As part of a plan to spend up to $20 million expanding its beer operations, Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distillery Co. will launch a canned India Pale Ale this spring.
It's one of a host of ambitious plans for Lexington's longtime craft brewer. Among them:
■ New canning and kegging lines at a recently acquired location on Angliana Avenue.
■ Rebranding its Kentucky Light beer as Kentucky Kölsch and beginning to sell it in cans.
■ Determining a location for a new brewery.
■ Exploring the opening of a taproom where it could serve its beers directly to the public.
"Our expansion's a demonstration that we have a very strong feeling about the future," said global operations manager Hal Gervis, who leads the brewing and distilling businesses for the Nicholasville-based company. "Overall, we represent the past, present and future of craft beer in Lexington and beyond.
"We're seeing huge demand nationally and internationally for all of the lines. That's a great position to be in."
Alltech's brewery operations had been contained to Cross Street, at West High and West Maxwell streets, until the company acquired the former home of beer and beverage distributor Kentucky Eagle along Angliana Avenue last year.
Now the company's barrel-aged brews sit inside a chilled portion of the warehouse for aging. Offices are being renovated to house the division's nearly 50- member work force. And a large room inside the warehouse soon will hold the line to can the latest member of the Kentucky Ale family.
The IPA "is really the little piece of the puzzle we didn't have in our portfolio," said Matt Cordle, national sales manager for the division. "The IPA will bring us all together."
The plan is to can and keg only the IPA for now, although it might be considered for bottling eventually, Gervis said.
The decision to can came from repeated requests by wholesalers and other customers for a beer that could be sold more easily at sporting events or, say, along beaches where glass isn't allowed, he said.
The IPA, expected to launch in April, will be sold in packs of four 16-ounce cans for a to-be-determined price. At 16 ounces, the can is larger than the standard 12-ounce variety. That makes it ideal, Gervis said, to sell at sporting events, which typically sell larger beers. The company had pondered canning in advance of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park for that very reason, Cordle said.
The company has experimented with an IPA for years, brewmaster Ken Lee said. The final product has the familiar hoppiness and bitterness associated with the beer style but also features some citrus and floral aromas.
The canned IPA latches on to two national beer trends, said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association craft beer advocacy group. IPAs have been growing rapidly in sales during the past few years, and cans are becoming more common among craft brewers.
"The American beer drinkers are getting into more flavorful beers and are finding they're really liking the hoppy quality of IPAs," Gatza said.
With the larger can, Alltech has "the potential of opening up convenient store markets and other places that are featuring some different-sized packages," he said. "It is an interesting plan."
The canning line also will package Kentucky Kölsch. Nothing's changing about the former Kentucky Light except the name, and the change is coming because of the growing awareness of beer types.
"It's a reflection of people's understanding," Gervis said. "If you had said to some of us a few years ago, here's a Kölsch, they may have looked at you slightly quizzically.
"There's a greater understanding now because of the advancement of the craft beer industry. We've decided it's the right approach to use the correct nomenclature for that style of beer."
The Angliana operations will include a kegging line that will boost production from 16 kegs an hour to 60.
Alltech's also on the lookout, Gervis said, for a third location as it seeks to get ahead of its quick growth curve. More evidence of that came this past week when an unidentified large grocery chain in the United Kingdom approached the company about serving as its U.S. craft brew, said spokeswoman Susanna Elliott.
Alltech also is looking for a local site to build a taproom, as regulations prohibit a brewery of its size from selling its beers directly to the public on-site. The joint brewery and taproom concept has seen growth in Lexington during the past year, with Country Boy Brewing and West Sixth Brewing Co. becoming popular destinations.
Both demonstrate "the demand out there that people are being more selective with the beer they're buying," Gervis said. "We are very happy that the craft beer market is moving in that direction."