Building a brewery isn't just a beer party, Lexington businesses find

ashelton@herald-leader.comJuly 21, 2013 

The sound of a couple laughing while enjoying an American blonde ale craft beer starts filling the entire front of the brewery. Empty beer glasses clack as locals celebrate their baseball team's victory, and bartenders slide pints to patrons while explaining today's specials at West Sixth Brewing Co.

In the back, brewers are working hard to make two to three batches of beer a week. Brewing beer can be a long and tedious process: boiling grain, adding yeast, fermenting, carbonating — all of which takes more than two weeks. Only then is it ready to serve.

"Sanitation, measurements and timing are everything. The slightest error will throw your desired results way off," said Chris Heflin, one of the owners of Chase Taproom and Brewing Co., which recently moved with the plan to branch out from being a bar to brewing its own beer.

But what is even more tedious and time-consuming, owners say, is all the "handy work" they have to do.

Some might think working at a brewery is fun and easy, but they fail to realize all the hard work and effort that goes on behind the scenes.

"Not only do I brew, but I have to learn how to be a plumber, electrician and so forth," said Daniel Harrison, an owner of Country Boy Brewing. "This is the best job ever, but it still feels like work. Owning your own business is the hardest part of the job."

Breweries are on the rise in Lexington. Just in the past few years, at least three have opened and at least one more is on the way.

Representatives from the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, a trade group, say the industry is growing across the state, too.

"These small breweries are cool and are usually adjacent to neighborhoods," downtown Lexington developer Jeff Fugate said, explaining their appeal. "It is not just a bar or establishment, it's something being made in the neighborhood. This is a great urban industry."

Almost all of the burgeoning breweries have faced some type of challenge.

For instance, Lexington's newest entries in the market — Blue Stallion Brewing Co., which opened last week, and Chase Taproom and Brewing Co., set to open later this summer — faced delayed permit processes.

The Blue Stallion crew worked for months trying to get their brewery up and running at 610 West Third Street, at Newtown Pike. Construction and obtaining a license from the state and local Alcoholic Beverage Control agencies were some of the major hurdles.

"Breweries come with a permit process, plumbing permit, state permit and many more requirements," said Kore Donnelly, one of the Blue Stallion owners. "It's been a long process. We just want to give Lexington a new spot where people can come relax and have a craft beer."

Not only are brewers required to get the regular ABC licensing, but breweries also fall under the purview of the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

"The federal process is far more time-consuming and invasive than the state and local level," Heflin said. "We also had to get a zoning-compliance permit and go through a Board of Adjustment hearing just to be able to open a microbrewery at our location."

The Chase was previously in Victorian Square, but its owners negotiated for an early exit from their lease, which was to expire in 2014. Heflin said location and parking at Victorian Square had been troublesome. Meanwhile, the space adjacent to a building they owned at Third and Jefferson streets became available.

"The corner taproom is roughly the same size as our old location but will have more outdoor seating, on-site parking, a kitchen for both daily food service and special event dining and best of all, a full microbrewery in back," Heflin said.

"We couldn't be more happy to be the latest addition to the brewery family and the brewing neighborhood," he said.

The challenges faced by veterans West Sixth Brewing and Country Boy Brewing are a bit different from the new breweries'.

These brewers not only make beer but they package, distribute and sell it. They distribute to surrounding states, and you can find their beer at supermarkets and restaurants.

But with that bigger business model and larger market come added concerns.

They must make sure to brew enough beer to meet demand, have a steady inventory of ingredients, maintain equipment, analyze the market and satisfy customers' needs and wants.

It's also important to get their products sold in stores and on menus at restaurants and bars.

"To get your beer on a list or sold at other places, you need to advertise and sell," said Ben Self, an owner of West Sixth Brewing. "Do it the old-fashioned way: Talk to folks, give out samples, and see if you can sell it to them."

Both breweries recently increased their capacity and have seen growth in their business and local support.

"Without a doubt, I love this job," said Harrison, of Country Boy. "People think it's easy and I get to sit around, drink beer and party all day. This is a blue-collar job, so there's certainly a ton of work and effort that goes into this job."

Despite all the hardship, the breweries do a lot for Kentucky, officials say.

"These breweries can be beneficial for the state of Kentucky," said Adam Watson, president of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers. "We use local ingredients' export things, which generates revenue' help restaurants"; work with bourbon distilleries and other Kentucky companies, and more.

"Kentucky brewing has been successful the last two years," he said. "The state's beer demands are pretty high. If we continue in a good direction, the future of Kentucky breweries will be bright."

Alysee Shelton: (859) 231-1330. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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