When Alltech purchased Lexington Brewing Company in 1999, it’s main reason wasn’t to save a brewery or get into the craft beer business. Alltech wanted the tanks.
At it’s core, Alltech is a yeast fermentation company. And any tanks it could find, Alltech wanted.
However, before the brewing systems were dismantled, Alltech founder Dr. Pearse Lyons had a change of heart. And the rest is history for central Kentucky’s largest craft brewery.
The first beer crafted was Kentucky Ale, but the reason was far from traditional. Dr. Lyons wanted a beer that Alltech could take to trade shows and entice people to visit its booth.
“It was that side project for a while,” said Pete Weiss, marketing manager for Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company. “It wasn’t until around 2003 and 2004 when we put Kentucky Ale into bourbon barrels. That was the catalyst that set us off into expanding and becoming a profitable brewery.”
Thanks to Lexington Brewing & Distilling having several connections to Woodford Reserve, one of its brewers decided to “grab” a few barrels and see what would happen. With the close proximately between the companies, Lexington Brewing was able to get the barrels the day Woodford Reserve would empty them. This would allow it to capture “all the flavor that was trapped in the wood,” according to Weiss.
Bourbon barrel beer is Lexington Brewing’s niche, Weiss said. Its top beer is the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and it offers several different varieties throughout the year.
“It was a complete surprise,” Weiss said of the company’s success, “and its been a complete surprise since I’ve been here. About three and half years ago, we were in 12 states and had five salespeople. Now, we’ve expanded to 27 states, seven countries and have a sales force of about 25.”
In addition to its expansion around the country and the world, Alltech and Lexington Brewing has helped expand the craft beer market in central Kentucky.
“We’ve got somebody in every brewery in Lexington,” Weiss said. He added many of the brewers trained at Alltech before the brewing craze hit the region or they participated in Alltech’s home brewers competition, which a few won.
Alltech previously had a brewing and distilling school. With the company’s core focus on yeast fermentation, it made sense to have an alcohol school, Weiss said. The school focused on fuel and beverage alcohol.
“It is cool the basis of their training came from the Alltech brewing background,” he said. “It’s also been cool to see them use that base knowledge and take it in different directions. Brewing beer is as much as an art form as it is a science.”
With many having a tie to Alltech and the uniqueness of the industry, Weiss said the area brewers and breweries are “a close-knit family.”
“We help each other out,” he said. “Being able to have everybody rise at the same time is good for the community and the breweries.”
Weiss added every brewery has its own niche, but “we all complement each other.”
The uniqueness of the industry and closeness of the breweries has led to many collaborations and partnerships on events.
“Whatever helps one out, helps all of us out,” Weiss said.
He added the Brewgrass Trail is a great resource and allows for the public to be educated on what is available.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say ‘I don’t like beers so I’ll pass on the Brewgrass Trail.’ But then you give them a Bourbon Barrel Ale, they try it and they say ‘that’s amazing.’ That’s when you say, ‘Glad you liked that, now go to the next brewery, tell them the same thing and I’m sure they’ll have something you’ll equally enjoy,’” Weiss said.
While Lexington Brewing does not have a taproom, it does offer tours daily at its Cross Street location. In addition to Lexington Brewing, visitors will get to experience Town Branch Bourbon and the Bourbon Trail.
“You’ll get an unique vibe to the Bourbon Trail experience as Town Branch is the only distillery on the trail featuring beer,” Weiss said. “I highly recommend it. Plus, you get to see all of our processes and sample beer and spirits.”
Lexington Brewing has also expanded its operations to Bowling Green and the campus of Western Kentucky University. The brewery partnered with WKU on College Heights Brewing.
“WKU developed the undergraduate degree to not only teach the science behind it, but the business end of it as well,” Weiss said. “They use our brewery as a lab as students will come in and help our brewers brew the beer. As it moves forward, we’ll be working with the students on expanding the line.”
Despite the changes and its growth, Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company has found its niche and continues to teach the next generation of brewers.
Jonathan Greene is the editor of The Register; follow him on Twitter @jgreeneRR.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth of a monthly series looking at the different craft breweries on the Brewgrass Trail. See past stories online at richmondregister.com.