Against the Grain Brewery joins governor on trade mission to Canada

Photo courtesy of Sam J. Cruz.

Photo courtesy of Sam J. Cruz.

Canada is Kentucky’s biggest trade partner — in fact, the commonwealth exported more than $7.6 billion in products and services to our neighbors in the north last year, topped by motor vehicles, auto parts and aerospace products; iron, steel and ferro-alloy; resin and synthetic rubber; and machinery.

Kentucky Gov.  Steve Beshear leads Kentucky Export Initiative trade missions to Canada, and this year he chose a local company to be a representative during the May 25-30 venture. That representative? Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse.

Why is this so important to a brewery that is already distributing products in dozens of U.S. states and in Europe? Well, for one, because Canadians love beer, in particular many of the barrel-aged products in which Against the Grain specializes, according to brewery co-owner Sam J. Cruz.

But it’s also not easy for a company that makes alcoholic beverages to get their products into Canada, he adds.

“It’s a monopoly,” Cruz says. “The government decides what products go in, so it pretty much eliminates competition. We were able to connect personally with the people who are making those decisions and can now eliminate that barrier or wall that acts to keep competition out. I would say that’s a priceless thing to make that connection.”

What it means is that now Against the Grain will be able create an export packet to present its products for approval by the appropriate governing body. A process that might have taken two years previously (if it worked at all) can now be completed in just a few months, or possibly even less.

Basically, Cruz and fellow Against the Grain owner Adam Watson toured Canadian cities Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto with a handful of other participating Kentucky businesses, building relationships that will help foster future trade agreements.

One beer Cruz identified as a potential export to Canada is called Coq de la Marsh, an easy-drinking saison-style beer, but the aforementioned signatures such as Kentucky Ryed Chiquen also are prime candidates. He notes, however, that the higher the alcohol content in Canada, the higher the price, so the saison is a perfect first step as a market entry product as it’s a mild 5.8 percent ABV.

“By giving them something in that middle range, they can keep the price down,” Cruz says. “But they also want all of the crazy big barrel-aged beers, and we can give them that.”

In addition, Cruz says the initial product offering shouldn’t take long: “Realistically, within five months, we will be in Montreal. And that’s a really conservative estimate.”

Cruz says the opportunity essentially came about as a result of Kentucky breweries establishing a relationship with government officials in Frankfort during the House Bill 168 battle earlier this year. He believes that in addition to being a small victory for bluegrass brewers, it will continue to provide inroads.

More than that, Against the Grain’s presence on the mission trip will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the breweries in Louisville and around the state. Essentially, breweries can use Against the Grain’s presentation as a template to promote their own beers, and Cruz and his partners can make sure those packets get to the appropriate representatives.

Against the Grain is committed to helping other small Kentucky companies, Cruz says, and “part of that is putting Kentucky brewers on a national stage. We can take the information … and package it in a way so they can take it forward themselves. We can be advisors. In this case, we’ll feel really good about doing it in a foreign country.”

Of course, that is a big part of the mission.

“Canada is the largest destination for Kentucky-made products, but there are many additional opportunities for our small businesses to build partnerships with our neighbors to the north,” said Gov. Beshear said in a press release announcing the trip. “This trade mission will give Kentucky businesses the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings, form relationships to increase sales and explore international markets.”

Of course, it wasn’t all meetings and pressing flesh. There was beer consumed, and there were luncheons and other gatherings that involved simply meeting people to present what Kentucky business owners are really like — putting a face to the products, if you will.

“It might have been good for them to meet brewers,” Cruz says, chuckling, “maybe dressed down a little bit, with tattoos.”

Ultimately, it is an extension of what is going on not just in Louisville or around the commonwealth, but everywhere: Craft beer is a hot item.

“Quite frankly, internationally it’s booming,” Cruz says. “Everybody’s excited about good beer. I was really amazed by that and the interest our government officials who met with us had in craft beer. And the ambassador to Canada was really into talking about it.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

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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.