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Brew Lab is the first operation of its kind in the metro, and it's a different take on the traditional home-brew supply shop. Its founders mean to tap into the same demand that led a pair of beer hobby shops to open in KC over the past year: Cowtown Brew Supply, an online retailer, and Grain to Glass, a home-brew shop inside Market 3, where owner Jennifer Helber also leads workshops.
"A lot of people don't know somebody that home brews but want to learn," Combs says. "Skillwise, it's going to be an incubator. Breweries could start here."
During the Wednesday dinner hour, Bier Station is as packed as a Tokyo subway car. Tonight's crowd has gathered for the Boulevard Brewing Co.'s tap takeover, but owner John Couture's eight-month-old bottle shop and bar in Armour Hills has become an unofficial gathering place for wholesalers, distributors and brewers. The Brew Lab partners settled on their company name here, and the organizers of the Kansas City Nanobrew Festival are meeting with home brewers as they ready for this weekend's fest.
"People want the most unique thing you can get, and it's not going to get more unique than 60 beers that will never exist again," Frank Rydzewski says. He's the only one of the festival's five organizers who has managed to snag a seat at a communal table upstairs.
This is the fourth year for the home-brew celebration, which began as the Brookside Nanobrew Festival. Rydzewski, 36, expects to have 60 beers on tap, including a brew made with Tootsie Rolls, to the 400 people who gather in the parking lot outside Big Rip Brewing Co. Big Rip is among the event's alumni, suggesting that KC's beer future is about to be poured on the North Kansas City blacktop.
"Kansas City has this discerning palate," Rydzewski says. "There's this great cocktail culture. I feel like this town can sustain a lot of nanobreweries," he says. "It would be awesome if North Kansas City could turn into brew town."
"If you ask any home brewer, they'll tell you the same thing," Chad Moats, a fellow organizer, says. "The more breweries there are, the better."
Ask Cinder Block's Schaffter, for instance.
A year ago, he was one of the home brewers at the Kansas City Nanobrew Festival, when the event was held in Original Juan's parking lot. He'd been making his beer in his cinder-block basement (hence his beer's name), and he worked the festival that day with John Baikie, 36, husband of one of Schaffter's co-workers at Cerner.
Cinder Block drew a strong response from drinkers and fellow brewers at the fest, so last August, Baikie and Schaffter drove to the Great Nebraska Beer Fest with 60 gallons of beer in a pair of SUVs, the air-conditioning turned up full-blast.
It was a good idea. The night before the festival, Schaffter met Bryan "Bucky" Buckingham, a veteran brewer who got off a bus from Oregon 20 years ago and started working his way up from a dishwashing position at Lawrence's Free State Brewing Co.
"It was 1 a.m., and I remember he told me he was thinking about starting a brewery," says Buckingham, now Cinder Block's director of brewing operations. He pours himself a glass of beer from a black growler. "I hear that a lot. But this is going to be rad."