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The connection between food and beer went supernova this past February, when Boulevard's Chocolate Ale collaboration with Christopher Elbow arrived for Valentine's Day. Chocolate Ale sightings were like Wonka Golden Tickets, with tales of missed chances and victories going viral on the Internet. When demand far outpaced availability, Boulevard issued an apology letter, explaining that it had been caught off-guard by the feverish response. What was intended to be a one-off collaboration is slated to return next year, in part as a mea culpa.
That same passion may help finance a new microbrewery in the city. Wilderness Brewing Co. launched a $40,000 Kickstarter campaign. (The micro-lending site has a good track record for local projects; it helped fund an expansion of Fresher Than Fresh Snowcones last May.)
"I think California and Kansas City have very different people," Wilderness co-founder Mike Reinhardt says. "People love beer [in California] but have no connectivity. That's very L.A., but in Kansas City there's connectivity, just not a large variety to choose from."
Reinhardt is moving to Kansas City from Pasadena, California, on July 6 to begin setting up the microbrewery with his partner, Nate Watson, who lives in Blue Springs. The pair have been brewing together since meeting at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, three years ago. They've launched a popular beer blog called Thank Heaven for Beer.
The support of the local beer community — particularly a group of craft-beer enthusiasts nicknamed the Gents, who meet monthly at the Foundry to sample new beers — helped the pair raise more than $8,600 in the first week of the campaign.
"I think Kansas City is absolutely ripe," Watson says. And one of the reasons could very well be Nick Vaughn, owner and brewmaster of Doodle. During a recent lunch break, he hustles from his day job at nearby SCD Probiotics to talk about his beer.
"I ferment bacteria during the day and ferment yeast at night," he says.
The story of Doodle dates back to 2009, when Vaughn began planning the launch of Doodle Dubbel.
"Doodling is an art that nobody realizes is an art, and that's kind of the way craft beer is," Vaughn explains. Vaughn is a doodler, but he brings his product to market with a meticulous plan, something ingrained in him as an engineering student at the University of Missouri. It was in Columbia that he began to home-brew.
He turned his degree into a job filling kegs at Harpoon Brewery in Boston. Over three and a half years, he rose to the rank of brewer, the same position he secured at 75th Street Brewery when his family moved back to Kansas City in 2006.
Three years later, he was ready to venture forth on his own with a bank loan and warehouse space in Liberty. He secured a microbrewer's license, only to discover that no distributor would pick up his beer. Undeterred, Vaughn applied for both a 22-percent wholesale-solicitor license, which enabled him to produce any kind of liquor with up to 22 percent alcohol content, and a companion distributor's license.
"I love making beer, but it's a business," he says. "If your beer doesn't sell, you don't have a business."
With the motivation of his young son's college savings fully invested in his brewery, Vaughn's brews made it from Liberty to KC this past February in the back of his pickup. Those first few 22-ounce bottles on store shelves were the result of Vaughn walking in with a bottle and a cup and introducing himself. In April, he secured a distributor, a move that he hopes will help him realize his goal of turning Doodle into a full-time job by 2013. His beers are now in 15 area stores.