Open Since 1993, These 2 Pieces of Advice, Bluegrass’ Hagan Says, is Vital for a Start-Up

This is a continuing series highlighting the oldest craft brewery in each state with members of the organization that helped build the brand. Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights each Monday to help learn how these veterans of the industry have grown.

Pat Hagan, co-founder (along with Monte Hagan and Ken Rissler), Bluegrass Brewing Company — Louisville, Kentucky

Date the brewery opened: November of 1993
What beers were tapped on opening day? We opened making a lot of authentic German style Ales and Lagers. We had a Bohemian style Pilsner (very hoppy), a Kolsch beer, Alt beer, an American Pale Ale, a raspberry Mead, a Porter and root beer. 

BREWER: Why did the brewery open in the first place? What was your biggest “Year 1” struggle?
HAGAN: Myself and the brewer were hop lovers with the Pale Ale being around 55 IBU. I had friends in California and so I was aware of the microbrewery industry. I thought it would be a good venture to get into and I loved making beer and drinking good beer. One of our biggest problems was keeping up with beer supply. I guess it is a good problem to have but the Pilsner was the first to go because of the time it took.

BREWER: Go ahead, pat yourself on the back; what was one of the key “good ideas” that were had early on which help drive growth or sustainability to the brewery?
HAGAN: Luckily I was smart enough to hire a great brewer instead of doing it myself. I always had input but the quality of the beer was always good and what kept us going. 

BREWER: OK, now admit a defeat; what was a decision or a circumstance that hurt the brewery? How did you solve that issue or find your way through it?
HAGAN: The most difficult aspect then was the kitchen. In the early days everyone opened up a brewpub with an operating kitchen. The restaurant side of the equation was the hard part. I had not been in the restaurant business and my hires there might not have been the best. We did correct the situation and did well, but the restaurant business is a fickle business. Nowadays with people just opening tap rooms and having food trucks creates an easier business model.

BREWER: What excites you in your brand (be it liquid, equipment, strategies or something else) this year and how did you decide to pursue this avenue?
HAGAN: BBC has one operating brewpub in downtown Louisville with 10-11 beers on tap as well as our root beer. We survived the COVID ordeal and still make great beers. We have not set out on the outside sales end of the business and sell all of our product in house. Making customers happy with great food and beer still excites me.

BREWER: Being a veteran company in the craft beer industry, what “words of wisdom” do you like to share when a new brewery owner approaches?
HAGAN: It seems like a lot of beers are very quirky and as odd as people can make them these days. My advice to anyone getting into this industry would be to hire a great brewer and make a quality product. Without that you are just another brewery.

Photos courtesy Bluegrass Brewing Co.

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