Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita Brewing Co.’s big new production facility up and brewing

Back in 2011, Jeremy Horn and Greg Gifford were home brewers with hoppy aspirations.

They wanted to share their craft beer with the masses, so they teamed up to open a little pizza and beer restaurant in an old Play It Again sports location at 13th and Tyler. They named it Wichita Brewing Co. and Pizzeria, though their focus was more on the brew than the pizza.

Only four years later, the home-brewing buddies are full-fledged business partners who are about to open a giant brewing facility with the capability of pumping out 14,000 barrels – or more than 361,000 gallons – of beer a year. (Though they plan to start much slower.)

Their new, 18,000-square-foot production facility, set up in an old chemical storage warehouse in south Wichita, will allow them to start canning and selling five of their beers in liquor stores all over Wichita. Next, they’ll get it in liquor stores in cities like Hutchinson, Salina and Emporia and on tap in area bars. And in the near future, beer sippers in Kansas City and St. Louis will find out what made-in-Wichita beer tastes like.

They even plan to open up their production facility for Saturday tours and tastings, possibly within a month.

“When we first opened the restaurant, it would have been a dream to open a place like this,” said Horn, standing underneath one of his 10 giant new beer fermenting tanks. “We never thought we’d get this far.”

Horn and Gifford always had plans to expand. They bought the warehouse, a nondescript brick building at 727 E. Osie, in September 2014 and planned to get it ready at the same time they built their east-side location, which opened at 535 N. Woodlawn in June.

But it was too difficult to do both, so once they got the east-side restaurant opened, they returned their focus to the production facility.

The warehouse is filled with the aroma of hops – and with equipment purchased in 2014 from Tallgrass Brewing Company in Manhattan when its owner expanded from a 14,000-square-foot to a 60,000-square-foot facility. Tallgrass owner Jeff Gill was kind and helpful, Horn said, allowing WBC staffers to train on the equipment with his brewers and shadow them on the job.

Gifford and Horn installed the complicated equipment, all its hoses and fermenters and hoppers and mash tuns and clarifiers and brite tanks, by themselves. They also installed their new canning system, a complicated machine capable of canning 40 beers a minute. On Tuesday, a truck dropped off 12 tall palettes – or about 98,000 – labeled and ready-to-fill aluminum cans.

As part of a deal with local distributor House of Schwan, WBC will can 16-ounce four-packs of its higher-alcohol content and seasonal beers and 12-ounce. six-packs of its V.6 IPA, WBC Wheat, Valleyview Vanilla Porter and Seal Team 6 Black IPA. Gifford, whose copper handiwork is on display in the restaurants, also has crafted 40 copper tap handles that will be installed in bars that will begin carrying WBC beers on tap. The brewery also was hired to begin brewing the house beers for the about-to-open Bubba’s 33 at 412 E. Towne East Mall Drive. They’ll use Bubba’s recipe and their own equipment.

The production facility also will supply beer to the two restaurants, although they’ll continue to brew smaller batches of specialty beers on site at each store.

Gifford said he’s relieved that the brewing facility is finally online. It’s what he’s wanted to do from the beginning.

“It’s the reason we started,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily want to be in the restaurant business. We wanted to be in the beer business.”