On July 15, 1994, the present Lexington Brewing Company was chartered as Kentucky's first limited liability company, under recently passed legislation. William M. Ambrose and Michael J. Hart were appointed the firm's President and Secretary/Treasurer, respectively. Mr. Ambrose had retired in 1993 from First Security National Bank and Mr. Hart was the owner of General Tool and Supply.
The company was formed to operate a small regional brewery that brews a limited selection of fresh, all natural craft beers throughout the Central Kentucky area. The brewery's products were distributed in draft kegs and twelve-ounce, longneck bottles.
The trade name Limestone was selected for the brewery’s product to represent “the rich limestone soil and pure spring water widely identified with the famed Bluegrass region." Sparkling clear limestone water, naturally filtered through the rolling hills of the Bluegrass, imparts a “distinctive taste and character to Lexington Brewing Company's beers.” This brand image was created using quotes from prior owners of the Lexington Brewing Company.
Between July 1994 and April 1995, the brewery prepared a number of test batches of handcrafted beer for evaluation. In May 1995, the first batch of Limestone Amber Ale was produced – based upon the 1897 formula of the old brewery. The formula has been in the possession of the Ambrose family and was closely guarded. This beer was a medium-body, full-flavor beer brewed with traditional ale malts and selected hops. The beer was produced under special agreement by the Indianapolis Brewing Company, Indianapolis, Indiana.
In April 1995, Layton L. Register and George M. Van Meter, Jr. joined the company as Vice Presidents. Mr. Register was formerly associated with First Security and Mr. Van Meter was the former owner of Little Caesars’ Pizza of Central Kentucky. In addition, Michael L. Shut, General Manager of Mid State Distributing Company, joined the company's board of directors.
During the summer of 1996, the firm's brewery was constructed at 401 Cross Street, situated just west of downtown Lexington, off Versailles Road at the junction of High and Maxwell Street. The site had previously been the location of the old Lexington Ice Company (which operated from around 1906 until the 1960s). Overall, the brewery was approximately 8,300 square feet consisting of a brewhouse of 1,600 square feet, warehouse space of 5,800 square feet and office space of 900 square feet.
The brewhouse includes a 32-barrel brew kettle with the capacity to produce 7,500 to 10,000 barrels of beer annually. This is equal to roughly one hundred twenty thousand cases annually. The brewery cellar tanks each hold sixty-five barrels (roughly 2,000 gallons) of beer. The seven (7) tanks filled to capacity hold over fifty five hundred cases of product.
The brewery bottling line consisted of a Crown, Cork & Seal filler with the capacity of three to four hundred cases per hour. This is equal to seven thousand bottles per hour or one hundred twenty bottles per minute. In July 1997, the brewery set a record production level of 353 cases of beer in one hour.
In August 1996, Matchbox, makers of toy cars and trucks, produced a model truck with the Lexington Brewing Company's logos. This was part of a limited collector's edition distributed internationally. A limited quantity was available for sale at the brewery's gift shop.
In August 1996, Douglas C. Gabbert was elected to the company's board of directors. Mr. Gabbert is associated with the Jordan- Chiles Advertising Agency.
On October 29, 1996, the first batch of Limestone Amber Ale was brewed in the completed brewery. On January 11, 1997, the first case of Limestone Amber Ale rolled from the end of the bottling line - the first bottled beer produced in Lexington for 75 years. The first case was presented to Governor Paul Patton on January 16, 1997.
During February 1997, Limestone Pale Ale was introduced in bottles and kegs for the local market. This beer was a lighter bodied ale, with crisp bitterness from dry hopping.
In March 1997, Brian J. Miller was hired as the brewery's brewmaster. Mr. Miller had worked in breweries in Chicago and Nashville. He is also a graduate of Seibel Institute of Brewing in Chicago. Under his direction, Limestone Dark Ale, a porter, and Limestone Hefe-Weisen, a light wheat, were introduced in June and July 1997, respectively.
In September 1997, the Lexington Brewing Company brewed Limestone OktoberFest, the first lager produced in Lexington since Prohibition. In November 1997, the brewery also introduced Limestone Holiday Beer, as its Christmas seasonal, and in February 1998 Limestone Bock was released.
Kentucky Hemp Beer:
On January 15, 1998, the brewery also introduced a new brand called Kentucky Hemp Beer. The beer was brewed with industrial hemp imported from Europe. The hempseed acts as a preservative and has been used for centuries as a preservative. The brewery replaced 30 to 40 percent of the hops with hemp for flavoring. The beer is a lighter export lager. The hemp plant is a relative of the marijuana plant, but contains none of the narcotic THC.
Historically, Lexington was a leading producer of hemp products until the 1920s. Hemp was outlawed in 1937 along with marijuana. However, during the Second World War hemp was cultivated under the "Hemp for Victory" program for the Navy Department. The hemp was used to produce manila ropes and parachutes.
After its introduction, hemp beer received a number of favorable articles in newspapers across the county, was featured in magazines from France and Japan, was on the front cover of the American Brewer and was pictured in the US News & World Report. In June 1998, the brewery expanded distribution statewide with Brown-Kaiser Company, Louisville, Ky.
On July 15, 1998, the Wall Street Journal published a story about a promotional campaign that used psychedelic and drug imagery to promote the hemp beer. In fact, this campaign was created by a Pittsburgh advertising agency to promote itself, without the approval of the brewery. These unsolicited ads received national attention and created criticism of the product.
During September 1999, the brewery was sold to Alltech Corporation of Nicholasville, Kentucky and continued as Alltech’s Lexington Brewing Company.