Against the Grain Establishes New European Contract Brand

Austin Ray

Louisville, KY’s Against the Grain Brewery is set to release a new line of beers brewed under contract in Germany. Reached by GBH, the company describes the project—aptly and simply named AtG Europe—as a way to ensure freshness in a number of select foreign markets, which have become increasingly important to the brewery as it has grown over its five-year history.

“I’ve had the Pale Ales and IPAs we send to Europe,” says Jerry Gnagy, company co-founder. “And as fresh [as] we can send it, and as fast as we can move it, it still isn’t fresh enough.”

The company’s partnering brewers, however, won’t be pumping out the Against the Grain beers that drinkers are already familiar with. Rather, AtG Europe will debut behind a pair of uniquely branded products to be made available throughout their markets in Germany, France, and Spain, with the hope of adding Italy later in the year. Gnagy says the company also plans to introduce new brands as time goes on, assuming “all goes well,” while its more “durable” beers that get sent to Europe and don’t rely on hop freshness will continue being made in the U.S.

Gnagy says the company initially partnered with Brauhaus Binkert to brew the new beers, but unspecified packaging issues forced the company elsewhere. So for now, the brewery has partnered with Vormann Brauerei of Hagen, not far from Düsseldorf, to launch the brand. Gnagy says Vormann “are some of the few people who enjoy working outside of the Altbier box… I’m confident that they are really going to take a lot of care with our product.”

Europe has proven to be an important market for the five-year-old brewery, and thus the move represents an investment in a continent that helped get the brand off the ground in the first place, according to the company’s marketing manager, Katie Molck.

“We started shipping our beer there when we opened in kegs,” Molck says. “Even before beer was being distributed throughout the United States like it is today, it was going to Europe.”

In fact, in light of opening its facility in Portland, a neighborhood of Louisville, back in 2015, Molck says the company now sends about 1,000 barrels to Europe per year. That’s a fairly significant number, considering the company only made about 10,000 barrels overall last year. (They foresee doubling that overall production number this year.)

“It would be wise to essentially contract brew our styles there,” she says.

It’s possible, too, that AtG Europe is merely a start, as the company, which to date has operated with a more traditional model, could envisage adopting a broader contract philosophy—think: Mikkeller—for production all over the world.

“We could in some years do Against the Grain South America, or Against the Grain Australia, or Against the Grain Asia,” Molck adds. “It’s certainly the hope, and there’s a very high possibility.”

As for the AtG Europe beers themselves, the company plans build the brand by pairing its familiar crass sense of humor with an eye towards international travel.

To that end, the first two beers in the line slated for release–Neoanderthal, an American IPA, and Plus One, an American Pale Ale–respectively feature imagery of its pot-bellied and bearded “Hop” character as a European tourist taking in the American landscape. On Neoanderthal, he’s depicted playing archaeologist at the Grand Canyon. On Plus One, he’s straddling a red, white, and blue cannon with a bald eagle perched on his shoulder and the Statue of Liberty standing tall in the background.

One interesting tidbit here: though the brands are new, technically, the liquid itself is inspired by pre-existing offerings in the company’s portfolio. They’re not clones, exactly, but Neoanderthal and Plus One are described as similar beers to A Beer and Pile of Face. This, the company says, is all about perception.

“I got some advice from some of my importers in Europe that they were afraid of people comparing beers produced in Germany to those produced in the U.S.,” Gnagy explains. “I hope to get around that problem by making a whole separate brand that doesn't pretend to be a clone of something we have in the States but beers that are inspired by our hoppy U.S. beers that can have variations between them.”

Indeed, behind every poop joke are careful considerations.

—Dave Eisenberg