When Braxton Brewing Co. opened on Seventh Street in Covington in 2015, the scenery was far different than if you stop by the taproom for a pint today.
“My brother and I took a risk at the beginning on the neighborhood, on the building,” says Jake Rouse, Braxton co-founder and CEO, of his brother and Braxton co-founder Evan. “People don’t remember what this street was like four years ago, how different it was. We had people laugh at us while we were raising money for the business. We’ve loved the fact that we have been able to lead the catalytic rebound of this neighborhood.”
But the brewery and taproom at 27 W. Seventh St. has paid off: the more than 130-year-old building, which has at various times been a Sears department store, architecture firm and an art gallery, now belongs to Braxton from top to bottom. They have offices and a private taproom for events on the second floor, and in July they unveiled a 5,000-square-foot rooftop patio.
“Essentially, the rooftop came to be because we wanted to drink outside and we wanted to cement this as our forever home,” Rouse says. “We’d met the capacity of the brewery, both from a retail perspective, too. Adding the roof also made it a destination space.”
Rouse sees it as more than just another place to enjoy Braxton’s many beers and hard seltzer. It marks a choice that the company has made at a major crossroads in its existence to invest in Covington.
“We moved forward and we bought the building, and in buying this building, we made a $5 million expansion commitment,” he says. “We did a lot to make the roof feel still a part of Braxton, but it is also different. It’s got a different vibe.”
The choice to use the rooftop space was motivated by the view and the chance to make a new atmosphere that still fit with Braxton’s “industrial chic” style.
The intensive growth the brewery has recently experienced is part of a positive feedback loop that Rouse sees as being driven by three core values at the company: creating experiences, connecting to customers and innovating new products.
“We want to put our products in experiences where people are going to enjoy them and that might push them outside their comfort zone so they try something a little different,” he says
“Second, we are completely dedicated to understanding what our customers want and what they are drinking. Lastly, we commit to innovation; Braxton Labs (experimental brewery inside The Party Source) has the ability to freely innovate without constraints on budget, time or production method, which means we really get to stay up to date on trends.”
On Sept. 27, another facet of Braxton Brewing Co. opens, building on the success of the yearly Dark Charge barrel-aged beer program that regularly brings thousands of visitors to Covington in order to sample the signature flavor of a year-long barrel-aging process.
The Braxton Barrel House in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky has taken over the former Remke Market building on Dixie Highway and will include a 20-tap taproom and a 2,000-square-foot patio on the former loading dock, plus 20,000 square feet of storage for housing bourbon barrels and other assorted barrels to age beers.
Through the products that Braxton serves, the founders remain committed to their Kentucky connection, be it through the water they use or through their connection to bourbon production in their barrel aging. The Braxton Private Barrel program allows companies or groups of friends to create and follow their own barrel-aged beer from creation to packaging, resulting in a barrel (about 300 bottles) of one-of-a-kind brew. It lets customers go behind the scenes to learn about the process and sample barrels to get to exactly the flavor profile they want through the assistance of expert brewers. The private barrel program is considered the only one of its kind in the country.
“We realized with the popularity of Dark Charge that there was more to be done because we were a Kentucky brewery and Kentucky is known for bourbon,” Rouse says. “Just like bourbon, we’re aging beer for quite a long time.”
Many of the elements of Braxton’s success are driven by their bestsellers, and their expansion will allow them to now create up to 30,000 barrels of Braxton beer a year and expand distribution to all of Ohio and Tennessee.
All of this growth is on the heels of the early 2019 release of the brewery’s hard seltzer line, Vive.
“Vive has completely changed our company, introducing a new demographic and new customer to the brewery,” Rouse says. “The difference with Vive and hard seltzers is that you are going for a better-for-you product. It’s not that alcohol is ever ‘good’ for you, but many of us are trying to drink less, and we don’t want to feel hungover or bloated. The health and wellness and moderation trends are leading people to have just one or two of these hard seltzers.”
Through all the expansion, Rouse, his brother Evan and their team have felt privileged to get to watch their original garage-based home brewing projects become a massive force in the local craft alcohol scene.
“Experiencing exponential growth as we have over the past few years, we had to make some big decisions quickly,” Rouse says. “We learn a lot, take a ton of feedback and we have really hit a sweet spot in what people are looking for in craft beer.”
Braxton Brewing Co.’s flagship location is at 27 W. Seventh St., Covington. More info: braxtonbrewing.com.