By Daniel Ford
Not long ago, Sean and I had a brainstorming session at Hugh O’Neills, our favorite watering hole in Malden, Mass., following an afternoon of marathon podcast recording.
I was struggling to choose a beer, but my eyes kept coming back to one brewed by the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co.
“How’s the Kentucky Bourbon Ale?” I asked our waitress, as one does during moments of boozy indecision.
“A lot of people order it,” she said. “It’s good.”
Well, with that hard sell how could I not try it?
I wasn’t disappointed. The beer came to me ice cold and it poured nicely into the handsome pint glass I was given. It was refreshingly sweet and smooth, with an oaky finish usually accompanied by hard, brown liquor in a heavy glass.
By the time I finished my second bottle, a new idea for Writer’s Bone was born. We couldn’t be more pleased to start our Friday Happy Hour series with the brewers of Kentucky Bourbon Ale.
Nathan Canavera, the brand manager for Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. , answered some of my questions recently and made me very, very thirsty.
Daniel Ford: Your company has a lengthy and colorful history. Give us a little background on that history and how you started brewing and distilling.
Nathan Canavera: Much too much to list, check out this video.
Daniel Ford: Kentucky is known for bourbon. What kind of relationship do you have with the community and how have they reacted to what your brewery has to offer?
NC: When we began brewing our beers after we bought the brewery in 1999, it was a much different landscape than craft beer is today. Craft beer and brew pubs were not on every corner. We had a very grassroots approach to pouring beer at every event that would let us in the door. At that time, and for years after, the yellow fizzy water was the choice of brew for central Kentucky. We built a craft following locally with sponsoring what events we could afford and Lexington was very supportive. Years later, we came upon what is now our flagship, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, and like you said, Kentucky is known for bourbon and it has taken off like wildfire for us!
DF: How did the idea for your Kentucky Bourbon Ale come about?
NC: The video goes over that a bit, but with Dr. Pearse Lyons history of both whiskey and coopers, as well as his background with Jameson in Ireland, he had a connection with the use of barrels. Fast forward to the brewery where we have barrels on display and we are tripping over barrels here in Kentucky, where there are more barrels with bourbon aging than people. Seems like a no brainer!
DF: All of your products have won multiple awards. Which award are you most proud of?
NC: I think the Silver Medal at the World Beer Cup in 2010. This came at a point where we were really beginning to see our growth take off and had opened into Ohio. This award put our brands on the map nationally and it was a huge honor to receive amongst our brothers and sisters in the craft community.
DF: You’re on Facebook and Twitter, and also manage a blog on your website. What’s your social media strategy and how has it helped build your brand?
NC: Funny enough I started our Facebook and Twitter pages years ago before they were seen as business pages. It was a way to engage customers and get feedback at little to no cost. Now, as you mention, it requires strategy, full-time upkeep, as well as individuals with writing skills far surpassing that of a simple beer guy. That being said, we still view social media as our direct line to the consumer—an open arena for good, bad, fun, silly, and serious discussions about our brands, our industry, and our competitors. Our goal is to keep our friends and followers as up to date as possible on everything in our world as well as answer any and all questions or concerns they may have. We know how much work went to getting to where we are today and how important our loyal supporters are to our success.
DF: If you were in Prohibition times, do you think you’d be bootleggers?
NC: Much like the Lexington Brewing Co. did in Prohibition, I feel like we would have been just like they were: brewing low/non-alcohol beers, but still brewing beer on the side. They were later busted and on one sad day the streets of Lexington were flooded with beer.
DF: If you were stuck on a deserted island with just one case of one of your spirits, which one would it be and why?
NC: Our new Rye, Town Branch Rye would be it for me!! The spicy notes of this whiskey, as well as its higher proof (100 would last longer on the island), would make this easy to enjoy while deserted…hopefully I wouldn’t have to share!
DF: What’s next for Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co.? What does the future look like?
NC: Hopefully we can continue to see the growth we’ve experienced over the last 14 years, we look for continued expansion into new territories while still back filling the territories we currently distribute within and filling in the gaps in our footprint. Our spirits are slowly following in the footsteps of the distribution of the beers that had a good six-plus years head start. As always, we need more pots and pans to continue to grow and these are all great problems to have!
DF: Name one random fact about your company.
NC: Dr. Lyons, our owner and original brewmaster, was the first Irishman to gain a formal degree in brewing.