We started the day driving across the rolling green plains of eastern Kansas, smack dab in the middle of the American heartland. We headed from Lawrence, Kan. to Wichita, where the logo of Wichita Brewing Company & Pizzeria drew my attention.
It features John Brown, the violent abolitionist renowned for the raid on Harpers Ferry, W. Va. and “Bleeding Kansas” in the year before the Civil War. The image of Brown comes from John Steuart Curry’s Tragic Prelude painting. Instead of a Bible and rifle, the brewery logo features Brown holding two frosty mugs of beer.
Dad and I stopped in and met Kyle Bonick, the head brewer. He showed us their 40 gallon Blichmann system, 11 plastic fermenting tanks and ten-tap system. Needless to say, they’re pretty small-batch.
“We’re a glorified homebrew system,” Kyle said.
At the bar, Wichita brought two unique beer-drinking experiences. First they had a traditional English cask ale from a hand pumped tap. It was cloudy, dark brown and warm, but very malty, like a malted candy. A good sitting around beer. Next, I tried their V6 IPA, with a twist. The brewery offers a tea bag with full-leaf cascade hops for an extra hop infusion. Without the hops, the IPA was crisp, cold, refreshing. With the hop bag, it became more natural, and as it sat it became more flowery with the cascade flavor.
After leaving Wichita, we headed north again, through amber waves of grain being harvested by behemoth machines in the late May sun to Hays, Kan. Hays is a town of 20,000 with a quaint yet fairly slow downtown. It’s also home to Gella’s Diner and Liquid Bread Brewing Company, an award-winning brewery that knows their way around malt.
Brewer Gerald Wyman was out, but manger Brendan Arnold showed us around. They are running 750 barrels a year in a 10 barrel brewing system, all out of their historic warehouse-turned diner and brewery. They serve “slices” (16 oz. pints), “big slices” (22 oz. mugs), and “loaves” (64 oz. growlers).
Brendan said that they use local well water and instead of relying on hop creativity, they do great things with their malts. Their stouts have won three golds at the Great American Beer Festival and most recently, gold at the World Beer Cup. They’ve made 54 beers over the last seven years.
Everything, even the IPA and American wheat, are strong in malt and under-hopped. Nothing too fancy, just solid, reliable beer for solid, reliable people.
The “drink local” idea is crucial for Liquid Bread. For a market that has been used to Budweiser and Coors, having a world-class craft brewery down the street is rare. Yet while we were there a steady stream of folks came in for growler-fills of their favorite brews. More growlers were filled when we were sitting there than I’ve seen in big cities and more craft-beer minded markets.
We then drove on to Colorado, where we are staying the night. We stopped for dinner at Falling Rock Taphouse in downtown Denver, just outside Coors Field. It is home to over 100 taps and even more bottled beers, and came recommended by Micah at 75th Street in Kansas City. Always good to have a great selection of world-class brews to choose from.
Tomorrow we head to Prost Brewing in Denver, New Belgium in Fort Collins, and then on to Wyoming’s breweries and finally Jackson. If you have a recommendation for us, shoot me and email or comment below.
Photos by Paul Scudder
CLARIFICATION: Some readers were under the impression that I thought Lb. Brewing’s beers were plain or boring. This is not the case at all. I take the ideals of having good, well-prodcued traditional styles of beer very highly. I point to some breweries that make hit-or-miss oddities like bacon beer and oyster stouts, etc. I really enjoyed that Lb. Brewing had very simply produced quality batches of traditional styles. It’s an idea that’s showed up on Bierkultur before, when Brad Sanders wrote a guest post about Bell’s Brewery, Inc.