Kansas City breweries are rolling out new and innovative beers. Here's where to get started
From wild fermented beers to tropical stouts, these Kansas City craft breweries are going all-in on creative, unique styles of beer.
At one time in the early 20th century, Kansas City was home to the Wettest Block in the World, setting the record for most saloons in a city block, down near State Line Road in the West Bottoms.
The first breweries in the Kansas City region cropped up in the 1850s (before that, most beer was homebrewed) and even Prohibition couldn’t keep Kansas City from its beer, which flowed through the wide open world of the Pendergast-era, though it did officially tank the local commercial breweries.
Then, in the 1970s, the craft beer movement started to develop, leading to the founding of Boulevard Brewing Company in 1989 here in Kansas City. The rest, they say, is history.
Craft-, micro- and home-brewing are common nowadays, serving as a source of local interest and pride. There are over 30 breweries in and around Kansas City with more anticipated to open in the year to come. So many breweries and tap houses are located in the Crossroads that it's sometimes referred to as Brewer’s Alley or Brewery Row.
From the early styles brewed by German immigrants to the artisanal varieties brewmasters tinker with today, here’s a virtual flight of interesting brews to help jump start your taste explorations.
IPAs are one of the most popular beer styles in the region, but even then there are quite a few varieties to this hop-forward favorite.
Cold IPA is a newer style of beer, introduced in Oregon in 2018. It’s fermented at lower temperatures than typical for an ale (more like a lager), for a crisp, full-bodied, almost citrusy flavor.
Casual Animal, located in the Crossroads, brewed up a Cold IPA as part of its Local Motive program. The brewery selected KCUR as its nonprofit partner for September and October, with a portion of each pint sold from the “give-back tap” donated to KCUR. KCUR and Classical KC staffers even pitched in on brew day.
Stay tuned for KCUR-hosted events at Casual Animal, including a "Harp-y Hour" performance by Classical KC’s own Brooke Knoll on Thursday, Sept. 29, playing pop favorites on harp.
Wild fermented beers
Wild fermented beers are the OG of the beer world and opportunities for variety are endless. It’s a process a bit more scattershot than brewing’s typical exacting process: yeasts extracted from different sources, such as flowers or fruits, mix in the air, the barrels left open.
And how Crane Brewing Company does like to experiment. “Since… each wild fermented beer is unique, we don't have any that we really brew more than once,” says Crane co-founder Chris Meyers. Crane shares these somewhat-eccentric small batch rewards in their taproom in Raytown.
Though there is a distinctive tang to wild ales, these are different from sour beers — another Crane specialty. Sours are made from cultivated yeasts and have more predictable (and reproducible) results. Crane cranks out a cadre of Berliner Weiss, including the popular Tea Weisse which, brewed with berry rooibos tea, has a pleasing bit of pucker.
Fans of sours and wild beer should keep a look out for the lesser-available lambic, which appear from time to time on local taps.
You can learn about the wild fermentation process and check out Crane’s Barrel Room during weekly tours, Saturdays at 2 p.m.
BONUS: KCUR celebrates not one, but two brewery collaborations this month. On Sept. 28, Crane Brewing launches an IPA called “The Brewshound,” in support of the KC Media Collective.
The release party is Saturday, Sept. 10 from 7-10 p.m., and the brew will be available at Apex’s taproom. Tropical stouts tend to be sweet and fruity, with a roasty quality.
Many of the local craft brewmasters got their start with homebrewing. Apex Aleworks also sells brewing supplies and hosts classes for beginning homebrewers. Class size is small and often sells out, so if you’re curious, plan and reserve your space ahead.
Only 1% of breweries in the United States are Black-owned, and Vine Street is slated to be the first here in Kansas City, situated in the Historic 18th and Vine District. Stay tuned for more collaborations and interesting brews as they continue work on their beer line-up and brewery.
Historical brew: Pale lager
Well, OK, pale lager isn’t a particularly new beer style… in fact, this style is one of the first introduced in our region, with versions brewed up by Weston Brewing Company, George Muehlebach Brewing Company and Heim Brewing during the late 1800s.
KCUR contributor and author Pete Dulin wrote about it in his book, “Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland,” published in 2016.
It’s also not an uncommon brew, as the basis for many commercial brewing operations. But it’s been reclaimed by the craft beer movement, with a few local brewers reviving the popular styles from yesteryear. Revisiting this beer style makes it clear why it’s been the go-to for nearly two hundred years.
Free State Brewing, which opened in Lawrence, in 1989, was the first brewery to operate in Kansas since Prohibition, and includes a pale lager in their flagship beers. KCUR learned about the history of the brewery back in 2016. Also, Free State's Octoberfest — rated as one of the world's best Märzen/Octoberfest — is now on shelves and ready for your tasting!
The Weston Brewing Company, originally established in 1842, was resuscitated by two brewing buddies in 2005 and includes a few historically inspired beers, including their Royal Lager. They also brew a hot pepper ale for O’Malley’s 1842 Pub that is sure to get all your senses tingling.
KC Bier Co., established in Waldo in 2014, follows authentic German brewing techniques. They make a Helles Lager (helles meaning pale or light) called Heim Beer exclusively for the J. Rieger & Co. Distillery. The distillery is located where Heim Brothers Brewery once thrived in the East Bottoms during the late 19th century and into the 20th. This throwback favorite is served at The Hey! Hey! Club and The Electric Park Garden Bar, both references to a Kansas City of old.
Whatever your preferred beer style, most breweries in Kansas City are going to have versatile seasonals, steady stalwarts and surprising experimental beers. Brewers around the metro welcome and challenge the curious beer-drinker. To aid in explorations, Visit KC’s “Kansas City Tap Tour” includes deals with breweries at over 20 locations, all around the region. Cheers!