Alltech founder Pearse Lyons got his start in beer, but almost from the beginning Lyons has taught other people to make alcohol, too.
"We started having distilling academies in 1980, and for 25 years we called it the 'Alcohol School,'" said Mark Phipps, technical director of Alltech Brewing & Distilling and former brewmaster at Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Co. Alltech even put out several textbooks to go with the courses, which were popular with a variety of segments of the industry.
At one point, he said, Alltech was selling distiller's yeast to about 70 percent of the distillers — both ethanol and beverage alcohol — in North America.
But now, the Nicholasville-based animal nutrition giant has taken it to a next level, opening the Alltech Brewing & Distilling Academy, which is holding its first course this week.
"It's geared toward craft brewing and distilling, where we've seen there's a gap in that area," Phipps said.
Although there is demand for craft spirits and beer, there aren't that many places where students can learn the trades. Alltech, which makes both beer and spirits at its soon-to-be-expanded plant in downtown Lexington, is one of the few companies involved in both.
The first course, which is sold out at $1,900 a seat, will give students technical information on making beer and spirits, as well as entrepreneurial skills like marketing, social media, packaging and labeling, brand development, business managing, and legal and regulatory issues.
Alltech also is working with several Kentucky universities that are developing curricula geared to interest the state's booming alcohol industry.
With Eastern Kentucky University, Phipps said, Alltech is developing several laboratory and research projects. With the University of Kentucky, it will bolster each others' expertise in different areas in a new certification that the UK agriculture college will offer.
With Western Kentucky, Phipps said, it is going a step further and developing a full-fledged master's degree program.
"We're also building a craft brewery out there in Bowling Green," he said. The school brewery will be in an old shopping mall converted into a research campus. The brew lab will go in alongside a water lab and a commercial kitchen, he said.
The colleges are taking different approaches and Alltech hopes to complement them all, he said, with its academy, which will function out of the Angliana Avenue plant that houses their bottling line and barrel-aging operation.
Inside, rooms have been converted to a chemistry lab and faux bar with classroom space. And this summer the academy will get its own small-scale brewhouse and still so students can experiment and put what they have learned into practice.
Eventually, Alltech hopes that college students or professionals can use their courses for either academic or continuing education credits through at least one of the universities.
But the classes won't be just dry academic sessions. In fact, many will be very wet, and open to the public.
"We plan to offer everything from an hour tasting session to multiple week courses," Phipps said, adding they will include everything from how to be a beer judge to the microbiology of flavor.
The next Alltech Academy, the first in partnership with WKU, is scheduled for June. More classes will be set up soon. Go to AlltechAcademy.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on upcoming sessions.
In May, Alltech also will have a lineup of craft beer and spirits experts, including Bill Samuels Jr. of Maker's Mark; Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Del.; and Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, Calif., at a brewing and distilling symposium during the annual Alltech conference, this year called "REBELation" and coinciding with the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fest in downtown Lexington. For more information, go to Rebel.Alltech.com.
"We are living in a historical chapter of American brewing, with a new craft brewery opening every 16 hours in this country," Pearse Lyons said in a statement. "New distilleries are appearing everywhere, too, as domestic whiskey sales have soared by 40 percent in the past five years. This clearly is a brave new world for brewers and distillers, one in which the opportunities are everywhere for entrepreneurs willing to seize them.
"The Alltech REBELation is a celebration of this, and we can't wait to have these entrepreneurs with us to share their experiences."