Nationwide, consumers are making micro-breweries a destination.
As more and more people want to support local businesses, they’re heading to micro-breweries – sometimes supporting a farmer in addition to the brewery.
Breweries are bringing customers into small towns and cities across Kansas.
“It’s not just visiting Sonoma anymore,“ said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association. “People are willing to travel to visit a brewery. Brew tours of micro-breweries are big now.”
Although dozens of breweries in Wichita and Kansas City garner followers, cities off the beaten path, like Garden City and Scott City, attract “beer tourists,“ as well.
“We’ve seen a gigantic increase in our downtown traffic since Flat Mountain Brew House has been here,” said Lona DuVall, president and CEO of the Finney County Economic Development Corporation. “I think undoubtedly it brought folks into the community from outside the area.”
Buying from Farmers
Although there’s not too many ingredients from Kansas they can buy, several brewers buy hops, yeast and barley from Kansas farmers. Dodge City Brewing obtains some hops from Ottawa and Moscow, Kansas. The Boiler Room Brewhaus in Fort Scott buys their hops from Ottawa, as well.
“It’s a fun way to highlight a little bit of our environment,” said Pippin Williamson, co-owner of Sandhills Brewing, with locations in Hutchinson and Mission.
Williamson, who was raised on an orchard in Rice County, also looks for local fruit and herbs to add to his beer. He uses cherries, apples, plums, cucumbers, herbs and mushrooms. He is currently experimenting with tomatoes.
The owners of Boiler Room Brewhaus in Fort Scott run an 80-acre farm. They have named their beer after their chickens, cows, lambs and grains. These include Bah, Bah Big Stout, Mother Cluckin’ IPA and Butter Cup Common Ale.
“One day you’re putting up a fence on the farm; the next day you’re brewing beer,” said Barbara Ritter, co-owner of the Brewhaus.
Happy Basset Brewing Co. in Topeka has a web page dedicated to local farmers. Lb. Handcrafted Beer Brewing Company in Hays tips their hat to farmers with their Oatmeal Stout and American Wheat. Defiance Brewery, also in Hays, offers the whimsical Happy Feet brew.
For Three Rings Brewery, of McPherson, brewing beer is a centuries-old tradition. Brian Smith, who owns the brewery can trace his lineage back to Einbeck, Germany, during the 1500s. Smith said Martin Luther came to his ancestor’s brewery and used a special stein that had three rings on it.
Each brewery has its own feel, and usually its own theme. Norsemen Brewing Co. in Topeka has a Nordic theme. The brewery produces Odin’s One Eye IPA and Raiding the Highlands Scottish Ale. In the same city, Iron Rail Brewery pays homage to the railroad. Not Lost Brewing in Ottawa says, “Though we wander, we are not lost.”
Blue Skye Brewery & Eats in Salina, whose brewer is a fire chief, likes to show customers their brewing methods by allowing them to view the brewing floor through a large window. This summer, customers might see watermelon golden ale being brewed.
“We are the only micro-brewery in Salina,” said Desinee DeJulio, front house manager. “We are teaching people about micro-brewed beer.”
Having another brewery in the same city helps make the city more of a destination. Hutchinson boasts both Sandhills Brewery and Salt City Brewing Co.
“It makes it a lot better to have two (breweries) instead of one. You have more opportunity to expose people to the local craft,” Williamson said. “Competition breeds creativity.“
Dodge City has only one micro-brewery, but directly across the street is Boot Hill Distillery.
“We help each other out,” said Larry Cook, the head brewer and co-owner of Dodge City.
“Last year, 53% of craft beer drinkers indicated they had visited a brewery while traveling,” Watson said. “That is about 55 million aged 21-plus adults. The total impact to the economy is huge.”
Along with traveling throughout Kansas, many customers come from neighboring states and even abroad.
“We get people from all over the world,” said Samantha Doane, the manager of Three Rings Brewery. ”It’s really turned into a destination.”
According to Watson, in 2018 the craft brewery industry contributed $79 billion to the U.S. economy. For Kansas, that amounted to just shy of $520 million.
More than 60% of the Boiler Room Brewhaus’ business comes from tourists.
“A brewery in a small town is a boost for tourism. We’ll often get people who would otherwise not stop in this town,” Ritter said. “It helps the local hotels and restaurants.”
People like visiting different breweries and trying out their unique blends.
“There are more than 100 beer styles,” Cook said. “I’m trying to brew as many as possible.”
Distribution and Creativity
Many pubs produce bottles, cans, crowlers and growlers. Along with selling in their own breweries, many are distributing to other pubs. Walnut River Brewing in El Dorado sells its Walnut River Warbeard Irish Red at Bricktown Brewery, and Kansas Territory Brewing Co. in Washington, Kan., sells its Kansas Territory Life Coach Suck it Up at Bricktown, as well. In Topeka, Brew Bank sells Blarney Irish Ale from Blind Tiger Brewery of Topeka.
Others sell at local pubs, like Brew 56 in Lyons or Moxie Grill & Brew Pub in Newton.
According to the Brewers Association, small breweries make up approximately 3% of U.S. annual sales for beer brewed in the U.S.
These businesses have a direct impact on the local economy. Not only do they hire workers and bring tourists to the community, they donate to charities, buy T-shirts and glasses and hire contractors, plumbers and electricians.
Several breweries work with one another, sharing wine barrels and brews. Sandhills Brewery stores some of their beer in oaken wine barrels, which they purchase from Kansas wineries. Three Rings Brewery brews a batch of beer jointly with Sandhills, storing the brew in the barrels.
Currently, Norsemen is brewing a sour ale with Servaes Brewing Co. in Shawnee. The breweries are placing black currant puree in the beer.
“My wife bought me a home-brew kit for Christmas,” Williamson said. “I had no idea what a rabbit hole she was throwing me into.”