It used to be, in a Kansas long after Carry Nation died, a thirsty Kansan would sip an occasional Coors, Budweiser or Schlitz.
That was before Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence opened, followed by the Gella’s Diner & Liquid Bread Brewing Co. in Hays and Hopping Gnome in Wichita.
Now, it is all about the pale ales, lagers, stouts and malts.
According to the National Brewers Association, Kansas ranks 35th in the nation in terms of numbers of craft breweries. More than 36,248 barrels of craft beer are produced within our borders each year, bringing more than $383 million to our economy.
The irony in those figures is that this was prohibitionist Carry Nation’s home state. The fiery tempest from Medicine Lodge became world famous by smashing bars and saloons and preaching that families could come together by abolishing alcohol and cigarettes and avoiding coffee and tea.
Kansas was the first state in the nation to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding the sale and production of intoxicating liquors. Kansas had prohibition from 1881 to 1948 — longer than any other state — and continued to prohibit liquor by the drink in bars and restaurants until 1986.
First brewery in a century
In 1986, 105 years after the constitutional amendment forbidding the sale of alcohol was passed, Kansas erased some of the last vestiges of Prohibition, legalizing liquor by the drink in bars and restaurants.
Three years later, Chuck Magerl opened Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence, becoming the first legal brewery in Kansas in more than a century.
“I started because I was researching an article on the history of brewing in Kansas and (discovered) we had this dominant immigrant surge in the 1870s with Germans coming to Kansas,” Magerl said. “They brought a lot of their customs with them, including brewing. A lot of the German population valued the brewery as part of the community. In doing this historical perspective in 1977, there were no small breweries opening in Kansas.”
Magerl found the culture was here. But the laws in Kansas prohibited breweries.
I lobbied the Legislature and walked the hallways of Topeka. We got the law changed to have small breweries in Kansas.
Chuck Magerl, owner of Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence
“I kept my eyes open. A few emerged on the West Coast,” Magerl said. “I decided it should happen in Kansas. I lobbied the Legislature and walked the hallways of Topeka. We got the law changed to have small breweries in Kansas.”
Now, 134 years after the beginnings of prohibition, Kansas has 30 breweries.
Why Kansas went dry
The population and culture in Kansas during the mid-19th century was largely European immigrants, many of whom brought their drinking customs and traditions with them.
German immigrants and brewers helped fuel the liquor potential in Kansas. In a recent exhibit on Prohibition at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, it was noted that the average person in 1830 drank 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor a year. Sometimes it was because the local water wasn’t safe or tasted bad.
Sometimes it was because the culture condoned it. In 1870, the town of Girard, in southeastern Kansas, was reported to have a saloon for every nine dwellings. That area – Crawford, Cherokee and Bourbon counties – is known as the Little Balkans because so many of the residents originated from that region in southeastern Europe. Many came to work in the coal fields of southeastern Kansas. It was hard work and little pay. A good spirited drink offered respite.
The eyes of the whole people are turned toward Kansas.
John St. John, Kansas governor who brought Prohibition to the state
But there was a temperance movement afoot in Kansas — prayer-chanting, hymn-singing men and women who saw how too much alcohol destroyed families. John St. John, a strong supporter of prohibition, was elected Kansas governor in 1879 and led the state into banning alcohol. “The eyes of the whole people are turned toward Kansas,” he was quoted as saying.
But once Kansas banned alcohol, that did not mean it was completely dry.
It was legal to purchase liquor in Kansas City, Mo.
There was bootlegging.
And, there was also a loophole – the Kansas prohibition constitutional amendment made provisions for the sale of alcoholic substances in medicine. Local drugstores in the late 19th and early 20th century did a booming business. Druggists could sell liquor to anyone who signed a statement testifying to their disease and the amount of alcohol they desired. No prescriptions were needed.
Alcohol was thought to treat rheumatism, nervousness, diarrhea and asthma.
There was even a cure-all for “feminine troubles” – Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound contained 18 percent alcohol, slightly more than a bottle of wine, according to a Wichita Eagle article in October 1986.
Although Prohibition lasted only 13 years nationally, it lasted much longer in Kansas, technically more than a century until many of the restrictions were lifted.
Even today, Kansas is one of only about a dozen states where grocery stores are prohibited from selling wine and spirits. It’s also among only about half a dozen states that limit grocery and convenience stores to selling 3.2 percent beer and wine coolers, not stronger beer.
There are probably more breweries in Kansas. … Now, that’s not a huge accomplishment given what’s happened in the intervening decades. We have yet to emerge in a way that some other states have – and develop designated beer or wine trails.
Chuck Magerl, owner of Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence
News of good beer
Microbreweries are popping up across Kansas, in rural and urban centers. Some of them are mom-and-pop ventures, others are full-scale businesses, but all are registered with the state of Kansas.
Magerl, owner of the Free State, said: “There are probably more breweries in Kansas. … Now, that’s not a huge accomplishment given what’s happened in the intervening decades. We have yet to emerge in a way that some other states have – and develop designated beer or wine trails. But the news of good beer and good wine gets around. People know what’s out there. Secrets don’t stay secret very long.”
So, after all these years what makes a good beer?
“That is the question that keeps all of us in business constantly challenged,” Magerl said. “My answer is probably different than the person down the sidewalk. I think it takes an adventurous amount of flavor that is well crafted and balanced.”
Recently, one of Magerl’s beers won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
“This was a gold medal for a beer that had basil, juniper and cucumbers in it,” Magerl said. “We knew at the time we made it that this is not everybody’s idea of a great beer. But the international judges said it is the best example in the United States. We are proud of it and proud that it is a local product using produce that came off the farm.”
Gella’s in Hays was begun in 2005 by Gerald Wyman of Brownell. A longtime farmer, Wyman had been making home brew for years. Then he and his wife, Janet, met Chuck Comeau of Plainville – an entrepreneur who has several businesses, including Dessin Fournir Cos. Gella’s Liberty Stout and Oatmeal Stout have consistently won at the Great American Beer Festival. In 2013, Wyman was named Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year.
Back in 1975, when Wyman was growing up, there was no such thing as a Christmas ale.
He makes a Christmas ale now that is spiced with cinnamon, honey and brown sugar.
“What’s happened in the craft brewing industry is that people are pulling away from commercial beers such as Budweiser and Coors – they still make good beers,” Wyman said. “But the beers are hoppier and have more flavor. There are so many different styles of beers now.”
Microbreweries in Kansas
1) Walnut River Brewing Co.
Address:111 W. Locust, El Dorado
2) Belleville Brewing Co.
Address: 119 W. Sixth, Galena
Web: No website
3) 23rd Street Brewery
Address: 3512 Clinton Parkway, Lawrence
4) Henry T’s
Address: 3520 W. Sixth, Lawrence; and 1521 SW 21st, Topeka
Phones: Lawrence: 785-749-2999; Topeka: 785-233-9333
5) Free State Brewing Co.
Address: 636 Massachusetts St., Lawrence
6) Defiance Brewery
Address: 2050 Old Highway 40, Hays
7) Gella’s Diner & Liquid Bread Brewing Co.
Address: 117 E. 11th St., Hays
8) Granite City Food and Brewery
Address: 15085 W. 119th, Olathe
9) Fly Boy Brewery & Eats
Address: 105 N. Main St., Sylvan Grove
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Fly-Boy-Brewery-Eats-404835609680696
10) Radius Brewing
Address: 610 Merchant, Emporia
11) Red Crow Brewing Co.
Address: 20561 S. Lone Elm Road, Spring Hill
12) Plum Creek Restaurant (in process of opening brewery, expected to open in next few months)
Address: 121 W Court St., Beloit
13) Little Apple Brewing Co.
Address: 1110 West Loop Place, Manhattan
14) Tallgrass Brewing Co.
Address: 5960 Dry Hop Circle, Manhattan
Tallgrass Tap House
Address: 320 Poyntz Ave., Manhattan
15) Big Johns Brewing Co.
Address: 2445 S. 9th, Salina
16) Blue Skye Brewery & Eats
Address: 116 N. Santa Fe, Salina
17) Central Standard Brewing
Address: 156 S. Greenwood, Wichita
18-19) Granite City Food and Brewery
Addresses: 2244 N. Webb Road and 2661 N. Maize Road, Wichita
Phone: Webb Road: 316-636-5050; NewMarket Square: 316-721-8500.
20) Hopping Gnome Brewing Co.
Address: 1710 E. Douglas, Wichita
Phone: No phone number is listed.
21) Hungry Heart & Whole Brewing Co.
Address: 222 S Commerce, Wichita
22) Third Place Brewing
Address: 630 E. Douglas
Phone: No phone number listed
Web: No website
23) Wichita Brewing Co. and Pizzeria
Address: 535 N. Woodlawn, Wichita
24) River City Brewing Co.
Address: 150 N. Mosley, Wichita
25) Hank Is Wiser Brewery
Address: 213 N. Main St., Cheney
26) Henry T’s
Address: 1521 SW 21st St., Topeka
27) Blind Tiger Brewery
Address: 417 SW 37th St., Topeka
28) Kansas Territory Brewing Co.
Address: 310 C St., Washington
29) Granite City Food and Brewery
Address: 1701 Village W Pkwy., Kansas City
Kansas’ dance with alcohol or lack thereof
1860s-1880s — The alcohol industry in Kansas was considered the fourth-largest manufacturing industry in the state, according to Cindy Higgins, a Kansas historian.
1870s – Kansas women begin to be concerned about the amount of alcohol their male family members can easily access through saloons, breweries and social clubs. The women and like-minded men form the Kansas State Temperance Union.
1877 – Dodge City has 1,000 residents and 16 saloons. The Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City – made famous in the long-running CBS Western “Gunsmoke” – is in reality, a tent.
1879 – Kansas becomes the first state in the nation to ban the transport, import or export of alcoholic beverages.
1880 – In Leavenworth, there are 150 saloons and four wholesale liquor houses. Although the exact count is unknown, some historians believe Kansas may have had between 46 and 119 separate breweries and 93 commercial brewery plants, according to Cindy Higgins, in an article called “Kansas Breweries 1854-1911” in the spring 1993 issue of Kansas History.
1881 – Kansas declares statewide prohibition on alcohol – defining it as anything over 0.05 percent alcohol.
Dec. 27, 1900 – Carry Nation wrecks the bar at Wichita’s Carey Hotel, now known as Eaton Place.
Feb. 7, 1900 – Carry Nation and 500 followers destroy six bars and a cold storage plant in Topeka.
1918 – Congress passes the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacture, sale and transport, import or export of alcoholic beverages beginning in 1919.
1921-1929 – A western Kansas woman, Mabel Walker Willebrandt, serves as the nation’s Assistant Attorney General. She was in charge of prosecuting the largest bootlegging rings in the nation and argued against prosecuting the speakeasies, saying it was “Like trying to dry up the Atlantic Ocean with a blotter.”
1920-1933 – The years of national Prohibition gave rise to jazz, the cosmetics industry and organized crime and popularized cocktails because the enhanced flavors helped mask the taste of bootlegged liquor.
1933 – Congress repeals the 18th Amendment.
1934 – Kansans vote whether to repeal Prohibition. They reject it.
1937 – Beer can be purchased in Kansas.
1948 – Kansas voters repeal Prohibition. Liquor stores open the next year.
July 8, 1949 – The first truckload of legal liquor arrives in Kansas.
1986 – Kansas voters approve the sale of liquor by the drink in establishments open to the public that serve food.
1989 – Chuck Magerl opens Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence, thus becoming the first legal brewery in Kansas in more than a century.
July 8, 2007 – Kansans are able to buy alcohol on Sundays.
May 2014 – Kansas amends liquor laws to allow the transportation and sharing of home brews with people other than family members.