Bluegrass Brewing Company may be the best-positioned local brewery to make the move to canning its popular craft beer.

Canning beer is emerging as viable economic alternative for smaller breweries as they attempt to grow their brands and compete with larger companies trying to muscle in on the “craft” market.

Some of the state’s most successful breweries, based in Lexington, are canning now or looking to expand that business line. Let’s look at the top two Louisville candidates for moving into the canning market: Bluegrass Brewing Co. and Falls City Beer.

BBC has yet to announce any plans to can, but brewmaster Jeremy Hunt, a former brewer at Dogfish Head — a successful craft brewery out of Deleware — told us that “canning has been discussed, and could be on the horizon.”

Hunt said the reason for BBC’s success has been its consistency since 1993. It has developed a “reliable market,” but he also said the company is looking to “push the envelope” in 2013.

While Hunt was mainly referring to new beers, including a Bourbon Scotch Ale, canning a beer makes sense, and the Altbier, which he said is BBC’s “best” and most popular beer may be the beer to can.

Phillip Dearner, BBC’s director of Territory Sales, said “(canning) is in the beginning stages, and has yet to be decided.” B

BC’s current capacity is at 2,500 barrels a year, Dearner said, with packaging around 8,000 barrels a year, roughly about 108,000 cases.

This makes BBC the second-biggest brewing company in the state (Lexington’ Alltech is first), and it currently distributes in Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee.

BBC has the facilities and space to accommodate canning, and BBC is currently expanding and looking to increase production 43 percent in 2013 by using three new 6o-barrel fermentation tanks.

Good news for job-seekers as the expansion will require “need for extra employees (brewers/packaging/part time/etc.) to work,” Dearner said.

All evidence that BBC may can first in Louisville.

Louisville’s second-most viable canning candidate is the city’s most historic beer-maker, Falls City. One River City Distributor employee told me, “Falls City beer is Louisville’s single most purchased Kentucky beer, if you consider Falls City a Kentucky beer.”

(Currently, it’s brewed in Nashville, Tn.)

Why the limbo on canning?

Well, while the money, history, and headquarters are in Louisville, the beer is currently brewed in craft beer-heaven Wisconsin. But Falls City is set to open its first Louisville brewhouse, which will allow local brewing and testing of new beers to local drinkers.

David Easterling, a Falls City rep, said the company’s Pale Ale, possibly Kentucky’s top gateway beer, “is very accessible and easy to drink: a great session beer. I think it competes well with any English Pale Ale available anywhere.”

Bluegrass Brewing Company may be the best-positioned local brewery to make the move to canning its popular craft brews.

One advantage to Falls City and its “accessible” Pale Ale is that it’s found where many local/Kentuckiana craft beers are not. It is available in bars in St. Matthews, Lyndon and Baxter Ave., yet, not always found in craft beer outlets such as the NuLu area, the Holy Grail and Kentucky beer fests.

“The company grew 50 percent last year with a capacity at 7,000 barrels a year, with 2012 sales at 2,000, or 28,000 ce,” explained Easterling. “We also just launched our Black IPA, and we’ll have an American Wheat beer available in bottles and kegs. And we’ll have a variety of beers at the brewhouse.”

If Falls City wants to become a more integral part of the Kentucky craft beer community, it will reach out to other brewers, join the Brewer’s guild, seek involvement in local beerfests and continue to develop variety beyond its wide-appealing Pale Ale.

On the other hand, the craft community may learn a thing or two from Falls City in hitting markets they have yet to hit by mirroring its mass-appeal approach.

All in all, while Easterling says it is “doubtful” Falls City will can in 2013, it is probably the second-most ready to can in Louisville behind BBC-based on capacity, sales and wide-ranging market.

When talking to all the companies in exploring “Beer-Can-Nomics,” there were never sentiments of cut-throat competition in the industry, and as of now, the craft beer community is tight-knit.

Coincidentally, all of the Kentucky beer execs agreed that it’s just a down-right exciting time to be in the industry.

Cans will help spread distribution of Kentucky craft beer within the state, as well as reach beer-houses and beer-drinkers around the country.

It will be interesting to monitor not only plans to can, but all growth endeavors of the above mentioned, as well as other local breweries such as Country Boy Brewing Co., Against the Grain, Cumberland, The New Albanian Brewing Co., Apocalypse Brewing Co.

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Michael Tierney
Michael Hannon Tierney is a writer for InsiderLouisville, various blogs, and does occasional freelance work. The world traveler, and magna cum laude graduate from the University of Kentucky holds degrees in History and Political Science. Tierney also writes, and performs original music time to time...

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