The growth of interest in craft beer and distilling shows no sign of lessening, if Alltech's annual symposium is any indication.
The annual meeting, called "REBELation" this year and organized by the Nicholasville-based animal nutrition company, has for 35 years focused on food, agriculture, aquaculture and marketing. This year, for the first time, two days of discussion on brewing and distilling were added, topics close to the heart of Alltech founder Pearse Lyons, himself a brewer.
"People are drinking more craft beer and paying more for it," Lyons said. In the past five years, craft beer volume has doubled to 19 million barrels, and craft beer is on its way to becoming a $25 billion business, he said.
Alltech's Craft Brews and Food Festival in Lexington on Saturday drew more than 5,000 people, he said. A similar event last summer in Dublin drew 10,000, he said.
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Even though the thirst for craft beer seems strong, Greg Koch, co-founder and CEO of Escondido's Stone Brewing Co., warned of "irrational exuberance" in the industry that leaves brewers ill-prepared for the inevitable headwinds.
Koch said that when he started brewing in 1996, just as a previous microbrewery bubble burst, he was told by a distributor: "Microbrews are dead. Imports is where it's at."
At that time, Koch said, he never dreamed there would be 3,500 craft breweries.
"How many of you are craft brewers?" he asked, looking around the room. Many hands went up. "Almost everybody. For the others, you have to ask yourselves, why aren't you?"
The 1996 bubble burst because consumers grew weary of overpriced, mediocre beer, Koch said. But quality and passion are worth pursuing, and brewers will succeed if they stick to what they love.
In 2006, Stone Brewing opened a 400-seat restaurant, World Bistro and Gardens at Liberty Gardens, in San Diego. In a part of the county that isn't particularly affluent, they offered a menu of pricey organics, no ketchup or colas with high-fructose corn syrup, and no TVs. Despite those drawbacks, he said, they've become the third-largest visitor destination in San Diego, behind only the zoo and Legoland.
His advice: "I've learned you have to do something worth talking about. If you're expecting people to go out of their way, you have to give them a reason to."
The Alltech REBELation symposium continues Tuesday.