Lexington's moribund Main Street has received an infusion of new blood with the opening of Keg Cowboy — one of only a handful of places in the entire state where homebrewers of beer and wine can purchase a full line of ingredients, supplies and equipment.
In addition to homebrewing equipment and a dizzying variety of yeasts, grains, and hops, Keg Cowboy specializes in do-it-yourself kegerator kits — those sublime contraptions that allow homebrewers to keg, chill, and dispense their homemade concoctions. The business also supplies taps and an array of other equipment and hardware to restaurants and bars.
Have a particular beer or wine you want to make? Keg Cowboy has a veritable encyclopedia of recipes and all the tools, ingredients and know-how to send patrons, even rank beginners, out the door and ready to make their own homemade hooch.
Keg Cowboy, located at 108 East main St., opened June 15. It is the love child of Jeff Woodruff, who along with his wife moved to Lexington recently from Houston after she got a job offer too good to pass up. But no worries, said Woodruff. Lexington is calmer and prettier than Houston, he said, and besides that, "Lexington has great water — and great water makes great beer."
In Houston, Keg Cowboy operated mainly as an online business. The online portion of the business will still be a major component of Keg Cowboy's operation, which offers customers more than 500 products spanning the homebrew and commercial spectrum. With an Internet-based supply chain that reduces overhead and in-store inventory, the store's customers can expect prices lower than that of stores with solely a bricks-and-mortar presence, Woodruff said.
But Woodruff, whose professional background is in commercial real estate, is thrilled to have a true storefront to compliment his virtual one. And it's a store that he believes is uniquely special in the area, largely because of the shop's wide variety of offerings, along with special touches that few stores in the country offer.
"It'll be unlike anything that's been in this part of the country," Woodruff vowed. "There's no other store like it that has this variety of brewing equipment and kegerator kits."
"And we have a grain vault," he added. "We're one of the few homebrew stores anywhere in the country that has this. We keep our grains in a climate-controlled steel-box cooler that has been modified. That way you don't have any pest issues."
The store also boasts 55 different types of yeasts, roughly 50 grain varieties, and 22 different types of hops, and multiple extracts. "That's much more than you'll typically find elsewhere," Woodruff said.
While that will appeal to brew buffs and eager beginners, Woodruff said he also sees Keg Cowboy serving another purpose — as a catalyst for the town's long-range vision of remaking Main Street into Lexington's entertainment, local-commerce, and community hub.
"What I saw there was the potential for Lexington, old-town Lexington, to be an entertainment district in its own right," he said. "It's got all the right components. I see [Keg Cowboy] to be somewhat pioneering in that respect."
For downtown Lexington to thrive, people need a reason to stop, get out of their cars, and spend time there. Perhaps Keg Cowboy is the next piece of that puzzle, he said.
Woodruff has made a cozy little space inside his 2,400 square foot shop for customers to relax. Patrons are offered free samples of various beer varieties flowing from a multi-tap kegerator manned by shop manager David Veselak. The brews are largely the effort of "shop pro" Matt Rodgers of Cayce, who also grows hops on his farm along the Wateree River that he will be selling at the store for dry-hopping.
On a recent late afternoon, Lexington residents Frank and Deryl Macaulay were checking out the new store, smiling, imbibing samples, and shooting the breeze with Veselak. Woodruff said he expects that he will draw brew aficionados — "brewflies" — from around the region, but he also sees the business attracting curious patrons like the Macaulays as well.
Woodruff said he can envision beer and wine events not only at the store, but also larger events, perhaps hosted in the nearby vacant lot that once held the town's Farmer's Market.
Woodruff also is inviting local brewers to bring their beers and wines to the store to be critiqued, and each Saturday the store will be offering homebrewing classes led by Rodgers, who is a master home brewer. The 2-1/2 hour classes will teach brewing basics and two methods of brewing, at a cost of $20.
In addition to making a buck, Woodruff said, "I can see this place as a place where people will want to hang out, and talk about beer."
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