Bringing Art to Her Beer
Leah Dienes wasn’t always a beer drinker. In fact, when she turned 21 she preferred bourbon. “When I was in college, I could only afford to drink one beer when I went out with my friends, and I didn’t even like it,” Leah says. “But after college, I began to develop a taste for it — not just drinking it but brewing it, too.” Fast forward to today and Leah is owner, partner, and head brewer at Apocalypse Brew Works in Butchertown, which opened in 2012. “It was a hobby that went completely out of control,” Leah says.
An inquisitive child who set up her own darkroom for photography, the Louisville native says her artistic mother influenced her path to a creative life. “She did fiber art and would draw. I was one of those children who asked a million questions. She was a librarian, so she taught me how to research the answers myself,” Leah says.
The brewery owner, who attended Youth Performing Arts School, plays five instruments: viola, sax, tuba, trombone, and electric bass. She attended the University of Louisville for two years and then completed her music degree at Boston University, but a musical career didn’t end up being Leah’s path.
“As a musician, I was always near the top, but never the best. I was never going to be more than a journeyman in an orchestra. I enjoyed the art side more, the photography and making videos,” Leah says.
She returned to college at Northwestern to study computer graphics and design, a decision that led her to a 25-year career in Louisville working for Fearless Designs. But it was a bar manager at a previous job that piqued her interest in home brewing, a hobby she pursued for many years before it became her livelihood.
She became known as the bearer of beer at her friends’ parties, toting five gallons of beer in the door. “I called it my purse. I couldn’t drink all that beer myself. I needed to empty my containers so I could brew more,” Leah says. She joined a local homebrewing club called LAGERS — Louisville Area Grain and Extract Research Society — and started studying for her beer judging certification. She began winning beer competitions, and then won some more.The turning point came when Leah and two friends were attending a homebrewers’ conference and she noted that many breweries opening were starting out very small and very local. “I turned to my friend Bill and said, ‘We could do that,’ and he said, ‘Yes, we could,’” Leah says. Bill Krauth became her partner in the venture, and they added a third partner, Paul Grignon.
Leah built the brewery on property and warehouse space Bill owned, and Apocalypse Brew Works was born. “We all brew different styles of beer, which makes it nice, and we collaborate on all the beers we offer,” Leah says.
Apocalypse is a no-frills, weekend-only brewery that offers a walk-up bar station with a large outdoor space with picnic tables at 1612 Mellwood. In keeping with the apocalyptic theme, the lot is surrounded by razor wire and chain link fencing, and the 15 beers on tap have names like Fallout Dust and Atomic Amber.
“We figured if the world did end, people may not be manufacturing as much so we will need to reuse and recycle,” Leah says. “So keeping with that theme, we have solar hot water, our brewing vats are from 1969, and the wood in the bar was made from flooring that was already on the property,” Leah says.
She has realized her vision of an urban beer garden. “Bill and I are both past presidents of the homebrewing club, and we focus on making beer styles true to form, not a hybrid. People look to us to brew stylistically, so when you have a cream ale or IPA or porter — if you look up what those are, it will taste just like that,” Leah says.
Apocalypse Brew Works is known for hosting “brew-ins” with the LAGERS brew club and partnering with the Tailspin Beer festival, as well as giving fundraising or community groups an opportunity to use its free community space. Yappy Hour, an annual fundraiser held in September for the Humane Society, welcomes pets and their owners, while Poorcastle Festival offers an economical alternative to Forecastle for live music and fun at the brewery. “We just want to sell beer and give back to the community,” Leah says. “That’s important to all three of us.”
Leah is happy with her second-act career. “I get to do what I love to do every day. I’m not getting rich, but I never was about money, anyway.” A nationally ranked beer and mead judge, Leah says she is employing a slow growth business model. “It’s organic. We grow as we make money and grow a little more.”
As for the brewery, Leah is looking forward to all of Apocalypse’s fun summer events and plans to start offering original live music there on a regular basis.
“I enjoy creating recipes, sharing beer with other people,” says the self-proclaimed “beer evangelist.” “Beer should be fun and add a component to your life. People drink beer when they’re happy and when they’re sad. It enhances your meals, relaxes you at the end of the day, it’s social, tastes good, and has such a variety of flavors. There’s a whole lot to it. I’m never going to stop learning about beer.”
5 Things Leah Loves
- Animals and animal adoptions
- Educating people about beer
- Traveling to national parks
- Videography — “I want to find a reason to have my own video channel to help other people.”
- Cooking — “I want to make my own bacon and charcuterie.”