Here come the cops.
The five people drinking in this North Kansas City bar — a place not yet open for business — see a telltale flash of red and blue flickering outside as a black SUV parks. They register the guilty looks of high-schoolers whose parents have just arrived to bust up a party.
Cinder Block owner Bryce Schaffter walks toward his business's open garage door to meet the police officer headed inside. The 30-year-old straightens his shoulders and evens his gait as he prepares to explain what exactly is going on in this former auto repair shop behind Neon Wild. But there's no need.
"This is so intriguing," the officer says. "I just had to see what was happening here."
Schaffter smiles. He has found a beer nerd in uniform. "Let me give you a tour," he says.
U.S. microbreweries are growing at a stunning rate. Last year, according to a Brewers Association estimate, the number of breweries nationwide increased by 18 percent, to 2,403. Yet none of those breweries were in Kansas City, where beer drinkers have practically had to call the authorities to track down products like Schaffter's. In 2012, the Brewers Association ranked Missouri 23rd among states for breweries per capita. (Kansas was 30th.)
But hops spring eternal, especially now that Missouri and Kansas legislators have begun to ease restrictions on brewers, and the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council has liberalized KC's liquor ordinances. In a move that made bottle shops possible in Kansas City, the council amended tavern licensure last summer to allow up to 40 percent of beer sold at a bar to be taken off-site. And last month, the council voted to permit alcohol producers, including microbreweries, to sell their beverages directly to the public at the point of manufacture.
The results are already showing. In January, Green Room Burgers & Beer began brewing its own beer. Big Rip Brewing Co. opened in North Kansas City in May. Another four operations — Cinder Block; the Kansas City Bier Co.; Martin City Brewing Co.; and the Rock & Run Brewery, in Liberty — should be online by year's end. (Day trippers, take note: Broadway St. Brewing Co. opened in May 2012 in Concordia, Kansas, and Defiance Brewing Co. expects a fall launch in Hays, Kansas. Also in the Sunflower State, Wakarusa Brewery is headed to Eudora next summer.)
More than $2 million will be invested in brewing operations around the metro this year. For those looking to leap from hobbyist to commercial manufacturer, this is shaping up to be their moment.
"I can't think of another large market that is so underserved by local brewers," Steve Holle says. "Boulevard is the only large-scale craft brewer, and they've created this beer culture here where people are open to trying craft beers."
With his new business, KC Bier Co., Holle means to change that.
On a recent Wednesday morning at Brookside's Roasterie Café, he explains his venture with the comfortable grin of a dad in a CW dramedy and the paperwork of a CPA. Holle, 55, has spent the past year lining up 25 investors and $1.7 million to transform the former Babyland & Kids' Room, at 310 West 79th Street (where that street meets Wornall, along the Trolley Track Trail), into a brewery, beer hall and beer garden.
"I want this to have an urban feel and be a place people could walk or bike," he says. "Prohibition created the image of a dark, smoky place where men go to get drunk. But when you go to Munich, a beer garden is part of a public park where people go to have a beer.