Five new Louisville breweries to watch out for in 2015

Donum Dei Richard OteyThe national Brewers Association reported a 17.1 percent rise in craft beer sales in 2013, despite the fact beer sales were down overall.

Louisville, of course, bears the mark of this popularity surge we’ve been watching the last few years: For instance, Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse is distributing around the country and into western Europe, and announced a $1.7 million expansion in Portland.

Meanwhile, Great Flood Brewing opened to much fanfare in the spring, Apocalypse Brew Works is quietly working on expanding its brewing operations, Bluegrass Brewing Company released a new product called Louisville Lager, Falls City is again brewing in town and, across the big watery divide, New Albanian Brewing Company soldiers on, Red Yeti has begun brewing (finally) and Indy’s Flat 12 Bierwerks has opened a taproom in Jeffersonville that will next year turn into a full-fledge brewing operation.

Heck, even tiny Cumberland Brews shows no signs of slowing down in its cozy Highlands location. Good food and good beer are always a winning combination.

And as Louisville Beer Store, Holy Grale and Sergio’s World Beers keep pushing the goods, LouisvilleBeer.com keeps the hardcore beer nerds informed. It is with that we’ll take a quick look at five new breweries that are either on track for or are working toward opening in 2015. (You can check out a full list of breweries-in-progress around the region and state at the aforementioned LouisvilleBeer.com.)

Akasha logoAkasha Brewing Company: We caught up a few weeks back with co-owner/brewer Rick Stidham, who was originally eyeballing a December open date. Looks more like early 2015 at this point, but Stidham continues to burn the midnight oil to get his space in NuLu (and the beer it will produce) ready for consumption.

Located at 909 E. Market St., Akasha will be close neighbors with Feast BBQ, which opened recently in the same complex. Stidham has a collection of seven-barrel fermenters, plus he’s building out a barrel room, an open fermenting space and, of course, a cozy taproom with a bar and plenty of taps.

Right now, it’s a matter of getting the space built out and getting the brewing started, both of which have been delayed, but construction continues.

“I literally have people working night and day,” Stidham said. The target opening right now is late January, and the smart money is on this brewery to be the first one to open in the new year.

Beer Engine: Ian Luijk and Brian Holton, owners of this Danville-based brewery, deserved better. They bought the old Zeppelin Café (1036 E. Burnett Ave.) in 2012 with the plan to open a Louisville location, and they’ve been battling zoning issues, construction problems and just plain bad luck ever since. But you know what? They’ve persevered, kept a positive attitude and stayed active in the Louisville beer scene. Hell, they may even beat Akasha to open the doors in 2015.

Armed with a 10-barrel system and plenty of good beer recipes, Luijk and Holton appear poised to open in early 2015, perhaps around the same time as Akasha. Look for 10 or 12 house brews as well as some deftly chosen guest taps. The space is about 10,000 square feet, which will include a brewery, barrel-aging room, a patio, a stage, a kitchen and plenty of seating for around 250 thirsty people.

“Things are still moving along,” Holton said recently. “We were hoping to brew by the end of this month, but that’s not going to happen.”

Holton said a chef has been selected to build the menu and run the kitchen, but that his or her name won’t be announced anytime soon. He also doesn’t have a target open date, although March “is a fine guess.”

He added, “Man, I never thought it would take this long.”

Donum Dei new logoDonum Dei Brewery: Over in New Albany, at 3211 Grant Line Road, just a stone’s throw from the original New Albanian Brewing Company location, is another brewery in waiting. Richard Otey is brewing in his new space, which is nearly complete. However, he still is yet to offer a target opening date.

Originally, he told us he had planned to open sometime around Derby 2014; that prognostication later changed to summer, and then to Thanksgiving. Now, early 2015 looks most likely. But Donum Dei already has a batch of its pale ale brewed and ready to drink, as well as an enkle. Up next is wee heavy.

Kegs have been purchased, and the buildout seems mostly complete. Otey is doing most of the buildout himself, using reclaimed materials whenever possible, from rescued wood to 1940s-era mirrors to chairs from an old Wendy’s restaurant.

I stopped by recently, and the place looks within reach of opening. Still, Otey hesitates to throw out a deadline.

“Every time I try to make a deadline,” he told me, “it’s just that — it’s dead.”

He did tell me how he acquired his reclaimed brew kettle, which was purchased from a brewery in Vancouver Wash. — he found it on Craigslist.com on a Friday, left in his truck to pick it up on Saturday, and had it back at the brewery by Wednesday. He called it a five-day “turn and burn.”

Otey gave me a sample of the Donum Dei pale ale, his first test batch, that sure tasted better than a test batch — moderately hopped, it was well balanced and right on the money. He also gave me a sample of a roast beef panini that will be representative of the future food menu — another thumbs up. Expect sandwiches, soups, hummus and other such small eats once Donum Dei opens.

When will that be? Hard to say, although he admits February should be doable. Of course, as noted, last February he began construction hoping to open by Derby.

“I didn’t say which year,” he clarified with a smile.

Bannerman Brewing: Located in Clifton, just down the street from Apocalypse Brew Works on Mellwood Avenue, Bannerman was brewing small batches, waiting on more brewing equipment and working hard at building out its rather large space late last year, with talk of an April 2014 grand opening. In fact, at one point, a Bannerman representative estimated to LouisvilleBeer.com that it was 90 percent finished. And then everything went quiet.

Having tried a couple of brewer Cory Riley’s beers, I was pretty bummed out. In fact, I had nearly given up, but then in November, this post appeared on the future brewery’s Facebook page: “It’s been a long while since we’ve updated the page … Rest assured we’re still chugging away at the project so that you guys can be chugging away on some Bannerman brews soon!”

The last previous post was in January, nearly a year ago. So, maybe Bannerman is going to be a reality after all, which is why it is included here. I reached out to brewer Riley, and he confirmed things are still moving forward, if a bit slowly.

“Same as it ever was,” he said in a Facebook message. “Going well. No target dates.”

If my samples of Riley’s high-octane brews are representative, Bannerman will be worth the wait.

Old Louisville Brewing Company: This is one that is just getting its ducks in a row, with brothers Ken and Wade Mattingly having procured a property at 615 Magnolia near Gallery House and across from (duh) 610 Magnolia, and begun construction. Based on photos posted on Facebook, Old Louisville Brewing has a ways to go before it starts brewing and serving beers, however.

But it sure appears there’s a lot of hard work going on down there since the building was procured in August and a building permit was issued in late November. Issues with the building’s foundation seemed to confound the Mattingly brothers at first, but work continues on. On its Facebook page, Old Louisville says its goal is “to be a destination place that is a community hangout.”

Hey, if there’s freshly brewed beer to be had, then “destination” and “hangout” are solid goals to have.

The original target date for Old Louisville’s opening was early 2015, but that appears to have been overly optimistic. It would be a fair bet that this one will drag on into the summer or maybe even the fall. Here’s hoping things go smoothly from here forward.

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

What’s on tap for Louisville’s beer scene?

louisville beer - leo weeklyMatt Fuller, Vince Cain and Zach Barnes are working their butts off these days. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Fuller and Cain, along with a couple other helpers, were busy building out a 3,000-square-foot space in the Highlands in preparation for opening Great Flood Brewing, their new craft brewery.

They were hoisting a roof piece they’d put together themselves onto what will soon be a walk-in cooler where precious kegs of their beer will be tapped. And even though the space, which is just a few doors down from Twig and Leaf, looked like so many piles of lumber mixed with a few ladders on that Saturday, they remain confident they’ll be open sometime in late February.

Such work is going on all around town. Red Yeti Brewing is building out a space in downtown Jeffersonville and hopes to open by late January; another local brewer, Cory Riley, is eyeing April 1 as an opening date for his Bannerman Brewing in the Clifton area. And Beer Engine, based in Danville, Ky., has been working furiously to open a location in Germantown. In addition, five more breweries are planning to open in 2014 in and around the area.

Add those to six established local breweries and brew pubs — Bluegrass Brewing Company, Cumberland Brews, New Albanian Brewing Company, Falls City Beer, Apocalypse Brew Works and Against the Grain Brewery — and the supply of local craft beer is about to more than double. And that doesn’t even include Gordon Biersch and BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, two chain breweries with locations in Louisville. Nor does that include craft beer destinations such as Sergio’s World Beers, Louisville Beer Store, Buckhead Mountain Grill, Tony Boombozz Tap Room and plenty of others that offer craft brews from around the region and the world.

So how much craft beer can Louisville consume? Sure, there are a lot of hipsters here, but even they spend a ton of their drinking money on PBR. How will a new brewery survive? In talking to a few of them, they express varying levels of confidence.

Barnes, of Great Flood Brewing, says, “We think the demand is going to be great. If (the market for craft beer) grows, the demand will be so great we won’t have to force it. The general market for craft beer is still growing, and that’s fantastic considering the economic market.”

The national Brewers Association reports that there are just fewer than 2,500 craft breweries — which are defined in part as having an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less — currently operating in the United States. But consider this: There are another 1,500 or so lined up and preparing to begin operations. So, Louisville is not an exception. In fact, Louisville is outpacing the overall trend.

Will the market hold?
The good news is that growth of the craft-brewing industry in 2012 was 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by retail dollars; 13.2 million barrels of craft beer got brewed in 2012, compared with just fewer than 11.5 million in 2011.

Craft beer now represents 10.2 percent of the domestic beer market, according to a recent story by Business Insider; meanwhile, a study by IBIS World predicts the craft beer market will grow to $3.9 billion this year.

A few recent studies have shown a decline in beer consumption as wine and mixed drinks grow in popularity, but it’s the Big Suds breweries — Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors — that seem to be losing favor in the market.

That’s all good news, right? Local brewers feel confident, despite the inherent challenges. In the case of Red Yeti, Paul and Brandi Ronau ran into problems with the building at 256 Spring Street that delayed the opening. If and when it does open at the end of this month, head brewer Paul Ronau says the beer on tap will be guest crafts. Original beers probably won’t be ready until spring, but still they move forward.

At Great Flood Brewing, much research was done to ensure a good chance of success. “We hope we’re not close to a saturation point,” says Cain.

But how will they differentiate from other brewers around town or, heck, just down the street?

“We have such a small capacity size,” he says of Great Flood Brewing’s two-barrel system, “and we’re going to brew so frequently that we’re going to have something new all the time.”

Experimentation will be the order of the day. They are even tossing around ideas of ways to get customers involved in helping out with recipes.

Leah Dienes, co-owner and head brewer at Apocalypse Brew Works, believes there is room in the market for more breweries. Bannerman will open just down the street in April, but she fully believes the two breweries can co-exist.

“As long as beer is coming in from out of state, there is room for more local breweries,” Dienes says. “Buying local is a growing trend across many cities in the U.S. And we are part of that trend.”

Dienes keeps overhead down by operating a taproom that opens only on Friday and Saturday. Many of her sales come in the form of growlers, often to regulars who live in the neighborhood. Apocalypse also brings in food trucks every weekend and hosts special events, creating foot traffic. Poorcastle, a daylong concert series in July, and Yappy Hour, a Kentucky Humane Society benefit as part of Louisville Craft Beer Week, were two events that brought in big crowds in 2013.

Speaking of Louisville Craft Beer Week, it’s also a positive sign that such events and efforts not only exist, but that they keep growing; there are more and more craft beer events popping up each year and enjoying success, from Brew at the Zoo to the Highlands Beer Festival to the forthcoming debut of Tailspin Ale Fest, set for Feb. 22 at Bowman Field. Louisville even has its own website dedicated to the local beer scene in LouisvilleBeer.com.

But all that still doesn’t mean the market couldn’t top out.

Dave Stacy, the head brewer at Gordon Biersch on Fourth Street, believes a saturation point is ahead. Still, if a customer comes to his place and can’t find a beer he likes, Stacy will direct that person to BBC, Apocalypse or Against the Grain. Will there come a time when there is too much of a good thing?

“Beer being the product that it is, I think we’re getting close to that (saturation) point,” Stacy says. “But I still think it’s better to keep that door open.”

It’s a good point. Why panic when the market is still growing? Stacy points out that differentiation is an important factor. Gordon Biersch specializes in German-style beers, and there is no other brewery in Louisville doing that specifically. If you want a Marzen-style beer, well, Gordon Biersch is a good place to look for one.

At the same time, Blue Stallion opened last year in Lexington and also specializes in German lager-style beers. Sure, it’s a good 70 miles down the road, but it’s still down the road. How long before another brewer follows that lead? And for Gordon Biersch, there is also the specter of how beer snobs eschew chains.

“Our challenge is how people view us,” he admits.

Bubble in the beer market?
Roger Baylor, owner of New Albanian Brewing Company, has been in the business of craft beer for quite a few years; his business model with Rich O’s Public House and Sportstime Pizza hinged on it from the word “go” when those side-by-side concepts launched in 1990. Later, he was the first one in town to eliminate sales of corporate beers like Bud Light. New Albanian as a craft brewing entity was founded in 2002.

“Saturation point depends on the capacity of the new breweries, their level of debt service and what size territory they need to get by,” Baylor explains. “What happens when everyone decides to play the game the same way?”

He added that if the amount of beer local breweries need to produce to stay ahead is more than a local market can absorb, then it must be bottled or canned and shipped further and further away, “which tilts the advantage toward larger and better capitalized entities.”

Pat Hagan has been in the craft-brewing business for more than 20 years as owner-operator of Bluegrass Brewing Company. BBC survived a 1990s market that claimed local breweries such as Pipkin and Silo, and also outlasted Ft. Mitchell-based Oldenburg.

“Where is the bubble in the beer market?” he says. “I don’t know whether it’s a saturation point. There are just so many (new breweries) popping up all over country. Somewhere along the line, something has got to give.”

Hagan wonders aloud what the new brewers’ aspirations are. BBC, like NABC, bottles and distributes outside the Louisville market and has a presence in taps around the area. Breweries like Apocalypse can also be found tapped around town. But how big is too big?

“I guess everybody would like to get as big as they could,” he says. “Apocalypse Brews makes good beer and is getting some distribution out. You take small ones like that, (and) I think we can handle a few more. I keep looking at (the demand) and wondering, but it keeps going.”

Like others, however, he’s simply happy the demand has become so big. That has created room for all these craft brewers’ aspirations and promises plenty of new beer in 2014 and beyond.

“At least consumers are more aware of it and more willing to try it,” Hagan says.

Cory Riley of Bannerman Brewing noted that Michigan Brewing Company entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this year; it is a mid-size craft brewery. A handful of other craft-brewing companies have suffered similar fates over the last year and a half. Is that evidence of saturation in that market, or are these isolated situations?

“In the next couple of years, we’ll hit that saturation point,” Riley says. What will happen then? “The beer will get better.”

Once again, differentiation may be key. Riley says he plans to feature sour beers and Belgian-style beers at Bannerman, which is different than a BBC, a Cumberland or a New Albanian. He also believes people who drink local craft beer will drill down in their support of local products.

“You’ll find that people who live in certain neighborhoods will go to their local brewpub,” he says. Also, he points out that many will avoid drinking and driving by walking to their local brewery for beer.

Of course, that notion takes us back to the days when distribution channels were smaller and refrigeration wasn’t as advanced as it is today. It wasn’t all that long ago that buying a six-pack of Corporate Light at the liquor store wasn’t even an option, so you went to the corner pub with a bucket and got it filled up with whatever was on tap. The return of the local brewer and the growler is obviously a good sign, both economically and socially.

Baylor believes one of the keys may be to remain as local as possible. Five years ago, New Albanian began brewing beer for bottling and distribution outside the Louisville area. But he believes broader isn’t necessarily better.

“It has been a success, but just barely,” he says, “and NABC’s ‘export’ growth is slowing.”

While that doesn’t mean NABC will stop bottling and distributing, what it does mean is a re-focus on maximizing what’s happening in-house, “and be even more ‘local’ than before,” Baylor says.

The problem is that with more small breweries trying to distribute, that means more craft brands for liquor stores to put on their shelves. “But the shelves don’t get any bigger, do they?” Baylor says. “If craft beer is 10 percent or 15 percent (of the market), it still means much of the shelf space has to go to mass market (stock).”

Additionally, the local and regional craft brewers are still competing for that space with established brands like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and even pseudo-craft beers like Blue Moon, he says, and at price points the smaller breweries can’t hope to match.

“So, where’s the market?” Baylor asks. “It’s there, I think, but in places that get ignored. We know they’ll come to our buildings and drink our beer there, and because of that and deep roots, we’ll be OK. But who is our customer elsewhere? And will the new start-ups have time to grow roots?”

All good questions, with unknown answers.

Meanwhile, however, the beer boom is on, and how big the bubble can manage to get is still anyone’s guess. It sure isn’t going to stop those who believe the market has plenty of room to expand.

“You don’t know where a lot of food you eat comes from,” says Barnes of Great Flood Brewing, “or the clothes you wear. I know where (local beer) comes from. It’s a social activity brought down to a natural scale. As long as we keep that dynamic as we’re brewing, I think it’s a permanent trend, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Drink up, Louisville.

This post was originally published in LEO Weekly.

Bannerman Brewing Plans to Open April 1

louisville beer - bannerman brewingMore new Louisville beer is on the way: Bannerman Brewing is on track to open on or around April 1, according to co-owner Cory Riley.

Bannerman will operate with a seven-barrel system, and plans to have 12 taps with original brews. It won’t be a brewpub, but rather a tap room, similar to that of Apocalypse Brew Works. The total space is 4,000 square feet; Bannerman will be in the same Clifton neighborhood, as well. Currently, they are busy getting the space ready for operation.

“We’re working around the clock,” Riley said.

Riley has been home brewing for about 10 years, he said, mostly working with Belgian-style beers and sour ales, with a few English ales thrown in. Meanwhile, partner Jeff Pluhar is a vintner who has a lot of experience with barrel aging, which will help create some interesting and original creations.

The plan is to, like neighboring Apocalypse, bring in food trucks rather than build out a kitchen, create a menu and hire kitchen staff.

“Everybody wins that way,” Riley said.

And the Louisville beer scene just keeps getting bigger …