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Kansas beer breweries thriving, expanding

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, May 17, 2014, at 2:24 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, May 19, 2014, at 10:30 a.m.

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You can be the casual summer beer drinker who cracks open a cold one in the shade after a sweaty day of yard work or brat grilling.

Or, if you’re a little more serious about your brew, you can spend the summer transforming into a full-fledged beer geek who drinks only Kansas-brewed beer, spends weekends touring brewing facilities, and easily rattles off the definitions of hops, barley and wort.

Kansas will likely never be the microbrewery capital that its neighbor, Colorado, has become. But over the past few years, the state has developed a respectable craft beer scene, and interest in it grows every day, say local brewers.

The state is home to several thriving breweries, including two with plans for big expansion. The new Walnut Brewing Co. in El Dorado is in the middle of its transition from a two barrel to a 30 barrel operation, and Tallgrass Brewery in Manhattan has plans to triple its production with a new $5.5 million factory that should be ready to go late this year. Tallgrass owners also have plans to open a restaurant, Tallgrass Taphouse, in Aggieville this fall.

Wichita can claim two homegrown breweries – River City Brewing Co. in Old Town and Wichita Brewing Co. and Pizzeria in west Wichita – and both report that business is growing at a rapid rate as more people develop an interest in craft beer.

“It’s unbelievable,” said River City Brewing Co. operating partner Chris Arnold, who is in the process of transitioning into a lighter summer beer lineup. “Since about 2009, we have almost doubled the amount of beer we’re putting out. It’s huge and continues and continues to grow as we get people excited and enthusiastic about it.”

The following is a list of microbreweries in Kansas that beer lovers can spend the summer investigating.

Wichita breweries

River City Brewing Co., 150 N. Mosley, 316-263-2739, www.rivercitybrewingco.com: Wichita’s original brewery was one of the first businesses to open in the developing Old Town district back in 1993. It’s still popular today and has 16 of its own beers on tap, including the popular Harvester Wheat and Tornado Alley IPA.

The restaurant/brewery has become a go-to spot for serious beer fans, many of whom show up at 6 p.m. every Thursday for the tapping of a new “firkin,” a small barrel of experimental beer produced by the brewers. River City also features a menu of beer-infused dishes.

In addition to its lineup of lighter beers such as Belgian wits and refreshing pale ales, Arnold said, summertime at River City also will bring a new menu of beer-infused cocktails. Owners also are toying with the idea of introducing house-made fruit syrups that can transform a wheat beer into a fruity wheat beer on the spot.

Wichita Brewing Co. and Pizzeria, 8815 W. 13th St., 316-440-2885, www.wichitabrew.com: Businessmen and buddies Jeremy Horn and Greg Gifford started out brewing beer at home, just as a hobby. Then, they got pretty good at it. In the summer of 2011, the two opened their pizza restaurant/brewery at 13th and Tyler and have earned a steady fan base and credibility in the local brewing community. It offers a long list of beers made on site and a menu of pizzas and more. The restaurant also started a food truck, which serves pizza all around town.

Wichita brewery chains

BJ’s Brewhouse, 7960 E. Kellogg, 316-687-0250, www.bjsbrewhouse.com: This brewpub opened in the summer of 2012 and features a giant menu as well as several signature beers on tap, including an amber, an IPA, a porter, a stout, a blonde and seasonal beers that come and go. The beer is made by the BJ’s chain in Texas and shipped to Wichita’s restaurant.

Granite City Food and Brewery : 2244 N. Webb Road, 316-636-5050, and 2661 N. Maize Road, 316-721-8500, www.gcfb.net: Wichita’s two Granite City restaurants opened in 2005 (east) and 2006 (west) and feature signature beers that are mostly made in Wichita. The “sweet wort,” which is the essence of beer, is shipped to individual restaurants from Iowa, then fermented and finished on site. Granite City has six beers always on tap, including a light lager, a wheat and a stout, and it switches others out seasonally.

Notable Kansas restaurant/breweries

Hank Is Wiser, 213 N. Main, Cheney, 316-542-0113, www.hankiswiserbrewery.com: This is a family-owned brewpub that opened in 2005 in downtown Cheney. It’s open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only and features six hand-crafted beers and a menu of barbecue sandwiches.

Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Co., 117 E. 11th, Hays, 785-621-2739, www.lbbrewing.com: This microbrewery and diner opened in the summer of 2005 and has won several awards for its hand-crafted beers, particularly its oatmeal stout. The diner has a meat-and-potatoes menu with some international specialties. It’s open daily.

Mo’s Brew Pub, 1908 Elm St., Beaver, 620-587-2350, mosbrewpub.com: Located in a teeny town, Moe’s serves six handmade brews, including Crazy Hawk Red and Purple Cat Pale. It’s open Wednesdays through Saturdays and serves burgers, sandwiches, steaks and gizzards.

Free State Brewing, 636 Massachusetts St., Lawrence, 785-843-4555, www.freestatebrewing.com: This Lawrence favorite has been around since 1989 and is one of the most popular restaurants in the college town and is open daily. Its beers are available in liquor stores in Wichita.

23rd Street Brewery, 3512 Clinton Parkway, Lawrence, 785-856-2337, www.brew23.com : This brewery opened in Lawrence in 2004 and is an offshoot of the 75th Street Brewery in Kansas City, Mo. It’s open daily.

Little Apple Brewing Co., 110 Westloop, Manhattan, 785-539-5500, littleapplebrewery.com: Little Apple is known as much for its steaks as it is for its craft brews. It’s open daily.

Radius Brewing Co., 610 Merchant St., Emporia, 620-794-5532, http://radiusbrewing.com: This brewery and restaurant opened in late April in downtown Emporia. It’s owned by brew master and former home brewer Jeremy Johns and his chef friend Justin “Gus” Days. It’s open Thursdays through Mondays and serves items such as wood fired pizza, artisan soups, salads, sandwiches and a rotating chefs menu.

High Noon Saloon & Brewery, 206 Choctaw St., Leavenworth, 913-682-4876, www.thehighnoon.com: This restaurant and brewery offers hand crafted beers and a menu of burgers, steaks and more. It’s open seven days a week.

Big John’s Brewing Co., 2445 S. Ninth St., Salina, 785-404-3228, www.bigjohnsbrewingco.com: This tap house, featuring hand crafted beers and pizza, opened in Salina in November. It’s open Tuesdays through Sundays.

Blue Skye Brewery and Eats, 116 N. Santa Fe, Salina, 785-404-2159, www.blueskyebrewery.com.: Blue Skye opened in November in downtown Salina and serves six varieties of in-house produced beer and wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches, salads and more. It’s open daily.

Blind Tiger Brewery and Restaurant, 417 SW 37th St., Topeka, 785-267-BREW, www.blindtiger.com: This brewery and restaurant has been operating since 1995. It offers on-site produced beers as well as steaks, pastas, barbecue and more. It’s open daily.

Crazy Eye Brewing, 107 Oregon St., Hiawatha, www.facebook.com/CrazyEyeBrewing: This brewery is getting its beers in more and more bars across the state, including The Anchor and all three Old Chicago restaurants in Wichita.

Open for tours and tastings

Tallgrass Brewing Co., 8845 Quail Lane, Manhattan, 785-537-1131, www.tallgrassbeer.com: Tallgrass opened in 2007, the dream of former geologist and home brewer Jeff Gill. It produces craft beer in cans, a trend started by Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colo. This year will be a big one for the brewery, which will triple its production at a bigger facility and open a restaurant in Manhattan’s Aggieville. People can tour Tallgrass during open houses that last from 1 to 5 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month. The tours are free, and those who want to sample some of the brewery’s beers, such as the famous Buffalo Sweat and 8 Bit, can do so with the purchase of a $5 souvenir glass. Tallgrass beer is available locally at liquor stores such as Goebel, ABC, Jacob and R&J and on tap at places such as The Anchor, The Pumphouse and Walker’s Bar & Venue. It’s sold in cans and on tap in 14 states.

Walnut River Brewing Co., 111 W. Locust Ave., El Dorado, 316-351-8086. www.walnutriverbrewing.com: BJ Hunt and Rick Goehring opened this rapidly expanding brewery in El Dorado in 2013. Though it doesn’t have a restaurant, the brewery does offer tastings and tours from 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. By the end of the year, it will take over the remainder of the building it first opened in and up its production capability, and then, the brewery should be open daily. Its five beers are on tap at Wichita restaurants and bars such as the Anchor, Chapada Chophouse and Churrascaria and Lizard Lounge, and they’re are sold in area liquor stores.

Brand new, coming soon

Defiance: This small brewery out of Hays is about a year old and makes two kinds of beers: Thrasher, an IPA and Gutch, an English-style mild ale. The brewery is just starting to get 12 oz. cans of its beers onto shelves in Hays, Garden City, Dodge City, Great Bend and Wichita.

Central Standard Brewing, Douglas and Hydraulic: Home brewers Andy Boyd and Ian Crane’s new place is scheduled to open in a 4,000 square foot building near Hyde Park. It will have a small food menu and five or six types of beer. It could open later this year.

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