Against the Grain Brewery announces major expansion in Portland

ATG expansionA brewery only three years old that has expanded into 38 states and several countries in Western Europe will now expand physically. Against the Grain Brewery and Smokehouse will open a brewery operation in Portland, increasing its production by more than 400 percent by 2015, according to an announcement this morning.

Currently, the brewery’s operation at 401 E. Main St. at Slugger Field produces about 1,500 barrels of beer annually. The off-site brewery location is 25,000 square feet and will not only expand the amount of beer produced, but will allow the brewery to increase the amount of barrel-aged beers, a staple of Against the Grain, by more than 10 times.

“So you will see more production of barrel aged favorites like Kentucky Ryed Chiquen, Bo & Luke Imperial Stout, and Mac Fanny Baw Salted Rauchbier,” co-owner Sam J. Cruz said in a press release.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.7 million, Cruz said, with brewing potentially beginning as soon as December. The first phase of production will be focused entirely on draft beer. After that, 22-ounce “bomber” bottles will be added, followed by a canning operation for certain AtG brands sometime in 2015. But when the brewery opens, it will be brewing at close to 100 percent capacity. Cruz said he expects the expansion to create approximately 20 new jobs.

“The approach and direction AtG has gone since they started is impossible to characterize,” said John King, executive director of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers. “Their confidence, innovation and work ethic has made them an established name in Kentucky and now worldwide.”

“We don’t and haven’t ever operated in first gear,” Cruz said in an interview with Insider Louisville.

The new addition is located in a warehouse at 1800 Northwestern Pkwy. in the Shippingport/Portland neighborhood, not far from Nelligan Avenue and 16th Street. It was formerly occupied by FischerSIPS, which builds and distributes structural energy panels.

Soon, however, the structure will hold a new three-vessel, 30-barrel brewhouse, along with an undetermined number of 30- and 60-barrel fermenters/tanks, which will provide capacity for an initial annual production of 6,500 barrels of beer. The equipment will be manufactured by W.M. Sprinkman, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer that has been in business more than eight decades.

“We have chosen to work with Sprinkman as we share core values relating to a commitment to quality and the fact that all of the materials and fabrication will be done in the U.S.A.,” Cruz said in the release. “As much as we are committed to Louisville and supporting the quality of our local economy, we must also carry this commitment when choosing our global suppliers.”

Further expansion will include a centrifuge and packaging lines for kegging, bottling and even canning Against the Grain beers.

The expansion follows a trend of local companies taking their business to the Portland neighborhood, including Peerless Distilling Co., Gelato Gilberto and Hillbilly Tea. In addition, there’s the nearby 502 Winery on West 10th Street; Falls City Beer recently moved its tap room and base headquarters to the winery’s facility as part of a merger and plans to re-open its brewing facility there sometime in the future.

“Ultimately, it was by chance” that Against the Grain chose Portland, Cruz said. “We weren’t really looking for any particular neighborhood. It just so happened that, frankly, the perfect space for what we were going to do was in the Portland/Shippingport neighborhood. There were a few other equitable options in Louisville, but none fit the bill quite as well as that did.”

Specifically, he said, the size of the existing bay doors and the access to I-64 were key factors in choosing the location.

Additionally, part of the expansion plan is to eventually open a tap room and retail space at the new production facility, although a timeline has not been decided.

“It doesn’t make sense to develop that portion of the plan until the neighborhood can sustain it,” Cruz said, adding that if the situation dictates it, the consumer-facing portion of the new facility may come sooner rather than later.

The press release notes that the forthcoming expansion actually marks the second such expansion for the brewery – the first was an unannounced “annexation” of the old Park Place restaurant at Slugger Field for the installation of more product tanks as well as a production increase via contract brewing at Pub Dog Brewery in Westminster, Md.

The new expansion has been in the works for some time, with owners Cruz, Jerry Gnagy, Adam Watson and Andrew Ott working for several months to secure the right location and funding. Against the Grain touts itself as Louisville’s first brewer-owned and operated brewery; Cruz, Gnagy and Watson are brewers who have worked at other breweries, while Ott is a veteran restaurateur.

“With the recent expansions of West Sixth and Country Boy (in Lexington), AtG’s new production facility is another progressive movement by a Kentucky brewery,” King said. “Their new facility will allow them to get more beer out to more people and also open up for more experimentation at their Slugger facility. What AtG has accomplished in three years is what every home brewer dreams about. Except, AtG just accomplished their goals in a lot faster manner.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

Meet Kentucky’s new King of beer …

KGB LogoWhen nine Kentucky breweries got together nearly two years ago to form the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, the goal was a unified organization that would provide a singular voice with which to promote their beers, breweries and events.

They’ve found that voice in John King, who recently was named executive director to lead the guild’s board. And his voice speaks to the very unity Kentucky’s breweries seek. It isn’t about who can sell the most beer, King says, it’s about helping each other.

“People think [Bluegrass Brewing Company] is competing against Against the Grain,” he says. “The breweries are working together. It’s a good ol’ boy system where, if they run short on malt, they get malt from another brewery.”

But King has longer vision for his – for now – unpaid position, and that is to organize the breweries around the state into action.

It’s a hell of a good time to be doing it because there are new craft breweries springing up everywhere. Louisville alone is awaiting the launch of roughly a half dozen, with Great Flood Brewing set to open in the Highlands soon and Danville-based Beer Engine eyeing a summer opening in Germantown.

King points to Mayor Greg Fischer’s initiative to make Louisville a bourbon and dining touring destination as all the motivation he needs. When Fischer’s announcement came down at a bourbon-drenched press conference, many brewers in the city were left wondering, hands open and mouth agape, why no brewer (beer or coffee) was asked to join in on the action plan.

“I took it as a kick to the balls,” King says. “For beer geeks, Kentucky is a craft beer destination.”

And so, priority No. 1 for King is to build relationships with Fischer, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad, to help raise the profile of the state’s breweries. Priority No. 2, he says, is to increase membership – and not just to include breweries, but suppliers, retailers, distributors and anyone else involved in the business of beer.

Ultimately, King wants local businesses of all kinds to be more connected to local breweries.

And priority No. 3 is to connect with the people who make it all possible, the enthusiasts. Or, as King puts it, “The common beer drinker that loves to drink Kentucky-made beer.”

John KingInterestingly, King, 31, insists he came by all this beer business mostly by accident. His “real job” – his words – is in education. He also makes furniture hand crafted from oak and bourbon barrels.

His path to becoming a craft-beer aficionado started with enjoying non-Kentucky craft beer, by way of Dogfish Head, a brewery based in Delaware. Next came Sierra Nevada Harvest, a wet-hop ale. He would get away from hoppy beers for a while, and then it was a local beer that snagged him and reeled him back in. That beer was Hoptimus, brewed by New Albanian Brewing Company in New Albany.

“As soon as I had it, I kind of fell in love,” King says.

Not long after, he began home brewing. Not long after that, he began communicating with New Albanian head brewer David Pierce, who also is involved with the guild.

From there he began testing his palate, finding out what he liked and what he didn’t. He began to plan his vacations around beer (and who doesn’t?). And soon he was blogging and podcasting for

“It was,” he says, “sort of a snowball effect.”

He was named executive director of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers at the guild’s first official meeting in January. The upcoming Halfway to Louisville Craft Beer Week, April 16-20, will be the guild’s “coming out party,” King says. That’s when things will truly begin to ramp up, and a membership program will ultimately be put in place.

His vision is that for a membership fee, beer enthusiasts will get a VIP card good for discounts at every guild-member brewery. Members will also get a T-shirt and a regular newsletter.

“And you can celebrate the fact you are paying tribute to the great beer that is made in Kentucky,” he says. “I am personally going to sign every membership card and mail out all the T-shirts, so people can become members of what we call ‘the KGB.’”

He even envisions that one day, instead of corporate mega-beer sponsoring mega-events around town, it will be local breweries, and asks the question, “Why are we drinking Coors when we should be drinking BBC?”

It’s a question he hopes to answer in due time; make way for the new King of beers, Kentucky.

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.