Over the past year, beer has become one of Lexington's fastest growing industries. There has been some experimentation with beer in town before, and Alltech has managed to keep Kentucky Ale a viable and strong brand, but the new craft beer scene is something Lexington really hasn't seen before.
With three breweries opened in roughly the last year, at least one new brewery on the way, numerous bars dedicated to craft beer and a home brewing store, the beer industry has shown up in force. Considering Lexington's demographics, it was long overdue—the average craft beer drinker is highly educated and Lexington is rated as one of the most well educated cities in the country. Not only that, but Lexington's art scene is booming and craft beer tends to move in to cities that place an emphasis on art.
The beer scene now seems to be thriving, but what is it like to start a business in the beer industry, and in particular what is it like to start a business focused on beer here in Lexington? To answer those questions we talked to Mike Vincent, an owner of Lexington Beerworks, and Kore Donnelly, an owner of Blue Stallion Brewing which is set to open in a few months. Lexington Beerworks opened nearly a year ago on Limestone and is the only home brewing shop in town which also serves as a great craft beer bar. Blue Stallion is still in the process of working out their location and hopes to open their brewery with a large tasting room and to distribute their beer to local bars and restaurants.
The beer business is, of course, still a business and there are a number of things to consider when starting one so I asked Mike and Kore some questions about why they really wanted to get into the beer business. Obviously, loving beer and brewing is a big part of it, but to start a full brewery takes a lot more.
Q: What was your inspiration and motivation for starting your business?
Mike (Lexington Beerworks): "Honestly, we wanted to do something interesting, and something that we loved. There's a natural synergy between drinking good beer and the curiosity about what goes into it, hence the craft beer bar / home brewing shop."
Kore (Blue Stallion Brewing): "My partners and I have wanted to open up a brewery for years, we have been making beer on a small scale for a long time and our head brewer worked for a small regional brewery in Germany. Lexington has long wanted more craft beer options and we are excited to be a part of the growing craft beer scene here."
Q: What makes Lexington such a good place for beer?
Mike: "Lexington is a city full of folks that fit the craft beer enthusiast profile, and up until this point was underrepresented in terms of beer bars, brew shops and breweries. We visited Louisville a few times for inspiration and then knew that if we found the right spot in downtown Lexington we could start something as well."
Kore: "Several things have helped set the stage for the booming craft beer industry in Lexington. The move towards buying local is a huge part of why we have seen several breweries open but the taste for craft beer has been slowly developing in Lexington for over a decade. People are getting tired of the homogenous yellow light lager made with corn and rice adjuncts and are expanding their palate by trying interesting beers made by brewers that aren't interested in making the same tasteless beer we have had for the last 80 years.
Everyone we have talked to about this, from the local government officials, the bank, and people that have just heard what we are doing, has been incredibly excited about the idea. People want this to happen; it feels like we have so many allies to get this project off the ground. We have always talked internally about making the community our partner in the venture, we want to add to the culture and attraction of Lexington – but it seems like the community wants to be our partner just as much as we want to be theirs."
I know I certainly identify with not wanting to drink tasteless lagers. And it's not often that you see the kind of support from the community and local government to get businesses off the ground. On the other hand, there are certainly some challenges that come with any businesses and both Beerworks and Blue Stallion have had their share.
Q: What are some challenges you've had, if any, so far?
Mike: "EVERYTHING - but that's what learning is all about. [You are] completely accountable and responsible for success or failure."
Kore: "There have been several things that have gummed up the works a little bit as we developed our plan but the biggest challenge would certainly be finding an appropriate location for the business. One thing that became clear after months of research was how capital intensive a brewery is. This is probably a lesson that every business owner has learned, regardless of industry but especially true of a manufacturing business like a brewery.
Smaller cities than Lexington, such as Asheville, NC, have become wonderful havens for craft beer recently, and we hope Lexington can become one as well. It's certainly well on the way there, but it will continue to require a lot of support from the community. Craft beer is an industry that adds a lot to the reputation of a city and can bring a lot of people to Lexington as tourists. Get out there, try something new (and not a generic light lager!) and support your local breweries and beer businesses. Much our vibrant art or food scenes, a craft beer scene can make Lexington a better and more enjoyable place to live.
Here are all of our local beer-centric places. Make sure to go drink their beer and like them on Facebook for all their updates:
o The Beer Trappe 811 E Euclid Ave
o Blue Stallion Brewing Company TBD
o Country Boy Brewing 436 Chair Avenue
o Glenn Creek Brewery 854 E High St
o Lexington Beerworks 213 N Limestone St
o The Village Idiot 307 W Short St
o West Sixth Brewing Company 501 West 6th St
I have heard rumblings about even more breweries looking to open up in town, so if you know of any that I should add to this list please send me an email at email@example.com.
Thanks again to Mike Vincent of Lexington Beerworks and Kore Donnelly of Blue Stallion for their time.