Award-winning KC Bier Co. leads the vanguard of KC’s new craft breweries and will introduce bottled brews and a $1.2 million expansion this summer.
So many wonderful things have sprung up in Kansas City lately, but one trend has been noticeable by its absence. Until recently, Kansas City lagged behind in the craft beer movement. Perhaps it was because the beloved KC brand, Boulevard, cast such a long shadow. Whereas small breweries were springing up in other cities like flowers in April, KC lacked much of a grassroots brewing movement.
That changed approximately two years ago, when the first green shoots poked up in the form of KC Bier Company. As it proved successful, more small breweries joined the movement, and in 2016 there’s signs that craft brewing is on the verge of becoming another major homegrown industry.
KC Bier Company not only leads the vanguard but is still setting the pace for the craft brewing upstarts with several new innovations coming in 2016. The Waldo-based brewery has enjoyed a cult following since it opened at 310 W. 79th St., where it brews its award-winning beers and sells them in growlers to go. The beers are also available for sale (and consumption) in KC Bier Company’s tasting room, as well as a scenic, traditional German-style biergarten, where a limited menu of traditional sausages and pretzels make for delicious pairings. In addition, many local bars have KC Bier Co. beers on tap, so keep an eye out at your local watering hole.
For me, one of the most fascinating things about KC Bier Co. and its success is that the brewery very much bucked the fashions of craft beer. Many small breweries have been all about beers with maximum impact first — massively hopped IPAs, high-alcohol Imperial styles, and anything “brewed with cocoa nibs, chili peppers and aged in whiskey barrels” have tended to rule the day, but KC Bier Company founder Steve Holle headed in the exact opposite direction.
“I have a German family background; I studied German when I was young and even lived in Germany,” Holle says. “To me, the most important thing, if you’re going to make a craft beer, is that you have a passion for what you’re doing, and my passion is for German beer.”
One of the most fascinating things about craft beer, in general, is how permissive and creative it can be. If you think something like a flower or fruit might improve the flavor of your beer, you can throw it in there and try it. You can push the envelope of alcohol levels into the 10 percent or above range. German beer is not like that. Brewers are expected to follow or at least respect the Reinheitsgebot, more commonly known as the German Beer Purity Law.
This law, written in 1516, codifies the processes and ingredients of German brewing, limiting them to top- and bottom-fermentation and using only barley, hops and water. There have been some minor changes to the law in 600 years since — explicitly allowing yeasts and some sugars to be added as well.
“We do the best we can to respect the law,” Holle says. “We use very traditional methods. Our beers are naturally carbonated and unfiltered. I want a beer that is refreshing and thirst quenching. We import all our malt and hops from Europe, in part because we firmly believe that malt, like wine grapes, has terroir.”
“Most Americans have never tried a truly fresh German-style lager, unless they have been to the source,” Holle adds. “I thought it would be a great thing to bring to Kansas City.”
KC Bier Co. produces four styles year-round, having recently added the once-seasonal Pale Weiss to the line-up of Helles, Dunkel and Hefeweizen. Seasonals include Pils, Dopplebock, Festbier and Doppel Alt.
The acclaim hasn’t just been local. In just their second year of existence, three beers took home medals at the prestigious 2015 Great International Beer and Cider Competition: a gold for the Dunkel, a silver for Weizenbock and a bronze for Festbier.
The next big project at KC Bier? Making the brews available in bottles. A $1.2 million investment will add 6,500 square feet of space in an adjacent building, a shiny new bottling line, and will allow KC Bier to increase yearly brewing capacity by 3,000 barrels to a total of 12,000 barrels.
"There are no plans to move out of market yet," Holle says. "We think the local demand will absorb anything we can bottle so far, so this expansion will be locally oriented. We'll be releasing the Helles, the Dunkel and Hefeweizen first. Seasonals will still be draft only."
Look for six-packs of KC Bier on the shelf this summer!
KC BIER COMPANY TASTING NOTES
Helles – This is a classic, fresh, Munich-style lager that exists in the wonderful world, as Holle puts it, “between pale, light American lagers and craft beer with massive impact.” It is refreshing and easy to drink at home with a burger!
Dunkel – This is a malty, rich, autumnal beer with caramel notes and a very subtle hoppiness that balances the malt sweetness without dominating the beer. I order this whenever I see it on tap.
Hefeweizen – A delicious unfiltered wheat beer that has bright flavors and a little more heft than the Helles. This is all about smooth malts and low bitterness — and dangerously easy to enjoy outside.
Weizenbock – Similar to the Hefeweizen, but dials up the alcohol and intensity, while remaining very true to its Bavarian style