It wasn’t all that long ago that you could order a keg of your favorite beer from the local brewery, pay the deposit and enjoy the beer. But in 2013, the Commonwealth of Kentucky saw fit to restrict beer sales to individuals at breweries statewide to 288 ounces a day — maximum.
Yeah, that didn’t go over well, so breweries, with a big assist from the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, fought back.
Earlier this year, House Bill 136 was signed into law, and that law recently went into effect, meaning it is now legal again to purchase up to 31 gallons of beer per day directly from your local brewery — no middleman and no fuss. Some local breweries are poised to take advantage of the newly-loosened restriction, with Against the Grain ready to pounce early and often.
Brewery co-owner Sam Cruz recalls the late 1990s and early 2000s when he was working at Bluegrass Brewing Co. in St. Matthews, and kegs went in and out the door with regularity.
“Back at that time, it was a big portion of our monthly beer sales,” he said. “It was great. We also were able to interact a little bit more with our customers.”
Kegs were still available for purchase through distributors, but freshness can’t be ensured once a keg leaves for the distributor. And hey, if you’re having a wedding reception, or just a backyard cookout, you want the beer to be fresh, right?
“I’m super excited to tell people they can get Citra Ass Down potentially within a day of it being kegged,” Cruz said. “It doesn’t get any fresher than that for IPAs.”
Cruz also said keeping kegs cold is a quality safeguard and, once again, there is no guarantee of that once that keg is placed on a truck. Those who want the best quality beer are going directly to the source, where the beer is always handled with kid gloves.
Not all breweries are lining up to take advantage of the new law; some prefer a wait-and-see approach. One problem breweries could face is kegs not coming back to the brewery. The cost of an empty keg (a sixth of a barrel keg) can run close to $100, a deposit price that might make some buyers balk. But charging less means taking a risk.
Matt Fuller of Great Flood Brewing Co. cited keg returns as one reason for why the brewery isn’t planning to feature keg sales anytime soon. But having not seen the glory years of keg sales, Fuller said his team isn’t sure how keg sales might fare today.
“We don’t think there is a huge market for it right now,” he said. “We could be totally off base and end up playing catch up later, but that’s kind of where we are right now.”
Old Louisville Brewery, which is working to open a new location in Shelbyville, isn’t going to pursue keg sales in earnest because it will need the kegs and product when that location opens later this summer.
“We’ll probably start keg sales with more gusto starting in mid-fall,” co-owner Wade Mattingly said.
Mile Wide Beer Co. also is in wait-and-see mode, at least for the short term. Co-owner Scott Shreffler said the law going into effect “kind of snuck up on us,” leaving the brewery unprepared to aggressively take advantage. Look for a concerted effort in the coming weeks, he said. Mile Wide is well known as a brewery that fills crowlers for direct commercial sales daily, however, so expect kegs to follow suit.
Apocalypse Brew Works sells a lot of beer in crowlers and growlers for take-home purposes and has continued keg sales to groups. Co-owner and brewer Leah Dienes said the opportunity is one that will make her customers happy.
“Our customers who own kegerators or are planning special events like weddings are excited about it,” she said. “They like having the opportunity to purchase their beer from the source.”
For those who haven’t bought beer by the keg previously, be sure to order in advance — some breweries will sell kegs to walk-ins, but as Cruz points out, you can’t be assured you’ll get the beer you want that way.
Against the Grain launched its keg sales last weekend, rolling out sixth-barrels and half-barrels of core beers such as Retitled pilsner, The Brown Note brown ale, 35K milk stout, Pile of Face APA and Citra Ass Down, a double IPA. Some specialty and seasonal beers also will be available for pre-order as they are brewed, as well. Keg sales at Against the Grain will take place at the brewery’s production facility at 1800 Northwestern Parkway, not at the taproom and restaurant.
A sixth of a keg, which is about 40 pints, can start at $50, not including the deposit, but prices vary, so check with your brewer of choice in advance for pricing and availability. You can find out what’s available from Against the Grain by subscribing to the brewery’s e-newsletter via the website (atgbrewery.com) or contacting the brewery directly at email@example.com. For other breweries, it’s probably safest to call or stop by with an order until more specific programs are developed.
“We take walk-ins,” Cruz said, “but if we run out, we run out.”