Restaurant News & Reviews

Owner’s copper obsession makes Wichita Brewing Co. shine (+video)

It only takes one table ordering the “beer-amid” at Wichita Brewing Co. & Pizzeria.

Then everyone wants it.

The beer-amid (rhymes with pyramid) is a dramatic, tiered copper contraption that holds 16 glasses of the restaurant’s house-made beers, each one a different shade of brown, amber or gold. It costs $25 and holds 80 ounces of beer – more than enough for two. As it passes through the restaurant, it turns heads, and suddenly, everyone wants to order the beer-amid, one of the earliest artistic-but-practical copper inventions handcrafted by brewery co-owner Greg Gifford.

Both the west-side Wichita Brewing Co. at 8815 W. 13th St. and its newer sister restaurant at 535 N. Woodlawn are overflowing with Gifford’s copper and metal sculptures, decor and signs. He’s constantly soldering, blow-torching and filling the walls of the restaurants with his work. (Only two beer-amids exist, though: one on the west side and one on the east.)

“I’m kind of a jack of all trades, master of none,” Gifford said with a laugh.

His contributions include the bar’s copper backing, made from a giant piece of sheeting. There are also the individually sculpted copper tap handles, each one a different design. There’s copper guttering turned into a beer trough, copper beer flight holders, copper railing and a massive copper fixture with lights installed over the bar.

The bar is lined with copper. There’s copper molding along the ceiling. And the restaurant is fitted with copper shelving, copper benches, a restroom sign made from copper piping, and a bike rack in front, where visitors hang their bikes vertically from the front tires. Copper WBC logo signs posted in front of and on top of the building let customers know they’re in the right place.

New this week is a giant steel sculpture of the restaurant’s mascot, famous abolitionist John Brown, holding mugs of beer in each hand.

The copper and metal craze started back in 2011, when Gifford and his partner, Jeremy Horn, were opening the first Wichita Brewing Co. & Pizzeria on the west side. Both had been basement brewers and wanted to share their beers with the public. Gifford also had worked as a contractor and has flipped more than 25 houses in the past 15 years.

When the west-side restaurant was still in the design stages, Horn visited Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, Colo., and loved its copper-backed bar. He snapped a photo and showed Gifford.

Gifford bought a sheet of copper and designed his own bar back. He liked how it looked, so he created some copper panels to line the front of the bar. Then, he started fidgeting with pipes and dreamed up the idea for the beer-amid, which uses pipes to create a four-level, four-armed holder. He stayed up all night finishing it.

“I started at about 6 in the evening, and I got this light switch,” he said. “Once my light switch is on, it can’t be turned off until I’m done. I stayed up until 6 in the morning and finished it.”

After that, Gifford couldn’t stop, and during the seven months he was working on designing the east-side store, his copper creativity exploded all over the dining room.

Gifford is proud of his new John Brown sculpture, which he installed at the east-side store over the weekend. He made it by projecting an image of John Brown, then tracing it with a permanent marker. He plasma-cut the image, rusted it using hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and salt, and torched it to achieve different tones. John Brown’s hair and beard are steel wool, and his beer mugs are pipes and old kegs.

Wichita Brewing Co.’s head brewer, Kyle Banick, says that customers love the copper touches and metal sculptures, and when managers post pictures of Gifford’s work on Facebook, people really respond.

The beer-amid, in particular, is a real talker, Banick said.

“It’s what sets us apart as a local place,” he said. “It separates us from any chain place.”

Gifford is not done yet, he said. He has plans for a giant copper chandelier that will hang in the east restaurant’s entryway, and as the brewery begins to expand and get its beer on tap in bars around Wichita, he’ll design individual tap handles for each one.

Who knows what else he’ll dream up?

“I kind of make it up as I go,” said Gifford, who’s reluctant to call himself an artist. “I don’t ever think things up too far out. It’s just one day my light switch comes on, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make that.’ 

Reach Denise Neil at 316-268-6327 or dneil@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @deniseneil.

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