February 7, 2013 – BY: By Scott Sloan
Lexington has seen the number of breweries triple during the past year, and another is about to open. Owners say business is growing faster than they expected, and there’s every reason to think that more brewers will decide to follow suit.
Move over, frozen yogurt. The latest food and drink explosion in Lexington is craft beer.
During the past year, two breweries have opened, and both already have expanded production. A third is on the way, and a restaurant recently opened that intends to sell beer to be brewed in Woodford County.
The explosion of growth builds on the long-time success of Alltech and its Kentucky Ale beer packaging and distribution operations, which began in Lexington 13 years ago.
“We never expected this type of reception,” said Daniel Harrison, one of three co-owners of Country Boy Brewing.
The brewery and bar will celebrate one year in operation this weekend by placing beer brewed on site in all of its 32 taps. That includes eight new taps the company is opening in a small section of the brewery portion of its building on Chair Avenue, off South Broadway.
Typically, about half of the beers on tap are made on site with the remainder being craft beers from elsewhere.
The company has tripled production during the past year and started selling its beer to other bars and restaurants. It also signed a deal recently to distribute beer to bars in Indiana.
“We’re buying as many kegs as we can get a hold of,” Harrison said, adding that company planned to be canning or bottling its beers by the end of the year.
Country Boy initially focused on beers for its own tasting room, whereas Lexington’s other new brewery, West Sixth Brewing Co., has been focused on canning since it opened in April.
West Sixth’s expansive bar inside a former bread factory offers a variety of its brews, including a draft version of its India pale ale that’s canned for retail sale and distributed to other restaurants and bars. Co-owner Ben Self said the company recently signed a distribution deal for Cincinnati.
The company recently announced plans to begin canning its amber beer for retail sale.
“The amount of support and reception we had in Lexington has far exceeded our expectations,” Self said. “We’ve already doubled our capacity, and we’re bumping against production capacity again.
“People are really excited to try new and different local craft beer.”
Among his core customers since the beginning has been Grant Clouser, who learned to enjoy craft beers from his father.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said of craft beer in the city. “People here have been waiting to support it.”
Clouser even became a part of it. He owns a small honeybee farm called Fifth Street Apiary, and the brewers at West Sixth used his honey in a recent brew.
Another Lexington brewery soon will be a few streets away from West Sixth’s home: Blue Stallion Brewing Co. intends to open by mid-April on West Third Street near Newtown Pike.
“I’ve been homebrewing for almost eight years now, and as soon as I started doing it, I thought to myself that Lexington could really use a brewery,” said Kore Donnelly, one of Blue Stallion’s five owners.
The brewery will be in former metal forge building that’s in the midst of an interior overhaul.
The group plans to focus on brewing German-style lagers and British-style ales. (Familiar mainstream offerings of those styles would be Beck’s and Boddingtons.)
Like Country Boy and West Sixth, Blue Stallion will focus on selling beers rather than food. Donnelly said they hope to have food trucks outside like the other breweries do.
Unlike Lexington’s other new craft breweries and bars, Glenn’s Creek Brewery & Beer Exchange on High Street is a full-scale restaurant in the former Buddy’s space. In fact, the name might be a bit misleading: The business does not intend to brew its own beer on site.
The owners are planning to build a brewery in Woodford County that will have a tasting room. They will transport the beer to Lexington for sale in the restaurant.
Co-owner T.J. Gordon said the goal initially was to have the restaurant and brewery open simultaneously, but “when this location came up, we just couldn’t pass it up.”
“A lot of people see the brewery thing and think the brewery’s here,” he said. “It just didn’t work out to where we got them open at the same time.”
Lexington probably will be seeing more craft breweries.
“There’s room for lots of growth,” said Self of West Sixth. “We’re excited to make Lexington a craft beer destination.”
It’s certainly a possibility for a town the size of Lexington to support more than four, said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association craft beer advocacy group.
“Every place is a different case,” he said. “We’ve seen towns under 100,000 with a double-digit number of breweries.”
Gatza said Alltech’s success over the years with Kentucky Ale is a benefit for those looking to brew in Lexington.
“Having sort of an anchor for the community, he said, “helps gain the acceptance for new players to come in.”