Thursday, April 16, 2015

Beer with a Brewmaster: Wesley Keegan of TailGate Beer

By Matt Kelsey

The time to tailgate in the Music City is now!

TailGate Beer owner Wesley Keegan has brought his award-winning craft beer to West Nashville and it’s already a hit with the locals. After attending his brewery’s grand opening, I visited with Mr. Keegan to discuss his brewing background, to find out more about the tailgating superfans featured on his Artisan Series of beer and to learn how his brewery bucks Music City beer trends by featuring great local beers every day of the week.

What did you think of the grand opening for TailGate Beer?
It was packed, just nuts to butts, the entire time. We have parking for 200 here and people were parking on the street, and walking up the hill to come in. It was great, super humbling, overwhelming and better than we could have asked for. It was a total success.

How did you get your start in the alcohol industry?
As the story goes, I was working at a bar, bartending, and worked my way up to a manager, but I was also a homebrewer. I homebrewed because my friends did. I kept doing it and I liked it. Again, it was all ahead of the craze, so it wasn’t too common. When I had beer, I would give it to my dad. My dad didn’t drink, but he had a lot of coworkers who did and they loved it. He came up with the name, TailGate Beer, in 2004. He sat on it for a couple of years and Anheiser Bush originally contested it. He won that and he thought I should make a business out of it.

As far as my background goes, I just brewed beer so I could hang out with my friends and I liked to drink it. It wasn’t this phenomenon that it is today.

Did you have any experimental homebrew batches?
Right away, when we started brewing, the economy just started tanking. When I started buying things, I funded everything off Visa and American Express. I put myself through college, I had a good job, but not enough to build a business off it. When my dad gave me the name, that was it. I had bought enough to brew some beer, but I had to make sure I could make that money back. And then I had to brew it again, because that worked. That said, we had a lot of screw-ups. We made a really good American wheat for a lot of years, but one time we were brewing it and we fermented it way too hot and used the wrong yeast. We came out with this Bavarian-style wheat, which was fantastic. It tasted great, because it had banana, coriander and cloves. I loved it.

A lot of times, the experimentation, for us, became the byproduct of us just going through the ups and downs. Fortunately, we rarely made something that wasn’t a good thing. If it wasn’t good, we dumped it out. We wouldn’t ever try and force something out that we weren’t proud of.

How would you describe your beer?
Our main beer, that we brew in Wisconsin, really is on the lighter end of things, and that was the product of being in Southern California. Here, you call it high-grav, but in California, it was just beer. Everything was super high in alcohol in Southern California. It was just a hops race. In San Diego, an 11% beer was normal. So, we came out with lighter beers, because we had found we were early to can, we were early to do something besides a hop bomb and get on a session trend, before it became a trend. By and large, you could look at those beers, that we can on an international level as a mild, gateway style of session craft beer. That’s what it’s intended to be. I think that our style is most clearly seen out of the beers that we’re doing in Wisconsin, because the beers that we’re going to do here aren’t necessarily going to have a style. They’re going to be really creative.

Which of your beers is your flagship?
The blonde is our flagship, right now. The easiest way I can answer that question is when we got to 2013, we made the decision that we were going to relocate. We were making three nationally released products at the same time and we were starting a new series that was a quarterly release, then we had a small-batch program going on and we were trying a lot of different stuff. To relocate, we really tried to simplify everything, from our reach in distribution to our menu: All of the above. That forced us to assess what our best sellers are.

When we looked, we found that Blacktop Blonde, far and away, is our best seller. It filled a market void, because there’s tons of pales, tons of IPAs and those are the No. 1 sellers in craft beer, but it’s rare to find a gold that doesn’t stink; that doesn’t have a bad aftertaste. It’s really hard to hide flaws in lighter beers. That’s why the domestics use things like rice and corn, because malts, in general, create an odor, and it’s really hard to make it a non-offensive odor or to find a hop combination that’s not going to overpower it or make it a pale ale. It’s a complicated beer. That’s certainly our best seller and I would probably call it our flagship.

The Session IPA is our second-best seller. That’s what we came with to Nashville and what we’re building on. These are the two that we deliberately scaled down to, because we knew those were the ones that could sustain the move and the expense and the build at this level.

What are your upcoming seasonals?
Nashville is a very seasonal city, in most respects. We’ll find out about beer. Craft beer, in my experience, is not quite so seasonal, any more. When I started, it was very seasonal. I don’t know if the Peanut Butter Milk Stout is going to be a seasonal, just because the demand is so hot for it. I know we’re working a lot and we’re R&Ding a pumpkin beer. I’ve got a great pumpkin I did a few years ago, that I loved. It was super spicy, very floral, we called it The Pumpkin Pie. It smelled and tasted like pumpkin pie. It was fantastic. I want to do that, this year, it just depends on the scale that we do it. We want to try to brew seasonally responsive beers, but also in anticipation of our future releases.

One of the next releases that we’re working on getting into cans is our Orange Wheat. I hope that we get it out this year, but it depends. Again, we try to be responsive and it’s difficult, when you get to that size. When I go to 250 barrels, you’ve got to have to have a home and a plan for that, because at the end of the day, it’s beer and you need to be able to move it, otherwise it goes bad. So, a lot of the seasonal stuff and the creativity is going to come out of here and everything that comes out of Wisconsin is designed to be a volume product.

What kind of beers do you foresee pouring at the brewery in the near future?
Right now, in our tasting room, we’ve got 25 taps: One dedicated handle to every local brewery, one nitro handle and one cider handle. Those handles will change, every time a keg blows. For example, our nitro handle is always different. We’ve even done a Nitro Blacktop Blonde before, which was cool. It’s funny, out here, Nitro is so new, when people talk about Nitro beer, it’s almost like magic. We’re totally into Nitro and we’ll always have different cask beers going. I want to do a thing, like every Thursday, where it’s a Tap That Cask kind of thing, where we tap a new cask and we kill it that night.

Will you be brewing and pouring high-gravity beers at your brewery?
The TABC is full of great people who are super nice, but the process is really difficult and convoluted. You can ask the ABC one question and they’ll say, ‘It’s low gravity and we have zero jurisdiction over it.’ Then you can ask the beer board if it’s high-grav and they’ll say, ‘We don’t care.’ I know somebody does. Shouldn’t you? I come from a world where you make high-gravity beer, but I’m also in business. I have to make business decisions, sometimes. I really, really want to make high-grav. It’s been a very burdensome process, unfortunately. I’m working on it. I’d like to be able to serve high-grav here. I’d like to be able to serve wine. I know there’s a lot of corollaries between wine and beer. I’d love to be able to serve high-quality bourbons and whiskies. I want to, but it’s not my call. At the end of the day, if it’s going to hurt us, It’s not something I want to do.

Since moving to Tennessee, what’s your perspective of the Nashville craft-beer scene?
Well, I came to town before I made the decision to relocate here. I’ve got some family out here and I did a ton of research, because I didn’t want to come into a market that wasn’t going to be receptive of new entries or wasn’t a little bit developed. I’ve met almost everybody at all the local breweries, here. Great people. Super friendly. Very communal. I find that the newer guys are easier to reach, because they’re out doing it. I can appreciate when you’re on the bigger level, your phone doesn’t stop ringing, when you’re dealing with retailers or events or things like that. We’re kind of in that funky zone where we’re building a bigger space, but we’re still playing at a high level. But everybody’s been great.

Why do you think Nashville has a booming craft-beer scene?
It’s next. If we got into a time machine and we drove 88 mph back to Phoenix 2010, Phoenix reminds me of Nashville. They had about this many breweries. It was still kind of new. The bars were still serving a lot of domestics. If they had eight tap handles, four of them go to domestic and the other four rotate through the locals. Then that became two domestic and six locals. And then lot of them thought they could double their draft space by installing five-barrel kegs in their cooler. That’s happening here. A lot of the same things that I’ve seen happen in Phoenix, Connecticut, Minnesota and to some extent in San Diego, it’s all happening here. As exciting as it is, here in Nashville, I think the trend has finally come here.

Do you foresee attending any local beer festivals? You could bring your small-batch beers.
Yeah, totally. We’ll always have the canned stuff available, but in general, with beer fests, we’re pretty selective on them. That one is controversial for me. I think that there are so many that are such a money grab. There are so many people within the beer-festival industry and they run one festival a year and that’s their income. In general, they’re really bad for the industry. But as a whole, there’s a couple of really good ones. Specifically in Nashville, we had a great time last year at the Preds fest. The guys at Rhizome do a great job. I think that was our first one. There’s a couple of those that we’ll participate in, for sure. With that said, we’re going to have festivals, every month, at the brewery. I call them anti-fests.

Who’s the guy featured on your Dodgy Knight Artisan Series of beers?
That was something we started a couple of years ago. The idea was it was going to be released once a quarter and we were going to use actual people on the cans. That guy on the Dodgy Knight can is a person from London — Oxford, actually. He is one of the bigger football fans in Europe. We wanted to get a caricature of these tailgate superfans and partner them with a beer that made sense with their profile. He’s super nice. He’s a schoolteacher who’s tailgated in the U.S. a couple of times. Once he realized I was trying to tribute him and the industry of superfans and not make money off him, he was good with it. We have some other people we want to feature, but with the costs of developing new cans and the timeline when we relocated, the project’s taken a back burner. We are doing another installment of the Dodgy Knight, this year. The next time we do another superfan release, it’ll be something totally different.

Do you have any plans to tailgate at different colleges with TailGate Beer, next year?
Oh, yeah. I’ve tailgated at some of the best venues in the U.S. even though we didn’t sell in the South before moving to the South. One of my goals this year was to visit every SEC stadium, but we got so busy building. The biggest thing that predicates my travel is if we have distribution in that market. I know this year we’re probably going to expand, based on some of our retailers. We’ve been asked to go to Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky. If we can support it appropriately, we will do it and it will open up some of those opportunities.

There’s a lot of things we’re going to do, here, too. I want to put up a projector screen out back, so when the weather is good in the Fall, we can watch games outside, we’ll be tailgating, we’ll have food, drinks and a great place to hang out. If you can’t drive four or five hours to Tuscaloosa, hang out here with us. We’ve got good beer, we’ve got the game on, it’s an all-ages event.

What does 2015 bring for TailGate Beer?
A lot of building. We’ve got such a huge property, that we’re pretty much always under permanent construction, all the way into the Summer of 2016, but a lot of things are just happening as the result of traffic. We’ve already started some projects, here, that I didn’t think we’d start for another six months. But, the more people that come out, the easier it is to pay for those things. I’ve got my long-term plans and I know what I’m doing tomorrow, but what happens in the next three to six months can quickly change. I really want to bring out Orange Wheat. I know that this year we’re going to do a lot of construction, a ton of different, creative brewing, we’re adding to our exports, we’re working with a lot of great retailers and most of our domestic focus is going to be on Nashville.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The message we try to really deliver is from a tasting-room standpoint and a brewery standpoint. I think the city is really lacking availability. A lot of the tasting rooms aren’t open daily. Most of the people I’ve talked to say that when Yazoo opened, there was a lot of conflict with the bars. I get it. It’s like that in every market, when the craft breweries start getting bigger. But as the market matures, they realize that when people come here and they like their product, they’re going to ask for it at those bars. It’s not a competitive thing - it’s just a different thing.

So, I understand the way the market evolved and Linus did something incredibly intelligent in the way he set it up, but I don’t think breweries having tasting rooms is bad for bars and restaurants. Our No. 1 question when people visit our Tasting Room is where can I get this in town? We’re open every day. We serve beer from every local brewery - we’re the only one that does that! We have food. Outside of Blackstone, that has a great restaurant, we’re the only one that has that. We just want to make ourselves available, not only as a resource for ourselves, but to the other local breweries. If you come here, you’re going to spend the day drinking craft beer. You know it’s not going to be the same this week as it was last and we’re still going to feature everybody but our own. I’m not naive enough to think we’re the only good brewery out there.

For more information about TailGate Beer, visit their website here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dogfish Head Returns To Nashville

Milton, DE based Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales is returning to Nashville, Tennessee after pulling distribution from the area in 2011.  The brand is known for their extreme and experimental brews and has been a pioneer in the craft beer industry since opening in 1995.

In April 2014, Dogfish Head returned to Tennessee, though only to Memphis and Chattanooga noting hopes to roll out to the rest of the state in coming months.  Bounty Beverage has obtained the rights to distribute Dogfish Head and will begin delivering their beer to Middle Tennessee within the next week.

UPDATE:  Flying Saucer will host a kickoff event to celebrate Dogfish Head's return to Nashville on April 20 beginning at 5:00 PM.  The lineup will include 60 Minute IPA, 90 Minute IPA, Sixty-One, Midas Touch, Aprihop, Indian Brown Ale, Palo Santo Marron, and package release of Namaste, Tweason'Ale, Burton Baton and limited special release offerings.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Beer with a Brewmaster: Mark Phipps of Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company

By Matt Kelsey

If you’ve ever tasted a barrel-aged beer before, there’s a great chance you’ve tried one of the many offerings of Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. Not long ago I took a roadtrip to Lexington, KY and made sure to visit the biggest brewery in the area. Touring the production facility, I was blown away by their state-of-the-art bottling line and their many, many bourbon barrels: some filled with beer while others were filled with spirits. I was led on this tour by Technical Director Mark Phipps, who is also a Master Brewer with more than 40 years of brewing and distilling experience under his belt.

After the tour, we discussed their barrel-aged beers, the history and expansion plans of their brewery, the creation of a “brew-stillery,” and preview the upcoming Kentucky Ale Brew-Off in my interview.

How did you get your start in the alcohol industry?
It’s kind of a kismet thing: I was in the right place at the right time. I started at the University of Cincinnati, back in 1973. I ended up sitting in class next to a guy who worked for the Schoenling Brewing Company, in Cincinnati. He was in charge of their weekend clean-up crew and asked me if I wanted a job. Over the next couple of years, I ended up becoming one of the crew bosses and Ed Schoenling– who was one of the founders of Schoenling Brewing Company — particularly liked me and my friend, who got me the job. When I was a senior at UC, planning on going on to graduate school to do something in environmental health, he asked me what I was going to do with my Biochemistry degree. The EPA was right across the street from my campus and I thought that was possibly a good place to go work. He said, ‘You’re going to work for OSHA. I want you to work for me. My brewmaster’s going to retire in a few years. I want you to be the next brewmaster.’ I had about 30 seconds to figure it out. He sent me to Brewing School, in Chicago, for my Masters Degree. That’s where I met Ken Lee. Ken and I went to brewing school and graduated together but we worked for different breweries. He was at Wiedemann in Northern Kentucky.

What’s the history of the brewery? Did Alltech purchase the Lexington Brewing Company?
Yeah. I was here, that happened at the end of 1999. Dr. Lyons was helping his son, Mark, get through his Masters degree program in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University, over in Scotland, the same as Dr. Lyons. He was kind of following his dad’s footsteps. So, he needed a brewing project and Dr. Lyons was looking for something locally and called up the guy who owned the Lexington Brewing Company, who was about to close the brewery at the end of that week. They were going belly up. He came down, got a tour, talked to the guy and by the end of that week, Dr. Lyons owned the Lexington Brewing Company.

Originally, Alltech actually started out in brewing and distilling sciences and then moved into the animal-nutrition stuff, but the roots of the company were in alcohol production. I would say we sold 70 percent of the North American distiller’s yeast to Canada and the U.S. and Mexico and Central America. It was supplied through us. I was here for that, so I can attest for that. Now, we cover all aspects of fermentation. Probably, in the beginning, all we did was drink up all of our product. I actually brewed up the first Kentucky Ale. We had to come up with the beer that Dr. Lyons prescribed us to make.

What was the first beer brewed by Alltech?
Kentucky Ale is the first beer that we brewed, here, in Lexington. Matter of fact, I was privileged to be the first guy to make this. Dr. Lyons wanted a cross between an English Pale Ale and an Irish red. The only difference between that beer and the Bourbon Barrel Ale is six weeks in a bourbon barrel. Kentucky Ale is aged for a six weeks minimum, sometimes up to eight. That beer is then packaged off as Bourbon Barrel Ale.

Is Bourbon Barrel Ale your flagship?
It’s now our flagship. It’s the one that we’re famous for.

Was your brewery one of the first to offer barrel-aged beers?
Yeah, I would say we were. We started it before it became popular. We started brewing in 2000 and we were making bourbon-barrel ale by 2004. So, that’s 11 years ago. I would say the barrel-aging phenomenon has happened only within the last five years. Honestly, there are a lot of people who want to be able to do what we do. I taste every barrel-aged beer that comes out on the market, just to see what’s happening. They aren’t doing what we’re doing.

What kind of beer trends are you noticing in Kentucky?
Kentucky is pretty representative of the beer trends of rest of the nation. Nationwide, trends are moving toward lighter beers.

What’s your perspective of the craft-beer industry?
I’ve been brewing for a long time and I grew up in an era when a lot of breweries competed with Anheuser-Busch and everyone else. A lot of people can take as many stabs as they want at the big brewers, but to make a light, clean lager and make it consistently, is not an easy thing to do. I’ve always told people, ‘Budweiser is probably one of the most technically perfect beers.’ It’s certainly not my favorite beer, but it’s consistent and clean, all the time. It doesn’t have bacterial issues or defects that a brewer would quickly sniff out.

My take on the whole craft-beer industry is that the rise of ales and especially IPAs was largely because ales are easier to brew. You can have them into and out of the tank in two weeks. The sins of not doing fermentation right can easily be covered up by lots of hops. That is my background theory on why IPAs became so popular. Now, people are starting to get more interested in the sophistication level of beers. I’m not saying going lighter is necessarily the way to go, but it is a fact that it’s much harder to make pilsners, lagers and lighter beers and have them be clean and true to form. Those kind of beers take a lot more attention from the brewer and they take about six weeks to make. From a brewer’s standpoint, sophistication levels of beers are going up. Now you’re seeing the small craft brewers starting to get interested in making the more difficult beers. Ironically, the more difficult beers are the lighter beers.

Do you foresee ever having to make your brewery’s stout as a seasonal?
No, because our coffee stout is our brewmaster’s form of getting his coffee every day. I don’t think he’s going to stop making that beer. As long as it continues to show good sales in the marketplace, we’re going to continue to make it year round. Right now, it does. Our stout is a pretty consistent seller for us.

What is your current seasonal beer?
The seasonal that we’re running right now is our Rye Barrel IPA. We brewed this ale with a 30 percent rye formula and we aged it in rye-whiskey barrels. It definitely has a different characteristic than our bourbon-barrel ales. When we put IPAs in barrels before, it’s kind of robbed some of the hop character. This time, we dry-hopped the beer in the barrels.

What’s your pumpkin-beer perspective?
Many of them are just typical ales brewed with a lot of pumpkin spice, and then they hit you in the face with cinnamon or a spice that just nails you. Our goal, when we made the Pumpkin Barrel Ale, was to take advantage of the fact that we were barrel aging it. So, we were giving it a characteristic that other people weren’t going to get, anyway. But we also wanted the pumpkin to come through as something subtle, almost as an aftertaste. That’s what I’m really proud of. It doesn’t slam you in the face with cinnamon or nutmeg. It’s actually subtly giving you a really nice ale-based with a good barrel-aged quality and 10% alcohol. What comes through the aftertaste and the mouthfeel is a pumpkin spice that I call, ‘Breathes through the beer.’ You don’t know you’re tasting a pumpkin beer until you swallow it.

Do you use actual pumpkins in your Pumpkin Barrel Ale?
Yes. Actually, we got tricky. We use pumpkin butter in the brewing formula. We found a local person who was making this amazing pumpkin butter. That was the base. We tested that to make sure it was fermentable. It gave us such a nice characteristic. The huge difference between ours and other people’s beer is the spice comes through after the barrel-aging comes through. We wanted have something to represent who we are. And who we are, I think, are the barrel-aging experts of the brewing industry.

How would you describe the Lexington craft-beer scene?
Overall, Kentucky has grown in a spotty way. Only because of distance, Louisville hasn’t been that close to us, but we’ve been in pretty close contact with people from Against the Grain, BBC and breweries like that. But around here, the craft-beer industry has grown. It’s good for all of us. We don’t look at it like we’re fostering another competitor. We look at it like we’re growing the craft-beer industry. Because Dr. Lyons created the atmosphere of helping other people, we were the first ones to host a beer festival where all the brewers of Kentucky were invited. All, but one, came to our first craft-beer festival. It was awesome. We leveled the playing field by creating a separate booth for everybody to distribute their beer and everybody looked the same. The only difference was the beer. They weren’t judged by their marketing. I think we’ve continued to grow the community. I would like to think of Alltech as a mentor to the others.

There are many developments for the brewery. Can you tell me about them?
We’re putting in two new brewhouses, here in Lexington. One is really designed for our tour system. It’s designed to do smaller brews, about 30 hectoliters per batch. That gives us more flexibility to do smaller brews of different types of beers and we have the option to make whiskey on that system, too. That’s a unique brewhouse system that we’re calling our ‘brew-stillery.’ The second brewhouse will be twice the size of the other one. It’s going to have the capability of more than 100,000 barrels of production per year. When we add the two together, by the end of 2015, we’ll have 140,000 barrels of capacity. So, we’re pretty excited about it and we’re able, then, to keep our product stream going as smoothly as possible and as streamlined as possible, without losing our diversity of products.

When does construction start and when do you expect it to end?
Construction’s already started at the other site. We’re actually building a building over the one we already have. We have a new brewhouse already ordered from Germany, that’s coming in as a kit. Within two months after that, this one’s going to be installed, here. Everything’s going to happen within June and October, this year. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

I heard Alltech is also building a new brewery in Eastern Kentucky, as well.
We’re building another 25 hectoliter system that makes beer, bourbon whiskey and moonshine at that facility, down in Pikeville — home of the Hatfields and McCoys. The distillery’s going to be called Dueling Barrels. That brewhouse is about the same size as our Cross Street facility, where our tour system is. We’re partnering with the state of Kentucky and local Pikeville municipality for that project and we’re excited the whole thing is coming together, creating jobs in Eastern Kentucky and creating visitor awareness to that area. It’s probably scheduled to open in the Spring of 2016.

Many Nashville breweries are canning their craft beer. Is your beer available in cans?
We experimented with cans about a year and a half ago, but we decided to enter the canned market in a different way. Now, we’re looking at doing cans, again. Probably by June, you’ll see cans coming out.

Can you tell me a little about the Alltech Brewing and Distilling Academy?
We’ve designed this particular lab, so that it’s a teaching lab. Everything about this lab is equipped to test beers and whiskeys from the very beginning — the grains and mashing process — all the way through to a finished beer or whiskey. We’ve got a teaching area and a hands-on lab, where they look at things with a microscope to microbiological plating to high-pressure liquid chromatography HPLC type of operation, to analyze the beers and spirits, so that you know what exactly your fermentation did. So, we’re teaching the art of fermentation and kind of passing on our legacy and background knowledge, which is pretty much everything that Alltech is built on, from our brewing sciences through our animal nutrition side: Everything we do is fermentation-based.

We’re just now launching our first course this month. We’re pretty excited about it and it’ll be ongoing, because the faculty members are people here, who are actually doing the work, of making beer. Ken Lee and I actually graduated from brewing school together. He’s our Master Brewer. We’ve been brewing together for 40-odd years. Frankly, it’s part of our passion. It’s what we do. We love making beer and whiskey. We’ve been doing it all of our lives. Those of us who are in this are basically the people who are passing on our knowledge to people who get to come to this school. We’re adding to this school crisis management, the finance of a brewery and capital expenditures, marketing, media management and social media. We’re trying to put all of it together, so that people who may want to start a business up can come to one place and learn about both the nitty-gritty of what it takes to make the product versus what it takes to sell and market the product. We’ve got 18 people within Alltech who have Masters Degrees in brewing or distilling or higher, so we’re utilizing that staff as our faculty.

How did Alltech get its start with distilling spirits?
Dr. Lyons also is a distiller. Dr. Lyons worked for Guinness and then Irish Distillers. Once we had a brewing system, he thought he could make distiller’s mash the same way as he made brewer’s mash. It’s just a matter of having the equipment to make the proper grains mashing. So, he decided to make an Irish whiskey here, in the States, because it was something that nobody had tried before. He brought two beautiful Forsyth stills from Scotland and we stuck the stills inside our brewhouse. We didn’t have a separate distillery. In 2006 we started brewing and distilling. I got to be involved in that project, as well. By 2012 we built the new distillery and moved those two stills and started actually making distilled spirits full time.

Alltech sponsors the Kentucky Ale Brew-Off. Please tell me the details of this event.
One of the fun things that we do over the years is the Brew-Off. We work with BOCK (Brewers of Central Kentucky) every May and sponsor this Brew-Off. The idea is to get people to come up with their own brew formulas, but we have to put some limitations on them, so that it can be judged within certain parameters. We have it as a festival, where they they bring all their homebrewing equipment and they brew on our property. We want to foster creativity and to promote craft brewing. We’ve created this contest where we have 40 brewers make whatever beer they want within the realm of ales, but they have to use the brewery’s water and yeast. We allow them to ferment them however they want and send them back to us for evaluation. We use our own taste panel, plus the flavor people from the Bock Group, including the previous year’s winner and we’ll pick a winner. Then, we’ll bring that brewer in and take that beer and brew a big batch of it. We will license the beer and package it off into kegs and put it into establishments around Lexington.

Ken and I both grew up in a system where brewing is a fraternity. Some craft brewers don’t treat it like that, but most of us who came from the roots of the old brewing industry will always treat it like a fraternity. If your passion is the same as my passion, why shouldn’t we help each other? We’ve done lots of things to help each other. It goes both ways. We have good relationships with the other craft brewers in town.

What does 2015 bring for the brewery?
We’re doing lots of stuff this year. We’re developing new seasonals every quarter, that’s part of the fun for us, brewmasters, because we love doing that. We came out with a special beer for March Madness called the Platoon Pack. It is a six-pack, with three bottles of White Belgian Ale and three bottles of Blueberry Ale. They’re both Belgian-style ales. It’s not a seasonal but it is a limited-edition release.

We have a new brewhouse going in at the Visitor’s Center and a whole new building being built around the building we have now. Just a couple of months behind that, we’ll have a new brewhouse, here, at the production facility. We’re going to be three-quarters of the way through the development project in Pikeville. We’re very proud to be a part of developing business in Eastern Kentucky and I’m excited to make my first moonshine about this time, next year. Also this year, we are still building a new Irish-style whiskey distillery just a block away from Guinness on St. James Street, in Ireland. That will probably be operating about the same time as Pikeville. We’re putting a pilot plant in here, for the school. It’ll be a 50-liter system that is going to be able to make any style of beer you want. Part of our classes will be incorporating that. Kicking off the academy is going to be pretty fun and pretty cool and will set the pace for education of brewing, here in Kentucky. UK, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky Universities will partner with us. This is going to become a center of education for brewing.

For more information about Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company, visit their website here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Beer with a Brewmaster: Andy Smith of West Sixth Brewing

By Matt Kelsey

Whenever you’re near the Bluegrass State, you’re never too far from a can of West Sixth craft beer.

Not long ago, I took a road trip to Lexington, KY and made advance plans to visit West Sixth Brewing. This brewery celebrated its third-year anniversary recently, featuring a great taproom and an awesome selection of craft beer. During my visit, I toured the facility and met Lead Brewer, Andy Smith, who taught me a little about the Lexington craft-beer scene and discussed his brewery’s barrel-aging program.

How did you get your start in the beer industry?
I started homebrewing in 2004, when I was in college and just fell in love with it. I was a finance major and figured out I would rather make beer than work at a bank, so I just went with, after I graduated from UK. Within weeks after graduation, I started working with a craft-beer distributor. From there, I found a job at the Sam Adams facility, in Cincinnati. I worked at Sam Adams for a year, then worked as the Assistant Brewer four four years at Hofbrauhaus, a small brewpub chain based off the original Hofbrauhaus Brewery in Munich, Germany, and then came to West Sixth in 2012.

Were you ever in a homebrewing club?
I never really got into a homebrewing club. I brewed with friends and entered competitions.

Do you remember your first homebrewed beer?
My first homebrew was a porter and I think my second one was a pale ale.

What is West Sixth's flagship beer?
Our flagship brand is our IPA. It’s a great hop-forward beer. It focuses on the Citra hop. We’ve got a hop-blend in there, so there’s a little bit of dankness, tropical fruit aromas and flavors that encompass that beer. It has a nice orange color and a malt backbone that backs up the hops; not overly bitter. It’s 7% abv. It’s the first beer that we started canning, here.

Can you tell me about your current seasonal?
Our current seasonal is the Belgian Blonde, that’s also canned. The yeast really brings the flavor and aroma profile to this beer. Look for some fruity, estery characters and some peppery characteristics to it, as well. It’s got lightly kilned malts and finishes with a powdered sugar, not-too-hoppy malt crispness.

What beer trends are you noticing in Lexington?
It’s some of the same trends you see regionally, with the IPAs. Everyone is really into sour or funky beers. There has not, yet, been a local brewery, here, that’s really been turning them out in volume. So, we’re kind of waiting to see what happens with that.

Do you think dark beers are losing popularity in Lexington?
It’s hard to say and I guess it depends on who you are and where you go. In the wintertime, at the right beer bar, you’re going to find over 50 percent of the taps are taken over by dark beers, which I think is great. But you bring up an interesting point: The big trend has been with lighter-colored IPAs. Of course, the black IPA has made its way around, as well. You do see a lot of these lighter-colored beers with many different hop qualities to them, which is unique to each IPA. Dark beers are out there. You just need to know where to look for them.

I really enjoyed your Winter Warmer. Can you tell me more about that beer?
The Winter Warmer was one of the beers slated for the taproom. We did a 15-barrel batch of it and kegged it all up, so that we can serve it here at the brewery. It is kind of brewed in the fashion of an old ale, where it’s very malty. We let the malt characteristics shine through. There were probably five different malts used in brewing this beer. The American hops play a subtle role in the background, but they’re there. You can pick up on them in the flavor, not so much the bitterness, because we really wanted the malt to shine. It’s 8% abv.

How long has West Sixth been aging beer in barrels?
We’ve been barrel aging, pretty much, from the beginning. I think the first bourbon-barrel aged beer we came out with was a brown ale. Today, the one that we get the most excited about is our Snake Eyes Imperial Stout. The Snake Eyes is an 11% Imperial Stout. It has big, heavy roasted-malt character and the barrel-aged form is called Snakes In a Barrel. It’s 13% abv and just super delicious. There’s lots of vanilla characteristics. It’s kind of got a toasted-marshmallow flavor to it. It’s a good winter-time beer. We usually roll that out in January of each year.

Has West Sixth previously released any sour beers?
We launched a bottle-release program. We call it our County Series. I believe we’ve had two releases: The first one was Washington County and that was actually a sour. That was a blend of Saison and Berliner Weisse that we put into a wine barrel and put bugs on it and let it sit. It had a really nice, funky barnyard character and was a 300-bottle limited release. That was really the first sour beer that we turned out, here. Since then, we haven’t released anything that’s necessarily been soured through barrel aging. We do have a Berliner Weisse that we kettle soured. Our second batch of Berliner will be out, here, at the beginning of April. It’s an easy-drinking, light, bubbly Weisse with tart character.”

Can you tell me a little about your canning line?
Our canning line runs about 30 cans per minute. Depending on what is needed to be packaged for distribution, week to week, we’ll get this up and running at 7 o’clock every day and runs into the evening for maybe four days per week.

When did you start canning?
West Sixth started canning their IPA pretty much right out of the gate. I don’t know exactly. We’ve been 100 percent focused on canning our product. We do have limited bottle releases, but the beer that we send out into distribution we are most interested in putting in cans. We like the package. We like the recyclability of the product. We like that you can take it nearly anywhere.

Which beers do you can?
We can four year-round beers: Our IPA, Amber, Lemongrass and Cocoa Porter. We just released our first West Sixth Seasonal: It is the Belgian Style Blonde.

Are there any plans to distribute in Nashville?
Currently, at West Sixth, a big part of our business model is really being locally focused, so we are very into being within the state of Kentucky. We’d like to expand as much as we can within the state and stay as localized as possible. We’ve reached into the Cincinnati market because that area feeds into Northern Kentucky. But outside of there, we’re not necessarily looking to expand our markets, quite yet. We’re more concerned with filling the current market that we’re in.

What does 2015 bring for West Sixth?
The big development, for us, beer-wise, is the expansion of our barrel program. This past winter, we were able to fill a lot of barrels, so look for releases throughout the year in our barrel room. We’re looking forward to canning our seasonals this year, starting with the Belgian Blonde, that we have just released. Overall, we just look for it to be a big year. We like to make it out to events throughout the state. The first big beer fest was about a month ago in Cincinnati but we’re looking forward to the summertime, when more and more events start opening up.”

For more information bout West Sixth Brewing, visit their website here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Highland Brewing Celebrates 21st Birthday

Asheville, North Carolina's Highland Brewing is turning 21, and they're throwing a birthday party for their mascot "Scotty" to celebrate on Sunday, April 11.  The event will feature cake, balloons, streamers, a photo booth, and most importantly - a bold new beer!  Scotty's Birthday Double IPA is a West Coast DIPA created by Head Brewer Hollie Stephenson in the pilot room, and will be available on draft only at the brewery.  The beer is 10% ABV, and Stephenson describes it as "...A hop bomb-we wanted to do a big beer for this big birthday celebration."

Festivities will kick off at 2 PM with a Scotty look-alike contest at 6 PM.  Two winners will be chosen and will receive a $200 Highland gift card.  Interested in competing?...or just attending?  Visit the event page for more details here: www.highlandbrewing.com/21stbirthday

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Yazoo Introduces New Embrace The Funk Beers

In January 2013, Yazoo Brewing Company announced that they would be partnering with local homebrewer, Brandon Jones to create a series of funky and sour beers under the name Embrace The Funk.  While rarely available in bottles, Embrace The Funk offerings have been making an appearance on draft at the Yazoo Taproom, and last fall Yazoo even took home a Bronze Medal from The Great American Beer Festival in the Wood and Barrel Aged Sour Beer category.
On April 2, you'll be able to get your hands on three Embrace The Funk releases as Yazoo hosts a special bottle release.  Here's what you can expect:

Deux Rouges (Batch 2)- Brewed in late 2013 this Flanders Red style evolved for over a year with wild yeasts and souring bacteria in Merlot wine barrels.  This marriage of funky red beer and red wine creates a wonderful array of dark fruits, oak, vanilla and tartness. This is the base beer used in our Great American Beer Festival award winning "Cherry Deux Rouges".  Limit 4 bottles per person $20 each (750ml).
Delicieux -  Historically the Belgian Pale Ale style was a "session" or "everyday" beer for the areas around Antwerp, Belgium.   Our version of this Pale Ale is fermented with a classic Belgian yeast and two Brettanomyces strains from the Senne Valley in Belgium. Upfront subtle maltiness and spicy/peppery aromas from a generous Styrian Golding dry hop addition, lead to a hoppy dry delicate funky finish. Delicious! This ever-changing beer will age well. No limit on bottles (12oz) at $4 per bottle.
Funky Blue Persuasion - This is a 100% wine barrel fermented golden sour ale that aged with souring bacterias and wild yeasts. Then we added over 2 pounds of Blueberries per gallon along with a fresh dose of funky Brettanomyces for a secondary fermentation.  Right now this deep dark blue colored ale is bursting with a pleasing balance of blueberry, lemon citrusy sourness and funky Brett character. Make sure you don’t drink this one too cold, the character will come alive as it warms. With age the fruit will fade and the beer will increase in sour/funkiness. This is a single barrel batch, so we have to put a limit of 1 bottle per person at $25 each (750ml).

If that's not enough funk for you, there are still a few tickets available for Yazoo's FUNK FEST on May 2.  Buy your tickets here.

Beer with a Brewmaster: Ozzy Nelson of Mayday Brewery

By Matt Kelsey

Ozzy Nelson may be a big-time jokester, but there’s one thing he never jokes about: his beer. He is always serious about crafting very good beer, although there are many zany things scattered about the brewery, including a couple of photo-op gems found within the bathrooms. Even though the founder and president of Mayday Brewery focuses on the quality of his beer, he values connecting with people the most.  Mr. Nelson goes out of his way to show how Mayday takes such good care of their beer. The brewery has a unique jug-filling process and never sells beer in growlers, but always in “jugs of fun.”

How did you get interested in becoming a Brewmaster?
I’m not a Brewmaster. I don’t brew here. I hire two guys to brew. I don’t consider myself a master brewer. I’m just a regular guy. It’s about beer. I love beer, man, but I’m not a beer nerd. I’m a regular beer drinker, just like most people out there. I’m just a regular guy who wants to make beer — that you can drink more than one of — and love the people. And that’s what I’m doing.

How did you decide to start a brewery?
All my life, I had been worried that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t want to be a fireman or a doctor and that worried me. All I knew I wanted to be was The Man. I’m The Man here. It could’ve been at anything. I have a full-time job. I work at HCA in Internal Auditing. I’ve worked there for 28 years and I’m good at what I do. I’m here when I’m not there. I’m the busiest guy you know, guaranteed.

Why did you choose Murfreesboro for the brewery?
I graduated from high school in 1983. In 1984, I worked as a cook at Captain D’s in Murfreesboro. I worked at several Captain D’s and that was the busiest restaurant. I said, ‘If I ever so something — which I know I’m going to do — I’m going to put it in Murfreesboro.’ It was a small-town atmosphere, you could get to know people. It’s just a big, small town.

What is the significance of Mayday?
Mayday is a term that comes from my dad. Whenever something goes wrong, it’s a ‘Mayday.’ There’s a lot of Maydays around here.

How were you introduced to beer?
My dad had kids for two reasons: Get him a beer and change the channel on the TV. He was a construction worker. I was getting him beer when I was walking. When I figured out how to flip that pop-top, that was when I started taking my first tips. I just didn’t take too much, or my dad would whip my ass.

How did you connect Mayday with beer?
I was brewing outside, had gone inside the garage, and my wife goes out. She says, ‘You’ve got a Mayday here. It’s boiling over.’ That’s kind of how it began.

When did you start Mayday Brewery?
I started working on it in 2009 and finally opened on November 30th, 2012

Tell me about your main beer lineup.
We try to amp up the fruitiness of the blonde… it’s a chick beer and I love chicks. I don’t want to make a bunch of dude beers. Then we have the Velvet Hustle. It’s a pale ale. The name came before the beer. When this guy introduced himself as the Velvet Hustle, I thought, ‘There’s a beer’s name right there.’ He said, ‘I talked to Yazoo and they may do something with it on a seasonal.’ We have the Velvet Hustle on our regular line-up. The Angry Redhead is a super-good technical beer. As far as that style, it’s just a little bit hoppier and a little bit more alcoholic than normal reds. It’s a great balanced beer and people drink the hell out of it, here.

The Evil Octopus is a dark India Black Ale. I don’t like the term ‘black IPA.’ How can it be black and pale? It can’t be black and pale. I say it’s an ‘India Black Ale.’ We make it as dark as we can and keep a lot of honey malt and Crystal 120 in there. We put very little roast in it. Then we hop like crazy, so that hop flavor comes out. It’s just so hard, with all that roast, to get it dark enough and to get those hops. We put twice as many hops in that beer as we do with the blonde. All our beers have honey malt in them except for Jubilee IPA. It’s kind of a signature malt of mine. I didn’t come up with it, but I’ve always loved to use it.

Another interesting, nerdy thing about Evil is that it has no pale, base malt in it at all. Usually, when you brew any beer, you’ll have a base malt — which is a pale malt. It’s the cheapest malt. It’s economical and it tastes good. We use 50 percent Vienna and 50 percent honey malt to make up the base malt for the Evil Octopus. Then we supplement that with other malts and put a little bit of roast in it, at the end. It’s a unique beer.

What beer is your best seller?
Out in the market, it’s the blonde. In here, it is a lot more equal. The blonde probably edges everything out, but some weekends it’ll be the Velvet Hustle.

Do you see a trend of people preferring hoppy beers over the rest?
Some people like that, but Murfreesboro is not Denver, Colorado. It’s not even Nashville. I love hoppy, hoppy beers. We do that on small batches. We roll out a small batch every Thursday at six o’clock. It’s 10 gallons. When it’s done; it’s done. That’s where both the brewers and myself will do some experiments on some really hoppy beers or some really malty beers.

You offer a different type of brewery tour than anyone else. Tell me about it.
In my tour, you get a pint glass and we have four kegs set up in the brewery, one for each of our beers. As we go through the tour, I’ve got the Beer Goddess and she is filling your glass, freely, as I open myself up. I say at the beginning of every tour, ‘You can ask anything, I am an open book.’ I will answer any question. If you want a recipe, take a picture of one of the clipboards on the tanks. Scale it down to your own system and brew it yourself. We’re all about the people. When I go on a tour, I know everybody’s name, up to 20 to 25 people. I try to know that person and I want that person to know me, so if they see Mayday out there, maybe they’ll decide to drink my beer. On my tours, I’m all about connecting with people.

For more information about Mayday Brewery, visit their website here.