Three friends getting together to share a hobby. From that simple idea came what is now one of Morehead’s most popular new businesses, Sawstone Brewing Co.
The brewery is the joint effort of Morehead natives Derek Caskey, Nicholas Hollan and Blake Nickell (11). The three friends would gather at each other’s houses once or twice a month to hold what they called “brew days,” where they would make different varieties of beer. They joined the Brewers of Central Kentucky, a Lexington-based group for home brewers. Nickell said they shared their beers with other members of the group and that’s when the idea to open the first brewery in Morehead began to take shape.
“We were getting lots of good feedback and the three of us were really enjoying what we were making and discussing the dream that all homebrewers have of doing it for a living,” Nickell said. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of options for craft beer in Morehead, and we were seeing the boom happening elsewhere. It seemed like the right time and we saw it as an opportunity to take our passion and make it here locally in the place we call home.”
Starting a business from scratch was new to the three friends, but they were determined to make their dream into a reality. They developed a business plan, researched laws and regulations on alcohol production in the state and scouted out locations. Following a brewing event held downtown, the group was given the opportunity to locate in the historic Cozy Building on the corner of Main Street and Battson-Oates Drive. The building, which housed multiple businesses over the years, had been empty for several years and required extensive renovations to turn it into a brewery.
“We did some of the work ourselves in the Cozy Building and had a lot of help from some great local contractors, but the building is over 100 years old and required a lot of TLC to get it to a point where it would be safe and looked like something we could be proud of,” Hollan said. “We wanted to open a business in Morehead that looked like it belonged in a bigger city and raise the bar for what could be expected out of a business in our town.” He added the whole process, from the development of the business plan to opening day, took about two years. One of the building’s unique features, the cut limestone, or “sawstone” it is built from, gave the business its name.
Hollan said they faced several challenges when first starting the business, but they were able to find the help and support they needed from members of the local community and their fellow brewers.
“Every day is a new challenge when opening a new business and especially the first one of its kind in a town,” he said. “We were homebrewers obviously and had never brewed on a commercial system. We had to learn everything we could about commercial brewing before picking out the system, then assemble it and learn how to brew on it. Luckily, the brewing industry is an incredibly supportive one, so we had a lot of help throughout a lot of the process.”
The brewery creates a dozen different varieties of beer that rotate on a seasonal basis, as well as featuring beers from other Kentucky breweries. Their three flagship varieties, Cream Ale, Kentucky Common and California Common, are Prohibition-style beers and are available year-round.
The brewers say they have received a lot of support from the community, and they have always had the goal of working with other businesses to revitalize the downtown area. The brewery has become a showcase of local talent, from live musical performances to art by local artists displayed on the walls. The brewery also hosts regular events, such as a weekly yoga class, board game night and live trivia contests, and special events such as Oktoberfest.
“Our mission statement is heavily steeped in community involvement. We have so many great businesses and creative and talented individuals in our community, we will always strive to showcase our locals,” Caskey said, adding he hopes to build partnerships with the University as well.
“The campus community enriches our community as a whole. We want to embrace that and show how rich we are here. We are lucky to have the University as our neighbors,” he said.
“We really appreciate this community and are happy to be a part of it,” Nickell said.
While the business has been operating under limitations during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering growler refills and curbside service, the owners say they plan to host more events once business gets back to normal.
For more information on Sawstone Brewing Co., visit their Facebook page or call 606-691-4459.