The movement to put craft beer in cans has an unlikely epicenter: Kansas.
Defiance Brewing Company, a new microbrewery in Hays, Kansas, brought its first two canned beers to market this March joining Manhattan’s Tallgrass Brewing Company (which recently announced a $5 million expansion and plans for a new brewpub) and Leavenworth’s High Noon Saloon & Brewery on store shelves.
“We wanted to make a Kansas product and that’s why we chose to open this place in Hays,” co-founder Dylan Sultzer, who was born and raised in Hays, says. “We’re just trying to give people what they want and have wanted for a long time.”
In 2013, Sultzer, 26, was working as a brewer alongside his partner Matthew Bender (no relation) at Gella’s Diner & Lb. Brewing Co. in Hays. The two had talked about launching a brewery together and last summer, they held a beer dinner for prospective investors with six of their brews. Within two weeks they’d secured the necessary funding and began construction on their brewery in July.
“Kansas is the middle of a revolution right now,” Bender, 32, says. “There’s a real camaraderie among the new brewers.”
The brewery’s equipment arrived last October and, by December, the duo was brewing test batches. The canning line came online in January and the first cans were rolling off it in March.
“We brew what we like to drink,” Sultzer says. “We started with two easy drinking beers so we can go bigger in the future.”
Thrasher is a session India Pale Ale (4.5% ABV) and Gutch is a mild English Ale. Bender says Thrasher has the “aroma and flavor of tropical fruit,” from Columbus, Falconer’s Flight, Mosaic and Crystal hops. Gutch is meant to give more emphasis to the malt and is brewed with Columbus, Styrian Golding and East Kent Golding hops.
“Gutch is an American twist on a mild English Ale,” Bender says. “We bumped up the alcohol from 3.2 percent to 5 percent.”
“You get that American-y citrus alongside the English Goldings. It’s really soft,” Sultzer adds.
The brews are currently available in western Kansas and Wichita. Defiance is looking to begin distributing in the Kansas City area by the end of this year.
Sultzer and Bender are currently working on additional year-round and seasonal brews. The next up is probably a Golden Ale made with lemongrass and ginger. Sultzer says it would likely fall into the spice beer category, but “it’s not real spice-forward, more an accent to the hops.”
While their beers may reflect influences from around the globe, Kansas is central to the brewery’s identity, an outline of the state sits within the ‘D’ of the logo.
“Defiance stands for what is happening here in western Kansas,” Sultzer says. “It’s a remark on the style of beer we’re making. We basically want to have fun with it.”
“Defiance has numerous meanings,” Bender adds. “We fall into the Millennial generation and Millennials are defying the norm. This is about getting away from mass-produced products with food and beer.”
The brewery received three 40-barrel fermenters earlier this month, which will double capacity. The brewery isn’t open to the public, but the pair hope to add a taproom in the future. In an effort to connect with the craft drinking community in Kansas City, they’ve brought their beer to the Parkville Microbrew Fest and last weekend’s first anniversary party for the Big Rip Brewing Co. in North Kansas City. For now, they’ll focus on the area around them, selling canned beer in six-packs and on draft.
“We’re looking to make good quality beer and that’s what we want to emphasize. We don’t want to grow too fast and lose quality,” Bender says.[Images via Facebook: Defiance]