Harlan County’s first brewery opening late 2021

Harlan County, the most famous county in America, will soon have its first legal brewery since the Prohibition Era.

Entrepreneurs Gill Holland and Geoff Marietta announced the launch of the Harlan County Beer Company, a brewery and restaurant to be located in downtown historic Harlan across the street from the courthouse.

In 2020, they acquired a key historic building on the courthouse square of Harlan to be the home place of the Harlan County Beer Company.

Marietta is most recent past president of the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce and owner with his wife, Sky, of Moonbow Tipple, Harlan’s bustling coffee shop and cafe.

Holland is known for his work in the historic small-town feel neighborhoods of NuLu and Portland in Louisville.

Neither has a background in beer aside from being “end users.”

The building, known locally as the Bissel Building, is currently under renovation. Harlan County Beer Company will occupy the first floor and will have a brewery system, restaurant, bar and stage. A rotating tap will feature up to eight different beers named after the history and attractions of Harlan County.

“We need to renovate the building first, so that is stage one,” Marietta said. “We are also looking for investors for the brewpub and beer company and have launched a WeFunder campaign seeking to raise $250,000 so that both locals and other enthusiasts nationwide will have a chance at ownership.”

People can invest as little as $100 in Harlan County Beer Company and receive an annualized return of 14 percent. The company will follow generally established “B-corp” guidelines for overall stakeholder positive impact.

Holland added, “We need to stop acquiescing to the ‘rural-urban divide’ and start building ‘urban-rural bridges.’ With the great work already occurring in Harlan, and after a recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina (with its almost 100 breweries), I was like, why on earth don’t we have a vibrant Kentucky Appalachian Beer Trail to partner with our famed Bourbon Trails?

“Since my dad was born in Harlan County (Lynch), and I think Harlan County is the most famous county in America, we wanted to bring some private sector efforts to bolster this beloved historic and transitioning former coal town. I had this idea for a beer company and knew Geoff was the only partner who could bring it to fruition. He is way smarter and better looking than I am!”

Holland was the lead investor with one of Kentucky’s early WeFunder success stories, Cornbread Hemp.

WeFunder is a Public Benefit Corp and a crowd-funding service under the JOBS Act, which allows unaccredited investors to purchase equity in early stage private companies to “create a world where friends and neighbors can invest in their neighbors (like great-grandpa once did).”

With the steep decline of the coal industry and coal-related jobs, Harlan has struggled like many coal communities to grow its economy. That said, Harlan County is in the heart of a burgeoning outdoor and adventure tourism region. Harlan was a major engine of the American economy during the 20th century and now serves as a major inflection point for the economy of the 21st century.

Founders Holland and Marietta believe the Harlan County Beer Company will be an Appalachian institution that serves as a stepping-stone to continue the revitalization of Harlan County and the region.

“We have a lot of momentum in Harlan County in economic development despite a global pandemic. Harlan County’s first brewery will add to our diverse offerings to locals and provide something unique and unforgettable to tourists,” said Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley. “This also proves that a place like Harlan can be attractive to companies looking for city amenities at low costs. I appreciate the investors for choosing to make an investment like this here in the mountains.”

This will be the first brewpub in the area and the only one within about 100 miles. The founders hope it will enhance the ongoing adventure tourism aspects of Harlan and use local beer to help increase all forms of Appalachian tourism.

“We need folks in Louisville, Lexington and beyond to step up and invest in Appalachia. The folks in Harlan County paid with their lives to mine the coal that built America. It is time we say thank you and drink a beer,” Marietta said.