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With 12 batches under his belt, Ptacek has begun to focus on English and Belgian brews. He recently purchased a beer engine, a stainless-steel cask that holds 10.8 gallons (he preps two casks at a time) and sits on the bar.
Cask-conditioned beer is carbonated by active yeast, which allows a brew to develop complex flavors and become smoother as it ages in the barrel. Ptacek can infuse his beer with hops added directly to the cask; he's also experimenting with creating his own fruit extracts.
"I feel like I need to make a bold step so I don't get lost amid these other big guys," he says. "That's the hard part. You have to start off and be as good as Boulevard. Ultimately, it comes out to how good your beer is."
Matt Moore, one of the owners of Martin City Brewing Co., feels the same pressure. The restaurant, having already assembled a very respectable array of other companies' brews, is about to start making its own beer. "That's the thing that scares me: We have the restaurant right next door with the best beers you can buy in the city," he says. "It's going to have to be great beer."
Martin City's 15-barrel system is being built at Newlands Systems in British Columbia, and Moore hopes to begin brewing in September. He has spent the past seven months working with Nick Vaughn, formerly of Doodle Brewing (the Liberty company that shut down in December 2011), to set up the brewery space, just east of the restaurant at 410 East 135th Street.
Back in March, Moore took a research trip to the Odell Brewing Co., in Fort Collins, Colorado. He returned with five kegs of a cinnamon-vanilla black saison, the last of which was tapped for the restaurant's first anniversary, in June.
"Hopefully, in a year or two, Martin City is synonymous with the best beer in Kansas City," Moore says.
If all goes according to plan, the new brewery will be kegging beer by the end of 2014. But there are variables; over the past three years, Martin City's head brewer has seen how hard it is to gain a footing in the Kansas City beer market. Vaughn was at the vanguard of a 2011 crop of breweries that never made it to market. The beer worked, he says, but the challenge of securing distribution was tricky in a competitive market dominated by Boulevard and other large craft brewers.
Vaughn, who held on to Doodle's equipment and its rights, is focused on getting Martin City off the ground. He wants it to experience that moment coveted by home brewers and head brewers alike.
"The first beer you pour is always a big celebration," he says. "That first beer that comes out is pretty big."
The Kansas City Nanobrew Festival, 4–8 p.m. Saturday, July 27, in the parking lot of Big Rip Brewing Co. At press time, it was sold out (kcnanobrews.com).