The craft beer scene in Kansas City has exploded in the past year. Microbreweries are opening across the city and in both Missouri and Kansas. Local food writer Pete Dulin, a regular contributor to The Recommended Daily, decided to document exactly what’s happening in the local beer scene in a new book, KC Ale Trail. We caught up with Dulin for five questions to learn more about the book and the breweries around Kansas City.
Tell us about what’s in the book. KC Ale Trail explores 23 breweries across greater Kansas City and the surrounding area. Rather than a conventional travel guide full of stale facts or a beer rating reference book, KC Ale Trail shares a story about each brewery as a narrative. Profiles include a combination of color photographs, beer/brand graphics, and a Beers of Note section. The Trail Talk section includes seven individual profiles: conversations with six people and the Helles Angels, a women-only craft beer social group, about their thoughts on local craft beer. And there’s a Trail Map.
Since the founding of Free State Brewing and Boulevard Brewing 25 years ago, I was interested in gathering and telling the story of breweries in the area open now or that will open soon. Not only can you learn about breweries of all sizes side-by-side in the book, but KC Ale Trail also is a snapshot of local craft brewing here and now. Future editions will update the stories.
What do you think is fueling the new round of craft breweries? People want variety, quality, and something they can enjoy that has a story worth sharing. Craft beer lends itself well to that desire. Mass-market beer isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just a commodity as exciting as buying milk. Craft breweries of all sizes understand that people want something more as an experience. Not just local, but local and good.
First and foremost, it must deliver on taste and be worth the price. Satisfy that and enough beer drinkers will seek out the brewery and/or beer, share your story, and support you as one of many options at the tap or store shelf. We live in an age of individual choices but are linked by common interest. Combined with the ability to easily communicate and interact (with each other and with breweries) via social media, these trends help generate interest in an increasingly-crowded beer market. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room in Kansas City for more craft beer and related businesses, if done well. It is even more appealing to be able to connect in person at an event or taproom with the brewer or founder, especially at start-up breweries.
What surprised you on the KC Ale Trail? While I didn’t have any aha! surprises, I was reminded that quite a few other breweries besides Free State and Boulevard have been around for roughly two decades. For example, High Noon Saloon and Brewery in Leavenworth, McCoy’s in Westport, and 75th Street in Waldo have been making and serving craft beer for years. They are deeply embedded as fixtures in their community, but were ground-breakers when they started and no one had heard of craft beer. It’s cool that they are still around even as newer breweries launch.
Also, I learned how much craft breweries collaborate. They exchange supplies, advice, and trouble-shooting tips on how to fix problems. They loan each other equipment and help others in a pinch. Nearly every brewer or founder I spoke with mentioned how they had gotten help from a peer. That collaborative spirit and support makes the craft beer industry special, locally and as a whole. It really connects with my own interest in community and supporting local business that motivated me in part to publish this book.
What was the most unusual or memorable beer you had and why? Tough question. There are so many. Here’s the short answer. Free State Brewing’s Garden Party, a pale lager with the aroma and flavor of cucumber, basil, and juniper berries, really got me excited about the possibilities of savoring craft beer all over again.
Boulevard’s Ginger-Lemon Radler was refreshing and zesty; Love Child No. 4 reaffirmed my appreciation for complex wild ales that are funky and sour. Martin City’s pink-hued Hibiscus Prickly Pear Saison tasted great in summer. Crane Brewing’s Magenta, a beet beer, is definitely unusual, tasty, and unforgettable. Mother’s Brewing has a coffee stout, Winter Grind, that I can’t get enough of even though I don’t drink coffee. That’s the great thing about our local breweries. Many of their beers are diverse, high quality, and as interesting as the hundreds of choices from other breweries across the U.S. We’re extremely lucky to have so much to explore and it is only getting better.
What was an undiscovered gem of a brewery? I’m curious to see how newer breweries like Torn Label, Crane, Border, Red Crow, and Double Shift evolve in 2015. While on the KC Ale Trail, one of many highlights was traveling to Topeka to visit The Blind Tiger Brewery and Restaurant. I had tasted Blind Tiger’s superb Java Porter at Parkville Microbrew Fest a few years back and that beer made a huge impression. So I was aware of Blind Tiger but learned so much from my visit.
Meeting Brewmaster John Dean was an honor. He earned the title of World Champion Brewpub and Brewer, Large Brewpub Division at the 2014 World Beer Cup. Titles aside, he’s a down-to-earth guy with a strong independent spirit and a wealth of brewing knowledge. He does things his way and damn the cost. How can you not like that attitude? To back it up, he brews world-class beer. Good beer depends on quality ingredients, but also on the person making it. John and his team of brewers, their portfolio of great-tasting, award-winning beers, and brewery/restaurant with a vivid history makes The Blind Tiger a worthwhile day trip.[Images via Facebook: KC Ale Trail]