Outside of Frankfort, Sigmund (Sig) Luscher may not have the same name recognition as Col. E. H. Taylor Jr, yet the men have been inextricably linked for 157 years.
At first, the two seem like an odd couple, the Kentucky aristocrat and the immigrant from Bern, Switzerland. The ultimate spirits aficionado and the beer lover transplanted to the land of bourbon.
So, just what connected them? Would you be surprised to discover that it was a single-celled microorganism?
But we’re getting ahead of our story. When Sig emigrated to the U.S. in 1855, he did so with the dream of establishing a New World brewing dynasty in Memphis, Tennessee.
Unfortunately, his timing wasn’t the best. Shortly after he built his brewery, the Civil War broke out. General William Tecumseh Sherman – who presumably didn’t know a good thing when he tasted it (and had a penchant for setting fires) burned the brewery to the ground.
Undaunted, Luscher, with a little more than $2,000 in his pocket from U.S. government reparations, decided to try again. This time he abandoned Tennessee in favor of its neighbor to the north and took over Frankfort’s Capitol Brewing Company in 1866.
It’s tempting to say that the rest is history – the plucky immigrant who refused to let a bloody war and a burned down business destroy his dream.
But the real history began when Luscher cultivated a friendship with Taylor, and the two began sharing that single-celled microorganism, better known to brewers and distillers as yeast.
The use of yeast is a common feature in both the making of bourbon and the making of the crisp, light Pilsner brewed by Luscher.
Sig’s beer became a hit with bourbon-loving Kentuckians, but upon his death in 1891, the brewery closed, and it seemed his legacy would be forgotten.
Fast forward 127 years when Sig’s great, great, great grandson, Tim Luscher, re-opened his venerable ancestor’s namesake brewery on Mero Street directly across from the original location. To bring things full circle, it’s on property that was once owned by E.H. Taylor.
Today, Tim presides over the eighth oldest (and third oldest family-owned) brewery in the United States. As far he knows, it’s the only place where guests have the opportunity to do a tasting that includes both beer and bourbon.
Guests on the regular brewery tour enjoy a beer flight, but those guests willing to pay extra can customize their own experience and sample both Luscher beers and Buffalo Trace bourbons in one tasting.
While Sig’s original recipe was lost following Prohibition, Tim says they used a chemical analysis to recreate the flagship Pilsner, one of two permanent beers on tap (the other is the ’66 Wheated Lager.) Additionally, they offer two seasonals that rotate every few months.
Along with good beer comes good food. The Taproom at Sig Luscher offers an eclectic menu featuring dishes from Sig’s Smokehouse Burgoo to vegan chili.
If patrons prefer dogs and brats, they can get them any way they want them, but according to Tim, the biggest seller is the Kentucky Coney Dog – a steamed hot dog with beer cheese, chili, sauerkraut, onions, banana peppers, and Kentucky BBQ sauce.
Sig Lusher was a larger-than-life character whose antics included once being pushed by the mayor of Frankfort, through the city’s streets in a wheelbarrow, accompanied by a marching band.
His spirit lives on in his namesake establishment, and Tim knows his great, great, great grandfather would approve. “We don’t call our product craft beer,” he says. “What we offer is historically good beer.”