, a craft brewery and even a distillery within view of the county courthouse’s gilded spire. It would take several day trips for visitors to sample all the local offerings and drive home legally.

You can now drop in to Cairn Coffee for a specialty brew in the morning, stick around for a slab of ribs or a pulled pork sandwich at In and Out Barbecue for lunch, stop in at Wildcat Willy’s Distillery or Abettor Brewing for a cocktail and appetizers and then sit down for a more intimate dinner at Loma’s or La Trattoria.

Kenny Allen, owner of In and Out Barbecue at 1 North Main thinks he and the others who are part of this renaissance hit on a trend that existed before the COVID pandemic and has been strengthened by it. “People want something real,” he said sitting at one of his booths as meat cooked in a huge smoker out on the sidewalk (you don’t have to search addresses to find In and Out, just follow your nose) and customers stopped by to say “’bye, love you” after their lunches.

And the town, Allen said, has been so supportive that his business increased with the lockdown as businesses ordered in food for their workers. “In a small town like this we need to stay unified, help one another.”

Here’s a rundown, in no particular order, of a few of the locally-owned eating and drinking places to visit in Winchester:

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GRC students recognized for support of Main Street

By Winchester Sun

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Published 12:37 pm Friday, June 19, 2020

Two recent George Rogers Clark High School graduates, Caroline Cuccinelli and Hannah Curreri, were recognized Thursday by the Main Street Winchester Board of Directors for their support of the program and promotion of downtown Winchester during their senior year.
Sherry Richardson, promotions chair of Main Street Winchester, said the program wanted to connect with high school students to get youth involved, and Cuccinelli and Curreri responded by writing for their school newspaper, Smoke Signals, about things going on downtown and making a series of videos interviewing local businessowners.
The watch the video series, visit grcsmokesignals.net or like the newspaper’s Facebook page, GRC Newspaper.
To show their appreciation for their efforts, downtown businesses and the Ale-8-One Bottling Company teamed up and got the girls some gifts, which board members presented Thursday afternoon on North Main Street.
Among those who were there to present the gifts were board members Robert Blanton, Kitty Strode, Rachael Boyd and Richardson.
The journalism students’ teacher, Shanda Crosby and family members of the students also attended.
“I think it was such a great experience for us to learn about Main Street ourselves and for us to enlighten others about it,” Curreri said. “Main Street is such a focal of Winchester, and I think that everybody needs to know how important it is to support your downtown …”
The students were also part of a small committee established to focus on downtown Winchester’s image development.
“We’re really thankful that they have honored us in this way,” Caroline said. “We love being a part of the committee, and it’s just really been a great experience for us.”
Curreri said downtown Winchester in an “awesome place,” and she’s been excited to learn about this growth.
“They’ve really done a good job of restoring it recently, and … it’s so lively, and everyone’s so closely knit together, and it’s a great place to come and support one another and a great place to spend your day,” she said.

BLM Paddle Out event highlights race issues

A two-hour drive to attend an early Saturday morning event might be extreme to some, but for Evan Young of West Virginia, “It seemed like a short drive for such a great cause.”

On a sunny morning at Fort Boonesborough State Park, about 70 people paddled out into the water to observe 8 minutes and 47 seconds of silence — the exact amount of time George Floyd laid on the ground under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, weeks ago.

The event, hosted by the Explore Kentucky Initiative, The Waterman Series and members of the paddle board community, began with guest speakers who discussed not only the issues of racism and identity bias in law enforcement, but also other issues regarding people of color and outdoor activities.

Gerry Seavo James, the founder of the Explore Kentucky Initiative, discussed the complicated history between people of color and outdoor parks. According to James, Black people were only allowed to enter one Kentucky State Park up until the ’60s. Today, these recreational areas are still “places of pain” for some.

Candidate for State Representative of the 81st District Martina Jackson attended the event and was one of the guest speakers. Jackson said issues of race and inclusion often go further than police brutality and can be found in even the smallest aspects of daily life.

“Diversity and inclusion means other aspects like the outdoors. Part of that conversation is saying ‘why don’t we see more people of color in outdoor recreational activities?’” Jackson said.

According to James, natural areas in Kentucky historically had “sundown towns” around them — towns that required any Black person(s) to exit the town before sundown. This and other historical aspects may have led to unconscious biases about people of color and their participation in outdoor activities, James said.

“The big thing is that we want people to be focusing on inclusivity and unconscious biases, (such as) unconscious biases that Black people don’t want to go kayaking and hiking,” James said.

Other issues may evolve from socioeconomic status. Jackson said neighborhoods that are lower income or historically Black are less likely to receive funding for things like parks and hiking trails. This continues to discourage children of color to become involved in outdoor activities.

James said the event had a good turnout and that people from all around the state came, as well as some who travelled from out of state like Young.

Young said when he was asked to attend the event, it was almost an instant yes. He explained he is close with James and promotes attending events that raise awareness for such important topics.

“It was great how Gerry got it started. (It was) nice to take a moment and listen to their stories and then getting out on the water for that 8 minutes was just moving. We were all united and silent for a reason. It was one of those divine moments,” Young said.

Young, who owns Appalachian Boarding Company, brought a van full of paddle boards for participants who wanted to pop in the water and participate. He said the paddle board community is very inclusive of “any age, race, religion, creed or color,” and events like this continue to highlight that sense of unity.

James said he hopes events such as this one help to open up people’s minds about how we view racism and racial injustice.

“We kind of have this cookie cutter view on racism and discrimination. We think, ‘Oh OK, slavery ended,’ and ‘Oh OK, Martin Luther King and desegregation,’ but people don’t think about the systematic structures (still in place today),” he said.

Jackson also expressed her hope for the larger community to open their eyes to the smaller issues people of color still face.

“We want everyone to be represented and really enjoy life and not have these barriers in place, from police brutality to outdoor activity. We start by showing up and building,” Jackson stated.

Kentucky’s Ale-8 Soda Is Bourbon’s Best Friend

words: MANDY NAGLICH

illustration: GERRY SELIAN

Kentucky is home to a local drink that makes residents beam with pride. Made from the same family recipe for generations, it’s a staple anywhere from casual hikes through national forests to formal events and weddings, and common complement to — and often cause for — celebration.

But this is no small-batch bourbon (although it does make an excellent match for Kentucky’s finest). This is Ale-8-One, a ginger-citrus soft drink that’s been distributed here since 1926, and has made its mark on nearly every pillar of Kentucky drinking culture since.

If bourbon is America’s spirit, then Ale-8-One, better known to locals as simply “Ale-8,” is Kentucky’s mixer.

While spectators in the stands of the Kentucky Derby sip Mint Juleps, tailgaters in the parking lot gather around “Kentucky Classics,” a cocktail of Ale-8 and bourbon. Both of Kentucky’s premier universities, Louisville University and the University of Kentucky, serve the craft soda at campus events. And for outdoors enthusiasts in east-central Kentucky, a visit to the iconic canyon system, Red River Gorge, simply isn’t complete without one.

“Oh, yeah, there is Ale-8 right there at the welcome center,” says Stacy Bovee, a freelance stylist who hikes “the gorge” often. On her first visit, fellow hikers clued her into the tradition: toasting the finish of a hike with a bottle of Ale-8. She now orders one at the gorge’s most popular restaurant, Miguel’s Pizza, after every visit — and she doesn’t even really drink soda, she says.

Ale-8’s vessel is perhaps equally revered: Some swear it tastes better in its emblematic heavy glass bottle, even going as far as to conspire that this is, intentionally, a different recipe. (Ale-8-One Bottling Co. marketing director Chris Doyle assures that’s not true: “For the hardcore fans, the experience of having a cold Ale-8 in the thick glass longneck bottle is really meaningful,” he says.)

In any case, the green glass is an integral part of the experience. On Bovee’s hikes at the gorge, “You’re out in nature drinking out of a glass bottle — it’s not a can or plastic,” she says. “It’s really nostalgic.”

That heavy glass is there for more than optics or sentiment. The recognizable “longnecks” are returnable and refillable: In fact, every Ale-8-One longneck bottle gets reused 6.8 times on average (after going through a three-step cleaning process), according to the company.

This, too, is an almost century-old tradition. Ale-8-One was served out of reusable bottles when it was first released in the 1920s, “and we just never stopped,” says Doyle. Continuing to collect, inspect, clean, and refill bottles requires special equipment and extra time, which is why, by the 1970s, other beverage companies had largely discontinued the practice. Ale-8 is only able to keep up the practice, Doyle says, because of its dedicated fan base — one that stretches from its factory in Winchester, Ky., to Ohio. Retail partners pitch in, too: Chains like Kroger grocery stores make drop-off easy for both customers and the bottling company.

After years of decline, the refillable bottles are gaining popularity — saving resources for the company as well as for the greater region, Doyle says. As part of the 1% for the Planet initiative, 1 percent of longneck sales are designated for protecting natural land areas in Kentucky. Included in these areas are, in full-circle satisfaction, the forests and canyons of Red River Gorge.

The adoration and success of Ale-8’s sugar-and-corn-sweetened soft drinks could be written off as nostalgia, or a regional quirk. Its popularity is at least partly owed to the pride its fans feel in supporting a nearly century-old, family-owned drink. Perhaps its light carbonation, hint of citrus, and ginger kick really is the ultimate complement to bourbon, and that’s why so many couples insist on serving it at their weddings. Perhaps its sweet enjoyment is the reason teenagers take photos with it before prom.

And it might be Ale-8’s sustainable bottles and support of local parks that thousands of hikers reach for it as their beverage of choice every year. Or maybe there’s a hint of magic when local pride mixes with a secret family recipe, and if you sip one under the right Kentucky sunset, you’ll be under Ale-8’s spell, too.

Ed. note: At press time, Miguel’s Pizza is open for outdoor seating and pickup.