Kansas City is in the midst of a neighborhood brewery boom — where brewers aren’t looking to make it just a few blocks off Broadway, but are instead opting to build a space that reflects the place they live or the drinkers they think could use a beer a little closer to home.
Back in 2014, Cinder Block Brewery owner Bryce Schaffter told me, while reporting another story on the burgeoning local craft beer movement, that “North Kansas City was ripe for the picking.” He was right, and he wasn’t the only one who saw what might be possible. In the past four years, Calibration and Colony KC opened in Northtowne, joining Cinder Block and Big Rip. Callsign Brewing is slated to open in NKC this month, as well.
While cheap industrial spaces and an entrepreneurial maker class were spurring more beer to be brewed north of the river, the Crossroads is likely the area that most Kansas Citians would point to first if asked to name a brewery other than Boulevard. Double Shift and Border are neighbors separated by an alley, while Brewery Emperial and Casual Animal are newer entrants to the downtown brewery boom. Torn Label has established the eastern boundary of brewery row, which will feel more continuous when City Barrel opens later this year at 17th Street and Holmes Road.
If the past four years were about a pair of small brewery districts developing like hop poles around the Boulevard equator, the story of this year is one of breweries popping up in towns that have long been underserved. The brewpubs of the 1990s (of which McCoy’s Public House is the last standing) were overtaken by the neighborhood bar (and occasional grill). But now, Kansas City and the surrounding metro area — in particular, the surrounding metro area — are all about about the neighborhood brewery.
Waldo has KC Bier. Brookside has BKS Artisan Ales. The West Bottoms has Stockyards and Westport has McCoy’s and Green Room Burgers & Beer. Martin City (still technically Kansas City, but oh, so south) has Martin City Brewing Co. Liberty has Rock & Run. Raytown has Crane Brewing Co. Excelsior Springs has Dubious Claims. Lee’s Summit has Smoke Brewing and Fringe Beerworks, which will soon be joined by New Axiom Brewing and Grains and Taps (which want to add a brewery to its taproom). That’s four breweries in Lee’s Summit.
The paint has barely dried at East Forty Brewing in Blue Springs. Apex Brewing just raised more than $17,000 on Kickstarter to open a brewery in Independence where 3 Trails Brewing is planning to serve beer, too. KC Cider Co. is inexplicably located in St. Joseph, Missouri (where Liberty Cap Brewing just got its licensing). The map floweth over with choices.
On the Kansas side, Brew Lab is a homebrew and brewery hybrid in downtown Overland Park. Olathe has a meadery in Black Labs Craft Meadery (which rolled out its first bottles last week). Red Crow Brewing Co. is in the midst of moving from Spring Hill to Olathe. Kaw Point Meadery just got its license to get up and running in Kansas City, Kansas. Lawrence now has Lawrence Beer Co. (Fields and Ivy is currently demoing a space there, too). Limitless Brewing is moving toward opening in Lenexa, and Transport Brewing is aiming to be Shawnee’s first microbrewery. And if you want to go a little further afield, Sandhills Brewing is bringing folks from Kansas City to Hutchinson, and Wakarusa Brewing is in Eudora.
More than half the breweries I’ve listed have opened in the past two years, and the veterans of the list, sans McCoy’s, date back only four or five years. We’re still in the midst of a trend.
So, what could slow or stop this trend? The challenge for newer entrants will be capital — a lot of money needs to go into a brewery before you ever start selling beer — and that the beer market is filled with consumers that have higher expectations and likely less patience.
When a homebrewer scales up to a large system, there are (understandably) hiccups. When those hiccups occur, if a brewery doesn’t have enough money to dump a batch of beer in lieu of selling it to the public, the early reviews could be harsh. Beer drinkers didn’t use to have another option. The increasing availability of locally-made beer may very well be a bar that new breweries will find it harder to hurdle.
But there are still neighborhoods in need of a brewery. Gladstone and Grandview and Prairie Village are all just waiting for an ambitious homebrewer to see a sign with a realtor’s phone number on it and make the call.
Stockyards Brewing Co. (1600 Genessee St., Suite 100) has a new Off-White Ale. The brewery notes that the beer “blends the refreshing flavors of a Belgian wheat ale with some indigenous flavors of Thailand. Traditional Wit spices of coriander and orange peel in the boil are balanced by the soft floral aromas and flavors of dried Galangal root.”
Free State Brewing Company’s Garden Party (4.85% ABV), a beer take on gin, is out in bottles and on draft. It’s made with basil, cucumber and juniper berries.
McCoy’s Public House’s (4057 Pennsylvania Ave.) Lunch Box Pale Ale is back on tap.
Crane Brewing Company (6515 Railroad St., Raytown, Missouri) releases Festiweiss in 750 ml bottles on Tuesday, July 3, for its second annual Christmas in July.
BKS Artisan Ales and Torn Label’s Alex Moss are collaborating on a new beer slated for release in August. BKS’ Brian Rooney said the “beer is inspired by the 5:20 p.m. shadow from a sundial.”
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