Death of the beer growler? ‘Crowlers’ have come to Kentucky

Crowler_with_pint-225x300They called it a “Crowler.” To me, it just looked like a big ol’ 40 of delicious West Sixth Brewing beer. But as a loyal growler user from way, way back, I’ll say this right up front: I think this Crowler thing has real potential. It may even unseat the generations-old growler one day.

Can-plus-growler, that’s where the Crowler name came from. Pretty simple, right? It may seem so, but the folks at Oskar Blues Brewing in North Carolina and Ball Corp. have taken the beer can to a new place by creating this system that is on-the-spot sealable. And West Sixth is the only brewery in Kentucky and one of only a handful of breweries in the U.S. to have this system. At least, so far.

Ben Self, co-owner of West Sixth, said their Crowler system went into use a couple of weeks ago. Looks like there’s no turning back.

“We first saw it demonstrated by Ball at the Craft Brewers Conference this year, and knew from the beginning that it was going to be game changing,” he said.

That was my first reaction – it really changes everything. Growler users know that beer will only keep for a couple of days in a glass growler because carbonation dissipates, and oxygen creeps in to slowly but surely spoil the flavor. Meanwhile, most growlers also allow light to get to the beer, which can “skunk” the beer out.

But a Crowler is a can that is filled and sealed at the brewery, locking out oxygen and locking in freshness – at least for far longer than a traditional glass jug or growler. Self said the bartender seals the can with what he referred to as a “seamer” (which is basically the same device home canners use to seal their jars), checking to make sure there is foam on top of the can to ensure no oxygen is left inside. Then he or she uses a Sharpie to write the beer name, date and other info on the side of the can, and you’re off.

When I bought two from West Sixth recently, the bartender told me I could count on about four days of freshness. But Self said theoretically it should last much longer – he said Oskar Blues has tested them for up to a month and found the Crowlers to hold the beer’s flavor.

He added, however, “We do recommend people drink them as soon as possible though because beer is always better fresher.”

Besides, the whole point of having beer is to drink it.

I waited two days to open a West Sixth Crowler of Bogan’s Walkabout ISA; it was crisp and fresh just like the pint I’d had sitting at the bar of the brewery. I also bought a Crowler of Summer SMaSH and waited four days to pop that one open. Same result: delicious, fresh-tasting beer.

There are other advantages over the traditional growler. For one, many people don’t properly clean their glass growlers, and risk affecting the taste of the beer. For another, given the short freshness life of beer in a growler, you’re under the gun to get that beer drunk quickly. For still another, it’s fairly easy to forget to bring a growler to the brewery, or to be caught without one when you happen across a beer you simply must have more of. At that point, you are stuck spending five or six bucks for another growler, even though you have a cupboard full at home.

Crowlers are one-time use. It really is just a big ol’ can of craft beer with a traditional top. You drink the beer – 32 ounces, or two proper pints, which is much easier than knocking off a full 64-ounce growler – and then recycle the can.

The key downside is that the price is higher per ounce. For instance, a growler refill at West Sixth is $11 for those 64 ounces. A single Crowler is $8, which comes out to $4 per pint, saving you a dollar off the $4.50 pint price at the bar. By comparison, the price per pint in a growler is about $2.75. So, theoretically, if you know you’re going to quaff that growler tonight with a friend, you’re probably better off drinking it old school.

But if you know you’re going to want a couple pints of that ISA in a week and can’t get back to the brewery, the Crowler is the obvious choice.

The Ball Corp. website lists a number of advantages that may be less obvious, including:

  • Cans cool down faster than any other beverage container resulting in fresher, better tasting beer.
  • Cans are more portable.
  • Cans don’t shatter into a million shards when dropped.
  • Spraying the insides of the can and lid with a water-based polymer ensures no contact between the beer and the aluminum. Think of a can as a mini-keg for craft beer.

And Self pointed out that aluminum is more likely to be recycled than glass. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency figures show that in 2012, 41 percent of beer and soft drink bottles were recovered for recycling. The number for aluminum beer and soda cans was 55 percent.

Jeremy Rudolf is the guy at Oskar Blues who helped bring the Crowler into the fold there.

“We get off on pushing the limits, doing things differently,” Rudolf said in a press release, “and the Crowler is another step of innovation to take advantage of what the can package has to offer from behind the bar. More beer options in more cans, we’re working on creating one big glasshole.”

In other words, the growler may just be an endangered species. Self looks for the Crowlers to keep selling, and for brewery demand to keep growing.

“Everyone loves them,” he said. “I see every brewery having one of them eventually.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.


West Sixth Brewing to can fourth year-round beer: Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter

w6 porter2A fresh press release from the fine folks at West Sixth:

West Sixth Brewing announced today the fourth beer that they will can and produce year-round: the Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter.
This beer, which is an American robust porter, has been brewed with Organic, direct-trade Cocoa nibs. Nearly opaque with a tan head, this beer clocks in at a 7% ABV and is dominated by roasty malts and a strong aroma of chocolate.
“We’re very excited to announce that this fall, we will begin canning one of our most requested beers: the Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter”, said West Sixth founder Brady Barlow. 
The Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter was first made available on draft in 2012 for the launch of the Good Giving Guide put on by the Blue Grass Community Foundation. That challenge, which raised more than 1.5M for local non-profits in 2013, was the inspiration for its name. Since then it has been available on draft in the taproom, it has always been a crowd favorite.
In addition, West Sixth is launching a new charitable program along with the beer.  Founder Joe Kuosman said “From the very beginning, West Sixth has been not only about brewing great beer, but also about making a difference throughout the communities we’re a part of”.

“In order to live up to its name as the Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter, we are committing to giving $.50 per six pack to a local non-profit doing great work in the area the beer was sold in.” said founder Ben Self. “Those non-profits will be selected on a quarterly basis and will be chosen based on input from our fans and supporters.”

w6 porter 1“One other thing we’re very excited about with this beer is that we’re able to source such great fresh Cocoa nibs to use when we brew the beer.” said co-founder and head brewer Robin Sither.  “By working with some great partners at Taza Chocolates, we can guarantee not only were the growers in Central and South America paid a fair wage for growing the beans, but also they were grown in an organic and sustainable manner, and are sent to us incredibly fresh.” 
The beer will be available throughout West Sixth’s distribution area in kegs and cans beginning in September.

Zip’s, Blue Stallion Among Alltech Fest Winners

Via Alltech:

[LEXINGTON, Ky.] – A Christmas ale from a tiny brewery in northeastern Hungary was awarded the Alltech Commonwealth Craft Beer Cup, the first professional beer competition in Kentucky. The competition boasted 1,000 beers from 30 countries across the globe competing for the title. The top award was announced at the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fest Saturday in Lexington, an event that drew 41 national and local craft breweries and nearly 4,500 craft beer enthusiasts. Following the success of the second annual international Dublin Craft Beer Cup in Ireland in February, Alltech decided to bring the excitement and passion back home to the Bluegrass.

Zip’s Christmas 2013 beer from Zip’s Brewhouse out of Miskolc, Hungary was described by the judging panel as a “heavily spiced ale balanced with a malty sweetness, creating an ideal Christmas beer.”  The brew boasted cinnamon, ginger, star anise, curacao, nutmeg, lemon peel, among other spices. The small brewery is owned and operated by Zip Technologies, a brewery equipment supplier.

Award-winning brewers received gold, silver and bronze medals. Lexington’s own Blue Stallion Brewing Co. won silver for its German Pilsner, Marzen and Oatmeal Stout, as well as a bronze medal for its Munich Dunkel Dark Lager. In total, 45 bronze, 36 silver, and six gold medals were awarded.

Winners were chosen by an expert panel of judges based on blind judging of appearance, aroma, flavor, body, style and quality.


Country Boy and West Sixth Collaborate Again on Country Western Vol. 2

countrywestern_4pack_1bf105aCountry Boy Brewing and West Sixth Brewing will get together again to collaborate on a beer for Lexington Craft Beer Week. This time, it will be available in cans. It is aging in bourbon barrels even as you read this, so get your taste buds ready.

Here’s the press release:

Country Boy Brewing and West Sixth Brewing, two Lexington-based craft breweries, will be collaborating to create the official beer for Lexington Craft Beer Week.  This beer, which will be available in cans and on draft during craft beer week will be the first ever collaboration ale that has been packaged and canned by two Kentucky breweries.
The beer, called “Country Western Volume 2,” is a bourbon-barrel aged brown ale that was made with Kentucky sorghum.
“We’re super excited to announce today the second annual collaboration between West Sixth and Country Boy”, said West Sixth founder Ben Self. 
Country Boy founder Daniel Harrison said: “Last year, Country Western was a huge hit for Lexington Craft Beer week, and sold out in just a few days.  This year, we’re going to make it even bigger by having it not only on draft but also available in a can.”

“We love collaborating with our friends at Country Boy,” said West Sixth founder Brady Barlow.  “We’re all working together to try and introduce more people to craft beer, so it just seems natural to brew a beer together.”

Country Boy founder Jeff Beagle said: “This is a true collaboration in every sense of the word.   Not only are we close friends, only 1.7 miles apart, the recipe was formulated together and even canned together!  Also pretty sure we will share a beer together!” 
Country Western Volume 2 was brewed a couple months ago and has been aging in bourbon barrels since that time.  It will be canned next week and available on draft at both breweries on May 9th at noon, and then in cans at both breweries on May 15th at 5pm.
The beer is packed with Kentucky spirit and flavor. Roasted and malty notes from this brown ale pair seamlessly with the teasing bourbon aroma, and subtle oak notes. The sticky sweetness comes through from the Townsend Sorghum. Aged in bourbon barrels for 2 months, this collaboration beer is a little country, a little western, and a whole lotta fun.

Alltech to hold beer festival in Lexington May 17

alltech festivalIt isn’t often a beer story pops up on Insider Louisville and I didn’t write the damn thing. But today, one did.

Lexington-based Alltech is gonna have itself a beer festival May 17, and if you hurry up you can get tickets for $25. They’ll be $30 starting tomorrow.

The announcement promises more than 120 beers brewed by 40 breweries from across the U.S., alongside artisan food samples from local and international vendors. It will also include what Alltech says is the first professional beer competition in the state of Kentucky.

“With 40 breweries each serving three different beers – including ever-popular rare special tappings – Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fest organizers expect 5,000 people from Kentucky, surrounding states, and abroad,” Alltech’s press release says. “It’s anticipated that up to 20 percent of attendees will be from outside the United States, demonstrating the popularity of American craft beers.”

“For years Kentucky has been synonymous with bourbon, and rightly so,” Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder and president of Alltech, said in the release. “However, there is a craft beer revolution going on right here in Kentucky and what better way to highlight that than by showcasing some of Kentucky’s finest local beers side by side with some of our country’s finest?”

The festival will be held in the Lexington Convention Center, noon-8 p.m. Each ticket includes 15 3-ounce pours.

Rooster Brewing opening soon in Paris, Ky.

Rooster Brew 2

Looks Ralph Quillin over at Rooster Brewing in Paris, Ky., is ramping things up. He sent out an e-mail yesterday requesting likes on the Rooster Brewing Facebook page, which indicates he’ll be opening sometime this month.

Here’s the updated “about” copy:

“So why the move from the 700 blk to the 600 blk in Paris. While we own both buildings – the 609 Main Street Location fits our start-up needs and was not in our inventory when we originally envisioned the project.

Almost 1800 sq feet gives us the room we need to house the brewery, tasting/tap room and retail sales in one Main Street space. Add about 1200 sq feet of cellar space (enough for 3000 gallons of barrel aged beer) and two apartment / offices on the second floor AND we’ve got our immediate space needs met WHILE retaining the historic aspect of the historic Paris Downtown building (circa 1880’s) and the street scape.

The space has been completely renovate and it’s turned into an art project – not just a renovation. Custom design and hand crafted stools, benches and tables complement the hand made Ky Coffee Bean wood bar and antique wooden walk-in cooler in the tasting room. Plus the brewery is viable through French doors and the industrial element blends well with the renovated turn of the century mercantile space.

Look for us in March 2014.”

Based on photos, the space he’s building out looks fantastic. Wonder what kind of beer his brewing over there? Follow ’em on Twitter at @roosterbrew and give ’em a like on Facebook when you get a chance.

West Sixth to Expand, Will Can Lemongrass Wheat

lexington beer west sixth

It’s just a mock-up, but it looks almost good enough to drink.

This one comes straight from the West Sixth Brewing website. Cool news from one of Lexington’s most successful breweries:

We’ve got some big news today that we can’t wait to share with you:  we’re embarking on a major brewery expansion, and launching a new beer (the Lemongrass American Wheat) in a can!

Over the past year, we’ve expanded a few times on our 15 barrel brewhouse by adding additional fermentation capacity. That’s allowed us to grow from our original 45 barrels of weekly production when we first opened up to 195 barrels of weekly production by the fall of 2013.

However, late last year, we realized that we just couldn’t keep expanding by adding tanks. We were brewing 13 times a week (up from our original 3), and didn’t want to expand into brewing overnight or on the weekends.

So, we’re excited to announce today that last week, our new 40 barrel brewhouse and 6 80 barrel fermenters arrived.

This brewhouse will allow us to continue to grow over the next few years, and also has a secondary benefit: it will allow us to begin canning a third beer.

This beer is one we’re really excited about: the Lemongrass American Wheat.

Robin, our head brewer and co-founder describes it this way: “This american wheat is brewed with Sorachi Ace hops and nearly 6 pounds of fresh lemongrass in each 15 barrel batch. The Sorachi Ace hop, which originated out of Japan, has a very unique flavor that we believe complements the lemongrass perfectly.  It’s a craft beer drinker’s wheat.”

This beer will be rolled out gradually into each market — it should be available on draft within a few weeks and in cans within the month.

All this is possible because of the continued support of all of our fans and trailblazers.  Thank you all for this — we never in a million years expected to be expanding in such a way so soon.

Thank you all, and cheers to an exciting 2014!

Wow, a 40 barrel system. That’s nearly three times what they started with. This should get interesting. Congrats to West Sixth!

Blue Stallion Brewing Announces Expansion, Distribution

lexington beer - blue stallionBlue Stallion Brewing sent out word that it is adding a new cooler in its brewery, which will allow for local distribution sometime in February. At right is a pic Blue Stallion sent out with its press release, which is below.

If you haven’t been, you should go soon. I took a drive there when the brewery first opened and had a great afternoon hanging out enjoying their German-style beers.

Congrats, Blue Stallion!

And now the press release:

LEXINGTON, Kentucky, January 14, 2014 – Six months after opening the doors for business, Blue Stallion Brewing Co. is in the midst of their first brewery expansion. The project will add enough cooler storage capacity to begin distribution of beer to the surrounding region in February.

The expansion will add a 367 sq. ft. cooler in the brewery portion of the building. Currently, the only cooler servicing the brewery is the one behind the bar and at only 190 sq. ft. it’s barely large enough to handle the demand for kegs in the taproom.

“The size of our current cooler is the biggest bottleneck we face with beer production. We’ll no longer have to keep finished beer in the conditioning tanks simply because we don’t have room to store the kegs. This new cooler will triple our current cold room capacity” says co-owner Xavier Donnelly.
Completion of the new cooler is planned for the end of January. It will allow Blue Stallion to begin distributing beer to local restaurants and bars in early February.

Co-owner Kore Donnelly adds, “We’re ready to start distributing our beer in the market place and we’re excited the new cooler will make that happen. We started conversations with some local establishments and our distributor and the demand is there. Once it’s finished, we’ll be able to meet that demand.”

The owners plan to begin distribution with four of the brewery’s most popular beer styles: Hefeweizen, German Pilsner, Helles and Munich Dunkel. Distribution will start with roughly 7 barrels of beer (14 kegs) per week and grow from there. Seasonal and limited release beers, like Blue Stallion’s Smoked Lager, will also see distribution.

Establishments serving Blue Stallion beer will be listed on the company’s website.

Rooster Brew Coming Spring 2014 to Paris, Ky.

lexington beer - rooster brewThis isn’t exactly “news” (as it isn’t exactly new), but we haven’t reported it yet, so here goes: the Kentucky/Lexington beer will grow again soon, as Rooster Brew expects to open in Paris, Ky., in spring of 2014.

Via tweet, “Rooster Brew will be a local tap room and nano brewery (2 BBL). We envision 10 taps with 6 of them our beer and the remaining regionally produced craft beer.”

There are a couple of pics of what presumably are the unfinished space on Twitter and on the Rooster Brew Facebook page.

According to a progress log on the Facebook page, Rooster was going to open in a different location, but it was changed due to some regulatory red tape and other factors.

A lot of Lexingtonians and beyond will be interested in visiting the space at 609 Main Street in Paris once Rooster Brew opens. Here’s wishing them good luck and good brewing.

Blue Stallion Brewing Opens in Lexington

louisville beer - blue stallion german pilsner lexington

German Pilsner.

Took a mini-road trip with my girlfriend Cynthia on Saturday to check out the newly-opened Blue Stallion Brewing in Lexington: beautiful tap room, lots of German-style beers, a few guest taps and a welcoming feeling.

Oh, and would you believe this? Before they even opened, they were forced to change their logo by the local convention bureau. Maybe Blue Stallion and West Sixth could start a support group in Lexington for embattled logos. More on that in a moment, though.

Blue Stallion’s beers are of the German variety; pilsners and dunkels are the order of the day, but all the beers are lagered and filtered. In addition, a few ales make their way into the mix. But the main point at Blue Stallion is that the beers are, according to the brewery’s website, “approachable.”

At Blue Stallion, they “no longer accept that a casual beer needs to be yellow with no character or flavor.”

So if you’re looking for an Imperial IPA, well, know that the hoppiest beer brewed at Blue Stallion is the Pilsner, at 45 IBU (although they do have a few guest taps for hopheads). But it opens the door for a lot of people to find a beer they enjoy. Here’s a brief rundown:

Hefeweizen (3.8% ABV, 14 IBU): This one is smooth and fruity, with a hint of banana. Light body with a floral nose, it also offers up hints of clove. Imagine if Blue Moon didn’t suck, and you’re in the ballpark.

Scottish 70 Shilling (3.2% ABV, 20 IBU): Seriously? Only 3.2% alcohol by volume? Talk about sessionable – I could drink 10 of these and probably still be going strong. Actually, this is a very light brown ale with just a hint of caramel and malts, and as such was Cynthia’s favorite. It got its name because a pint of it would have cost 70 shillings back in mid-19th century Scotland.

louisville beer - blue stallion sampler lexington

Sampler and the “uber-bar.”

Munich Dunkel (5.4% ABV, 25 IBU): A mild version of a classic dunkel, this one has plenty of malt character and a bit of sweetness. In fact, Cynthia referred to it as “adult root beer,” which isn’t far off. This one packs a bit more punch than the Hefe or 70 Shilling. Solid.

Smoked Lager (5.7% ABV, 19 IBU): This one is smoky, as you’d expect, but not offensively so. If you’ve had the smoked beers at Against the Grain, for instance, you know a strong smoke flavor. This one is not nearly as bold; in fact, the smoke presence is just enough to wake up the taste buds. It also leaves a nice tingle on the palate. According to the Blue Stallion website, this beer is based on a German legend: “An accidental fire in a small regional brewery exposed the stored malt to the smoke for several hours. Because the brewer did not have the money to afford a new batch of malt, he was forced to use the smoked malt in his beer production.” People liked it, and it stuck. It may not be true, but it’s still a good story.

Wee Heavy (9.5% ABV, 28 IBU): Appropriately named because while it’s easily the heaviest beer currently on tap at Blue Stallion, it’s surprisingly light bodied. In fact, I was shocked when I learned it packs 9.5% ABV. The Scotch ale has flavor reminiscent of molasses. Be careful with this one, kids.

German Pilsner (4.9% ABV, 45 IBU): My favorite of the day, this is a classic German-style pilsner, with just enough hop bite to let you know it’s there. Crisp and slightly bitter, it features two different kinds of noble hops. More, please.

louisville beer - blue stallion logo lexington

Note the new logo.

While there, I spoke to co-owner Jim Clemons, who told me the tap room was basically built out by hand, taking about nine months to complete. The bar, I noted, is quite high – so high that when one sits there on a bar stool, it puts the bar level at about chest high, leaving you eye to eye with your beer.

Clemons referred to it as the “uber-bar,” and said it was only designed that way due to piping that had to run under the bar and needed to be at a certain height. The bar itself is made from barrel slats, which gives it a rustic-meets-modern look.

Clemons said Blue Stallion may be the smallest brewery in Kentucky, at least based on output. He said whereas most brewers can get a batch of most beer styles ready for tapping in two or three weeks, it takes six weeks to finish a Blue Stallion beer, due in part to the lagering process and also due to the step mash process they use, which slows the heating process but also helps the brewers avoid using any acids or chemicals in the brewing process.

“We’re very proud to do it the old-fashioned way,” Clemons said.

There’s no food menu at the tap room, but people are free to order pizza delivery or bring whatever they like. One couple who sat at the bar and watched sports on the flat screens brought a bag of salsas and other dips from Trader Joe’s, and casually snacked as they sipped their beers.

louisville beer - blue stallion original logo lexington

Blue Stallion original logo.

Oh, and note that the logo on the glasses and at left is different than the one used on the website (bottle photo, above). That’s because the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau took exception to the original logo since it resembled their own. It wasn’t exactly a West Sixth vs. Magic Hat situation, though.

“They asked us to change the logo, and we did,” Clemons said. “We wanted to be accommodating.”

It’s commendable. One logo lawsuit in Lexington is plenty.