Blue Stallion on the Way: Lexington not just one beer town anymore
BY CHRIS CAMPBELL
Eighteen months ago, there was one brewery in Lexington: Lexington Brewing and Distilling. The Alltech-owned company has been brewing Kentucky Ale since 2000, and its successful spinoff Bourbon Barrel Ale has taken the brand across the nation, as well as to China, Ireland and Canada. But 18 months ago, Lexington wasn’t a beer town. That quickly changed in early 2012, as LB&D was joined by Country Boy and West Sixth breweries. Both breweries’ tap rooms have remained packed ever since, and Lexington’s thirst for craft beer has mirrored the nationwide trend of Americans putting down the Miller Light and picking up something new, local and different. With a proliferation of local industry growth in less than two years, it may seem that there is scarcely room for anything more without flooding the market. Kore Donnelly, co-owner of Blue Stallion Brewery, Lexington’s fourth – and certainly not final – brewing company, certainly doesn’t think so. Opening “sometime in July,” Blue Stallion intends to capitalize on the recent explosive demand for locally homegrown brews, while offering something a little different.
“We want to be a viable, attractive option for beer drinkers in Lexington.” Says Donnelly. “The best thing about opening a brewery is that we can see ourselves making a living doing something that we really like doing. I think that passion will come out in our product.”
The passion certainly is undeniable for Donnelly, his two brothers Xavier and Zac, and two other owners, retired chemical engineer Jim Clemons, and in-house brewer and Siebel Institute graduate Nico Schulz. They’ve put countless man-hours into converting the industrial space into a multi-purpose facility. For all five, it’s just as much a labor of love as it is an opportunity to be a viable business. Though the idea had been thrown around between them for quite some time, their vision became much closer to reality when Kore (pronounced like ‘Corey’) spotted a brewing set up that had just been posted on probrewer.com. It was go time.
The Big Rock Chophouse, a brewpub just outside of Detroit in Birmingham Michigan, was expanding, and was looking to get rid of their old brewing kit. In a market where almost no breweries are closing, used brewing setups are hard to come by, and Kore’s call to Big Rock came just minutes after the for sale ad was posted online. A few hours later – just after midnight – they headed north to see the future ‘heart’ to their ‘soul.’ They were sold, and a few months later, the copper tanks were disassembled and shipped south.
As they prepared to re-assemble their prize in the formerly non-descript fence-bound building at 610 West Third Street, something else began to form: an undeniable willingness from everyone in the local brewing community to help a future competitor. Kore wasn’t shocked, but was a bit surprised when owners of both Country Boy and West Sixth went out of their way to help with the setup – and more.
“We had guys coming by every day, letting us know the mistakes they made, and what may work best.” Says Kore. “Both (Country Boy and West Sixth) breweries were so helpful in telling us what should go where because they learned from recent experience. We even had guys walking us through paperwork for federal and state licensing…and how to best set up the front of house.”
So why, then, do businesses trying to make it on their own, support entities that could eventually put a dent in their bottom line?
“We all are excited about brewing – it’s a hobby that has become a business. And, we are all excited about this area becoming a brewing district” continues Donnelly.
Blue Stallion fits amazingly well into the geography of Lexington’s burgeoning beer scene. They’re a mere half a mile from West Sixth, four tenths of a mile from Alltech, and a whopping 1.2 miles (as the crow flies – 1.7 for those of us who use roads) from County Boy. With the addition of the new Chase Taproom (to be located at the corner of Jefferson and Third), a real sense of continuity is beginning to develop for the brewers. Not just in craft, but also in physical location.
There’s strength in numbers, but also a challenge. With all these like-minded, and nearly like-located businesses, Blue Stallion intends to offer a little different concept and feel to the others. Donnelly adds: “It’s not an improvement, it’s just a different slant.”
The new taproom will feature what can’t be avoided and shouldn’t be: a large space with bar, tables and plenty of taps. Adjacent to the taproom, on your left, will be a lounge area, complete with pool tables, TV’s, dartboards and semi-private loft. Stand at the bourbon-barrel appointed handmade bar – in the very center of the place – and look to your right and you will see the beautiful reflective copper tanks where your beer was born, slept and fermented. It’s not an improvement on West Sixth or Country Boy, it’s just a different feel.
The owners want to make it a local hangout; a place to go after work, or just to meet up with friends. While they will host special events, and ‘rent’ out the loft (which will seat 15-30 depending on setup) for groups and meetings, the Donnelly brothers, Jim, and Nico hope this will take on a neighborhood bar feel.
Much of the work thus far, has been done in-house, and the beer – the figurative meat and potatoes of the joint – is much the same. That’s where German-born Nico Schulz comes in.
The head brewer spent time as both an apprentice in a north German brewery and as a supervisor at a local dairy. This hands on experience met with a recent degree in food science from UK coupled with his time at the Siebel Institute of technology (which has a specialty for brewing science) has prepared Nico for life as a brewer in Lexington.
“The time in the dairy allowed me to learn about food purity, sanitary practice and how to keep everything extremely clean; that’s something that comes in very handy when brewing” recalls Schulz.
“The brewery experience and my own interest in home brewing let me perfect my recipes.”
While Schulz is the mastermind behind most of the concoctions, all five owners have had a say in the final result. One thing is clear though. West Sixth won’t find an immediate competitor for their IPA. Blue Stallion’s goal is to release German-style beers, which tend to be lighter and less hop-present than what American craft beers have been trending towards in recent years. While they’ve not yet decided on a “flagship” brew, everyone involved tends to recognize that the German pilsner (the name of which has not yet been trademarked as of press time) is one of their favorites.
Both Kore and Nico have a similar idea about what their standout beer should be: they’re going to serve beer and let the customers decide what their favorite is. Then they’ll determine a flagship.
Fair enough. It’s up to us, Lexington.
Added to their arsenal will be a Munich Dunkel, Maibock, Hefeweizen, Scottish 70 Schilling, and a Wee Heavy. By the time the doors open, at least three in-house beers will be served on draught. Because of brewery capacity, only six beers can be made at once, though eventually, all seven beers will be available. Detailed descriptions of the yet-to-be-produced brews are available at Blue Stallion’s website. There will obviously be experimentation and collaboration too – something that Kore and friends look forward to.
“We are anxious to brew with the other guys” Donnelly says, glancing at his watch, waiting on a meeting with his future payroll processing provider. “But right now we’re just anxious to brew.”
As for now, Blue Stallion – so named to reflect our region’s famed animal, and of course, the colors of our grass / local state college– will have to wait for the permits to clear, permissions to be given, and the staff to be trained. But once the grand opening has come and gone, you can expect what has come to be the normal in Lexington in the past 18 months: good times, food trucks, conversation and a home grown, handmade product. The Donnelly brothers, Nico and Jim hope you’ll also find a slightly different vibe here; maybe something good enough to make this your local hangout. As for now, however, they just can’t wait to open the doors and pour you a pint.
This article appears on page 4 of the July 11, 2013 print edition of Ace.
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