Braxton Brewing Company: Investing in Kentucky’s Future
Kentucky’s Braxton Brewing Company is a growth machine. Since opening in March 2015, it has added a bottling line, a canning line, and 12,500 square feet of warehouse space. Launching with a fermentation capacity of only 100 barrels, the young company will have 1,140 barrels of capacity by the end of the year and expects to produce 16,500 barrels of beer this year and 25,000 in 2018. In March, Braxton also announced it would acquire the space formerly occupied by Ei8ht Ball Brewery in Bellevue, Ky. Dubbed Braxton Labs, the facility opened two months later and is intended to drive experimentation, research, and education. Given this explosive growth, it’s no wonder that the city of Covington has embraced Braxton in a big way. The better story, however, is how Braxton has embraced Covington.
Just five years ago, this city at the confluence of the Ohio and Licking rivers was on the verge of bankruptcy. Much of its downtown area was described as desolate. Covington was in desperate need of leadership and investment. Someone needed to believe in the city’s future. Enter the Rouse family. With veteran brewer and Siebel Institute faculty member Richard Dubẻ, Greg, Jake, and Evan Rouse renovated a vacant storefront on West 7th Street and opened Braxton Brewing.
Getting the show off the ground wasn’t easy. “We went through 20 investor pitches where they laughed at us because we wanted to invest in this town,” explains CEO Jake Rouse. “Now, every decision we make is literally driven by, How do we help revitalize Covington? [Braxton] started in our garage on Braxton Drive 20 minutes south of here, and by the end of this year, we will likely be the third largest brewery in the state of Kentucky.”
Kick-starting Covington’s rebirth has also opened the floodgates for developers. Just last fall, the Saylers Group spent $22 million to convert a historic former department store around the corner from the brewery into a 114-room luxury hotel. Hotel Covington’s general manager, Jack Olshan, explicitly acknowledges Braxton’s impact on their investment decision. “They were the first guys to roll the dice and invest in this area,” he says. “They led the way.” The hotel also partners with Braxton to serve a private label Amber Ale in its on-site restaurant.
Next door, an even larger construction project is underway on West 7th. This time next year, 110 new apartments will loom over Braxton. And the developer, North Pointe Group, didn’t choose this location by accident. “Braxton was a huge part of our decision,” says North Pointe partner Lisa Scovic. “Jake and [COO] Evan are great people to work with. They bring people into the area day and night. We have seen 7,000 people attend a weekend event at Braxton. We will be using them as part of our marketing program for these apartments.”
What Braxton has done to jump start the redevelopment of Covington cannot be overstated, but its contributions to the community don’t stop there. It’s an effort that starts first thing each morning when the brewery opens its doors to the public. In the center of the taproom is a large area referred to as “the garage” that’s equipped with white boards, gigabit WiFi, projector screens, and workspaces. “We wanted to create a space where people come in at 8 a.m. and have a coffee, work three or four hours, and then leave and come back later and have a beer with a friend,” Jake explains. “We are home to several guys that use this space as their office every single day. There have even been a couple of startups that worked out of here and ultimately launched their businesses from Braxton.”
The brewery also strives to find creative ways to join forces with area businesses. One such collaboration started when Braxton developed a Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout with Graeter’s Ice Cream in Cincinnati. The release party had thousands lined up around the block waiting to sample the beer. And when a regional grocery giant took an interest, sales climbed even higher. “Our Graeter’s program was a real partnership to cross-sell the ice cream and the beer in the grocery stores,” says Jake. “We built displays that offered a dollar off ice cream at the beer display, and when you got to the ice cream door, you had the beer advertised there.”
But the collaboration didn’t end there. “When we did the project with Graeter’s, we gave [Lisa Graham of Brewhouse Dog Bones] several batches of the spent grain from that project,” adds Jake. “She created a special dog treat with the black raspberry grain (minus the chocolate) that [was] released at both the Graeter’s stores and here. We are always looking for unique ways to do things like that.” In September, Braxton worked with its Ohio neighbors again to create Graeter’s Blueberry Pie Brown Ale.
Braxton has accomplished much in the past two and a half years, and yet it appears that the company is only getting started. The tip of its spear will be Braxton Labs. It adds capacity and 40 more taps, and features an impressive list of guest beers from across the country and around the world—introducing its customers to beers they might not otherwise encounter. It also offers educational “Labs U,” sessions. And, more importantly, it offers Dubẻ and the Rouse family the opportunity for continual innovation, the possibility to go in new directions and explore new styles. With the Covington location handling large-scale production, Braxton Labs has the freedom and flexibility to turn new ideas into novel beers. And to the Braxton team, that means celebrating the industry and leading the industry.
20-barrel, 4-vessel brewhouse
2 20-barrel fermentors
1 40-barrel fermentor
2 80-barrel fermentors
4 120-barrel fermentors
2 40-barrel bright tanks
1 120-barrel bright tank
100 barrels for aging beer
Braxton Labs Brewhouse
3 15-barrel fermentors
1 30-barrel fermentor
1 30-barrel bright tank
Storm: Smooth and sessionable, this Golden Cream Ale features a medium body, subtle bitterness, and a creamy palate. 4.8% ABV
Revamp: An easy drinking American IPA that carries notes of tropical fruit flavor along with a bright citrus aroma. 6.5% ABV
Dark Charge: Released annually on the first Saturday in December, this barrel-aged Imperial Stout offers notes of chocolate, coffee, roasted malts, and umami. 13.3% ABV
Oktober Fuel: A traditional Oktoberfest-style lager brewed with German malts, Noble hops, and decoction mashing. 6% ABV
Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout: Dominated by black raspberry overtones with fresh chocolate and a slight roast in the finish, this beer draws its inspiration from Graeter’s flagship ice cream flavor. 7% ABV ■