Beer cheese. Once you know it exists, it’s shocking that no one dreamed it up until the 1940s. If ever there was a culinary machine designed for maximum comfort and (satisfied) bloating, it’s this creamy, savory blend from central Kentucky.
Accounts of the emergence of beer cheese vary, but the standard narrative stars Johnnie and Joe Allman. Johnnie, who opened the Driftwood Inn in 1939, began serving his cousin’s “snappy cheese” at the Winchester, Kentucky, restaurant. The concept was simple: a lean (yet thick) mix of cheddar spread, flat beer, garlic, and cayenne pepper.
It caught on, to say the least. Today, more than 70 years after the Driftwood’s closing, eight veritable establishments line the “Beer Cheese Trail” in Winchester, each offering its own unique twist on the snack, which is most often used as a dip for pretzels, vegetables, and crackers. Full Circle Market, for example, serves a gluten-free beer cheese, while the Waterfront teases a “secret” formula based on letting the ingredients sit for a while at room temperature. You’ll have to try ’em all at Winchester’s annual Beer Cheese Festival.
Like any good advocates for a regional staple, Kentuckians ardently insist that you can’t experience the real thing outside the area. Still, you might see an attempt at the dip pop up on menus in Cincinnati, Michigan, Chicago, and Brooklyn, and a variety of recipes are available online.
Where to Try It
Hall's on the River1225 Athens Boonesboro Rd., Winchester, Kentucky, 40391, United States
On the Beer Cheese Trail, and formerly the site of the Driftwood Inn.