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Downtown distillery signifies several firsts

The first batch of Pearse Lyons Reserve went into the wooden kegs Thursday at Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., and the malt whiskey's namesake was a happy man.

"That's what I've wanted to do for 50 years," said Lyons, the founder and president of Alltech, after he drove a wood plug, known as a bung, into the first keg.

Lyons, a native of Ireland, began his career in the 1970s working for Irish distillers. He has wanted to own a distillery ever since, he said.

The ceremony triggered a series of other firsts:

■ The first malt whiskey ever made in Kentucky.

■ The first distillery opened in Lexington in more than 75 years.

■ The first distillery in Kentucky in the same building as a brewery.

And it also might be the first distillery that knows exactly when its first whiskey will be available — 750 days, 9 hours, 28 minutes from 2:32 p.m. Thursday.

Pearse Lyons Reserve is scheduled to make its debut Sept. 25, 2010, the day the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games begin at the Kentucky Horse Park. Alltech is paying $10 million to be the Games' title sponsor.

In the meantime, Lyons said, Alltech plans to begin marketing an Irish coffee known as Bluegrass Sundown that will contain bourbon from another distillery.

Alltech has no plans to produce bourbon at its distillery on Cross Street at the west end of downtown, Lyons said, but the company could do it under its federal distiller's license. Bourbon would require at least three years of aging, whereas malt whiskey can be aged quickly in 50-gallon barrels and be ready by September 2010.

A bourbon distillery might boost tourism by allowing Lexington to join Kentucky's Bourbon Trail. The trail now has eight distilleries, including Woodford Reserve near Versailles.

Lyons said Alltech might expand the distillery and brewery by constructing an addition to the building.

The heart of the distillery is two copper stills or "pots" that were imported from Scotland. They are expected to produce 100,000 gallons of whiskey a year, made 100 percent from malted barley. Bourbon must come from at least 51 percent grain, generally corn.

Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. has three employees and two sales representatives. It produces Kentucky Ale, Kentucky Light and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.

The brewery's capacity is 10,000 barrels a year, although it currently is producing 2,000 to 4,000 barrels.

No new employees will be needed for the distillery, said Mark Coffman, director of engineering for Alltech, who also oversees the brewery and distillery.

Pearse Lyons Reserve will be sold in 750-milliliter bottles, also known as fifths for fifth of a gallon. From the first batch, Alltech is selling barrels of Pearse Lyons Reserve that can be monitored via the Internet as the malt whiskey ages.

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