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Contrast Magic Hat's low-key entry with that of Stone, which blew in with a weeklong series of events in April. In town for the launch, CEO Greg Koch found crowds of enthusiastic drinkers eager to try the brewery's Arrogant Bastard Ale.
"One thing I know about KC craft-beer fans: You stage-dive from the bar, and they'll catch you. In my book, that kind of support goes a long way," Koch says.
The development of the craft-beer scene here by way of other cities' signature brews is now likely to fuel the next great phase for Kansas City lagerheads: an influx of hometown brews that are as representative of the City of Fountains as Boulevard, made by a cadre of home-brewers that have been exposed to the country's largest and most-respected craft breweries. Boulevard's McDonald believes that the market is ready for a slight correction that will favor local producers.
"There has been a shift among consumers to the idea of choosing local first, then regional," McDonald says. "Beer is heavy and perishable, which makes it less than ideal to ship long distances. People now have the option to enjoy a fresh, well-made product from a local brewery."
The shift is most likely happening in the space between hobbyists and big bottlers: at nanobreweries, which the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau defines as "very small" operations. There's no consensus on a more specific definition because the concept is still being defined. Some use the legal home-brewing limit of 200 gallons annually as a benchmark. Others aren't ready to compare themselves with even the early days of Boulevard.
"We took nano from ninth-grade biology because micro is just too big to describe what we do," says Micah Trotti, who co-founded Stuck Truck Brews with his Cerner co-worker, Chad Cummings. Trotti, 30, and Cummings, 31, are working on perfecting a hoppy pale ale. (They're also experimenting with a honey-vanilla porter, having found an oversized bottle of vanilla extract for $5 at Costco.)
The friends have spent the better part of a week constructing a wooden cabinet that's the approximate size and shape of a baby-grand piano. On its front sit 20 taps. A carbon-dioxide tank and some careful wiring inside the cabinet allowed Stuck Truck to showcase the work of 13 home-brewers at the second annual Brookside Nanobrew Festival this past Saturday.
The same creativity drives Fountainhead Brewing Co.'s Michael Ojo — the name is a play on the city of fountains, not the Ayn Rand title — to make Pineapple Blond Ale, the latest in what he calls his Summer Infatuation Series.
The 27-year-old Ojo, who lives in downtown Overland Park and has been brewing since 2009, has a five-year plan to get his nanobrewery off the ground in either the Crossroads District or the River Market.
"It's tough to go to Germany to try a new beer," he says. "You can't just buy a plane ticket and go. But the good news here is that local places are making the effort to get great beers in front of their customers."
Ojo is confident that Kansas City will see an "explosion of nanobreweries and microbreweries in the next five years." He might be right, though Boulevard's Steven Pauwels has another thought as to what could be driving the beer movement in Kansas City.
"You know what has changed since I moved here in 1999?" Pauwels says. "I found really good bread and sausages and locally made cheese and chocolates. It's only natural that beer follows."