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Ink

Who’s the biggest beer nerd in Kansas City?

Ink talks beer with four of Kansas City’s biggest beer nerds at The Foundry in Westport.

Randyl Danner, 30, is a cicerone (that’s beer’s version of a wine sommelier) who lives in Kansas City and works as beer manager at Beer KC, the company that owns McCoy’s Public House, the Foundry and Beer Kitchen in Westport. Her husband Jeremy is a brewer at Boulevard Brewing Co. “We work beer, we live beer,” Danner says, adding she even planned her honeymoon around brew. “We went to Wisconsin, stayed in a bed and breakfast that was also a brewery, toured breweries and ate cheese.”

Josh Eans, a 30-year-old chef, frequently cooks with beer, plans beer dinners, and attends beer festivals all over the country. Beer spills into his home life, too: Eans’ brew collection is quickly overtaking two refrigerators in his Kansas City home, and he says that “much to the dismay of my lovely wife,” specialty beer glassware crowds the kitchen cabinets.

Mike Reinhardt, 31, left his home and full-time job as a project manager in Pasadena, Calif., this year to move to Lee’s Summit and start a brewery with his friend Nate Watson. Reinhardt and Watson started home-brewing a decade ago, when they were undergrads at Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo. A few years ago, they started a beer blog called thankheavenforbeer.com. Now they’re working on opening a their own brewery, Wilderness Brewing Co., with $41,000 raised on Kickstarter. They hope to start selling their beer in 2012.

Bill Watkins, a 29-year-old pharmacy tech who lives in Waldo, developed a taste for beer while backpacking through Europe and living in Fort Collins, Colo. That city's home to several breweries, including New Belgium and Odell. Here in Kansas City, Watkins home-brews beer, arranges beer tastings for friends and contributes to beeradvocate.com, a leading beer website.

The Beers

  1. Seven, a saison (or farmhouse ale) from Upright Brewing in Portland, Ore.

  2. Wisconsin Belgian Red, a fruit ale brewed with cherries by New Glarus Brewing Co. in New Glarus, Wis.

  3. Kick, a pumpkin and cranberry ale from New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo.

  4. Grand Cru, a Belgian-style strong ale from Upstream Brewing Co. in Omaha, Neb.

  5. Kriek, a Belgian-style beer made with sour cherries home-brewed by Bill Watkins

  6. Kriek, a Belgian-style beer made with sour cherries home-brewed by Mike Reinhardt

  7. Duchesse de Bourgogne red ale from Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Belgium

  8. Robust porter home-brewed by Mike Reinhardt

  9. Morke Pumpernickel Porter from Beer Here in Denmark

  10. Black Tuesday, a barrel-aged stout from The Bruery in Placentia, Calif.

Beer KC Strong Ale Festival

What: Thirty breweries will be on hand for this fest, including McCoy’s, Boulevard, Schlafly, New Belgium, Bell’s and Odell. All beers will be at least 8 percent alcohol.

When: 1-5 p.m. Nov. 12

Where: Parking lot of McCoy’s and the Foundry in Westport

Info: beerkc.com

KC Beerfest

What: This outdoor taste-testing will offer 2-ounce samples from dozens of breweries, along with live music and contributions from participating Legends restaurants. Plenty of domestic and imported beers will be available, as well as various microbrews. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. A limited food menu also will be available.

When: 2-5 p.m. Oct. 22

Where: The Legends Outlets

Info: kcbeerfest.com

More beer

kcbeerblog.blogspot.com

kcworthog.com

thankheavenforbeer.com

showmebeer.com

beeradvocate.com

Ink

For beer geeks, it’s an exciting time to live in Kansas City.

Our hometown brewery, Boulevard, started distributing beer on the East Coast last month. And this month, the brewery begins a six-month, $3 million expansion project that will increase its capacity 20 percent to more than 200,000 barrels a year.

Small breweries are finding success, too: Two months ago, local home-brewers Mike Reinhardt and Nate Watson raised more than $41,000 on Kickstarter to start their own brewery, Wilderness Brewing Co. They hope to start selling their beer next year.

Nationally known beer makers are taking note of our growing thirst for good beer, says Randyl Danner, one of Kansas City’s biggest beer geeks. Danner works as beer manager at Beer KC, the company that owns Beer Kitchen, the Foundry and McCoy’s Public House in Westport. She points to several nationally acclaimed breweries that decided to distribute in Kansas City for the first time this year. Among them: Summit from Minnesota and Deschutes from Oregon. Nebraska from, well, Nebraska and Green Flash, Firestone Walker and Stone from California.

“A lot of these really great, fantastic breweries are coming here because they know that this is a growing market,” Danner says. “We’re becoming kind of a beer mecca.”

Just look at all the beer-centric businesses that have popped up in the past three years: There’s Beer Kitchen in Westport, Blanc Burgers & Bottles on the Country Club Plaza, the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in the Power & Light District and Westside Local on Kansas City’s West side. In September, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant opened its first Kansas location in Leawood’s Park Place. And next month, the owners of BRGR Kitchen & Bar and Urban Table in Prairie Village plan to open a gastropub — a restaurant that sells high-quality beer and pub fare — called Gram & Dun on the Country Club Plaza.

Josh Eans, former chef and partner at Blanc Burgers & Bottles, says he’s become almost obsessed with craft beers, flavorful brews made in small batches, over the past three years. He says it’s all about quality over quantity.

“I’d rather have one really good beer than three shitty beers,” he says.

Eans and Danner are part of a growing community of beer enthusiasts in Kansas City who gather for tastings, obsess over pairing beer with food, hunt down and hoard limited-release beers from other states, and even plan trips to visit breweries and beer festivals.

“It’s a small community,” Danner says, “and a lot of them, just like me, are slightly socially awkward.”

“Why do you think we drink?” Asks Mike Reinhardt, one of the home-brewers behind Wilderness Brewing Co.

In an attempt to observe this new breed of beer nerd — or beer geek, if you prefer — Ink invited four locals who lead brew-centric lifestyles to convene in their natural habitat (a bar) for a beer tasting. The nerds (Danner, Eans, Reinhardt and Bill Watkins) each brought two or three bottles of beer.

Once the brew started flowing, so did the big words and the nerds’ intense affection for all things beer.

Four beer nerds, 10 bottles of beer, one great conversation

The beer nerds cram into a booth in a corner of the Foundry with their 10 bottles of beer. They arrange the bottles in one long line, with the light-flavored ales on one end and the dark porters and stouts on the other. Sour beers fall in the middle of the spectrum. Tasting the intensely flavored beers first would obscure the subtleties of the lighter beers, the nerds explain.

Ink: Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t have a bottle opener?

Watkins: Nope.

Eans: I have one on my sandal.

Watkins lifts his foot to show off the bottle opener built into the underside of his flip-flop.

Danner: We keep one in the cooler. Jeremy, my husband, got me a belt with a bottle opener on it.

Eans pops the top off his bottle of Upright Seven, a saison, or farmhouse ale, brewed in Portland, Ore.

Eans: We took a beer trip earlier this year to Seattle Beer Week. We went to Portland and Seattle. One of our friends moved up there, and so we spent a day and a half in Portland and just crammed in what we could. (Upright) is one of the places he recommended. It’s this tiny little brewery in a basement. They’re known for their saisons. This is one of the ones I really enjoyed. They also made a gose, which is one of my new favorite beer styles.

Gose, pronounced go-zuh, is a salty, sour beer first brewed in Germany.

Watkins: It’s a fantastic style.

Watkins: Did you see that Choc released a gose? Choc, out of Oklahoma? They just released it not too long ago. And you can only get it in Oklahoma, of course.

Reinhardt: Someone from The Gents is getting a couple bottles, though.

The Gents is an elite invite-only beer tasting group in Kansas City.

The beer geeks slowly sniff and sip the saison.

Ink: Is there a proper way to taste beer?

Danner: You use all of your senses. Sight, smell, taste. I guess even touch by just holding the bottle and looking at it. When I taste I always do a fly-by first.

Danner demonstrates by swiftly passing the glass from left to right in front of her nose.

Danner: I don’t stick my nose in it, I just do a fly-by to see what kind of aromas I get. I swirl it around a bit, like wine. But with beer you have to swallow, because you get bitterness on the back of your tongue.

Reinhardt: The swallowing helps release the CO{-2} up, too.

Eans: A lot of the volatiles in the aromas are actually in the foam. So it’s important when you pour a beer that you get that because it’s carried in the head.

Reinhardt: Which is why we’re militant about clean glasses. You can’t keep a head on a beer (in a dirty glass).

Eans: When you go to some bars they’ll pour the Bud Light until all the foam falls off, so the beer’s level with the glass. They think they’re giving you more beer but it’s not the proper pour.

Ink: So what’s your take on this beer?

Danner: It’s good. It’s tart, refreshing, spicy.

Watkins: It’s light and refreshing yet you get so much out of it.

Reinhardt: It’s a little dry.

Watkins: I like everything dry. I like cat tongue.

Reinhardt: I like a little more dextrins.

Dextrins are carbohydrates that give beer a sweet aftertaste.

Ink: What would you pair this with?

Reinhardt: An English cheddar. Something earthy.

Eans: A seared scallop. Apricot chutney would be killer.

Watkins: I’d pair this with a lawn chair in my backyard.

Ink: It seems like more and more restaurants are doing beer pairings and beer dinners.

Eans: Beer is getting more and more popular. It’s replacing wine. It’s exciting.

Reinhardt: It’s kind of been wine’s ugly cousin … wine got this reputation as high-class and beer got lowbrow.

Watkins: When it was being developed, beer was something women made in the house. Anyone could do it. With wine, you had to go to a vineyard, own grapes … it was always a high society thing.

Eans: Beer’s the drink of the people. That’s why I like it. It’s not supposed to be pretentious. Yet people are starting to make it pretentious. That’s not what it’s supposed to be. It’s about this — sitting down at a table, sharing some big bottles of beer, eating some food and having fun.

Reinhardt: I think you need about half a percent of real jerks. People known as experts who sort of look down on other people. That’s what pushes wine culture forward. I don’t like it, but I think it’s a necessary evil for beer culture.

Watkins opens the second beer, Wisconsin Belgian Red from New Glarus Brewing Co. in Wisconsin.

Danner: This one I actually prefer drinking room temperature. There’s a slight amount of diacetyl in it to give it that buttery crust.

Eans: Like cherry pie.

Diacetyl is a byproduct of fermentation that smells and tastes like butter.

Reinhardt: Did you guys ever eat Luden’s cough drops growing up? That’s what the nose reminds me of. The nose reminds me of a funky Luden’s cough drop. Or, you know that filling? That cherry pie filling you buy?

Eans: I get a spice on the finish, almost like a baking spice flavor. It’s a warm, clovey thing.

Watkins: My parents have cherry trees. Tart pie cherry trees. I like making reductions with those for pies, and this is exactly what that tastes like. It just encapsulates that in a beer. I just wish we could get it here.

Danner: When we go to Wisconsin, we buy cases. And you don’t buy cases at the brewery because there’s a $40 markup. You go to the liquor stores and the gas stations around town. The year we got married, we went to New Glarus for our honeymoon.

Ink: Where are the nation’s beer meccas, aside from Wisconsin?

Reinhardt: Southern California.

Watkins: Philadelphia.

Eans: Portland, Oregon, is huge.

Danner: Denver, Colorado.

Ink: Where do you go to buy good beer in Kansas City?

Beer geeks in unison: Gomer’s in Lee’s Summit!

Eans: They have more of the esoteric, hard-to-find stuff. And Royal (Liquors) at 103rd is fantastic.

Eans starts pouring glasses of New Belgium Brewing’s Kick, a pumpkin and cranberry ale. Reinhardt tries it first.

Reinhardt: I like it because it has pumpkin, and not the spices.

Most pumpkin beers are brewed with baking spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

Eans: Who wants their beer to taste like pumpkin pie?

Danner: I like to eat my pumpkin pie. I don’t like to drink my pumpkin pie.

Eans: People love it, though.

Danner: I get pumpkin in the aroma, and then it finishes with the red cranberries.

Reinhardt scribbles notes into a composition notebook.

Reinhardt: I’m just writing down what I try. I used to take a lot of notes when our website (thankheavenforbeer.com) did a lot of reviews. I don’t write reviews anymore. I get bored with ’em.

Eans: I just snap pictures so I remember. I have a little texting group. When I drink a beer tonight I’ll text it out to a few of my friends. We’re kind of stupid like that.

Reinhardt: I just have quill and paper.

Danner pours glasses of the next beer, a bottle of Upstream Grand Cru from 2008.

Danner: Upstream makes some really fantastic beers. They’re up in Omaha, Nebraska, and they were one of the first breweries in the States that I knew of that made a really good sour (beer). I love sour, so that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the Grand Cru. It’s one of the best beers they make. It’s really geeky in Kansas City amongst the beer geeks because you just can’t get it down here.

Watkins pours glasses of his home-brewed cherry lambic, also called a kriek.

Reinhardt: Having been in the bottle for two years, your bretts are still really subtle. At first, I got a lot of lactobacillus. Then the acetic started taking over.

Brett, or brettanomyces, is a yeast popular in Belgian-style ales. Lactobacillus is a bacteria found in sauerkraut, pickles and cheese. Acetic acid gives vinegar its sour taste.

Ink: You’re all used to the complex flavor of home-brews and craft beer. Do you ever drink cheap yard beer?

Watkins: I like to sit outside with a cheap cigar and Red Stripe.

Danner: PBR. And I’ll drink it out of the can.

PBR stands for Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Reinhardt: I’ve been enjoying Boulevard Pilsner. I especially like drinking it because I look at the shelf and it’s cheaper than Budweiser and Bud Light.

Reinhardt cracks open his own bottle of kriek.

Eans: I know it’s a kriek, but it tastes like a peach to me. A summer peach.

Ink: Do your friends get annoyed when talk about flavors in beer like this?

Reinhardt: Anyone who lives with me or sees me on a regular basis knows my conversations are filled with pretty loquacious asides. A lot of verbiage. A lot of explanatory notes.

Ink: I imagine people who aren’t into beer at all must find it a little weird.

Reinhardt makes a face that says, “I don’t know anyone who isn’t into beer.”

Danner: Our neighbor was a Natty Light drinker. Natty Light, Natty Light, Natty Light. He started coming over and drinking our beer. He’d bring over Natty Light and we’d drink it. Now, two years later, he’s drinking out of Spiegelau glassware. He’s buying IPAs and pale ales and witbiers from liquor stores. He will not open a can of Natty Light anymore because he does not think it has a good flavor. His palate has changed and developed.

Spiegelau crystal beer glasses from Germany are designed to maximize flavors and aromas in beer. A set of four costs about $50 at amazon.com.

Ink: So you converted him?

Danner: Well, we turned him on to craft beer.

Danner starts pouring glasses of Duchesse de Bourgogne red ale. The nerds start sniffing the rosy, wine-like beer.

Danner: Burnt sugar. Cherry.

Watkins: Cherry Robitussin.

Eans: I get a slight Band-Aid smell too. There’s some Band-Aid in some Belgian beers. I get it on (Boulevard) Sixth Glass a lot.

Reinhardt: This is a really good gateway for people getting into sours.

Watkins: This reminds me of balsamic vinegar. I like balsamic vinegar on my salads and stuff I eat. Just not in what I drink.

Reinhardt: I like balsamic vinegar. I drink a cup of it every morning.

That was a joke.

Ink: Does tasting so many beers ever give you …

Watkins: Palate fatigue?

Ink: … a bad hangover.

Watkins: I think when you drink a bunch of sours you get the worst hangover of any beer style.

Eans: You get all these crazy bugs floating around in your belly.

Watkins: You get the bubble guts for, like, eight hours.

Gross.

Reinhardt: Maybe it’s telling that I don’t really get hangovers anymore.

Eans: Dark Lord Day was a bad hangover. God, that was awful.

Reinhardt: I had a slight one.

Ink: Dark Lord Day?

Eans: There’s this brewery in Indiana called Three Floyds. They make this beer called Dark Lord that they release once a year. You have to get it at the brewery. It’s turned into this huge festival.

Reinhardt starts pouring his homemade robust porter.

Ink: How’d you make this?

Reinhardt: I used primarily chocolate malt in an attempt to avoid coffee tones, which you get with a lot of stouts. We bought a 50-pound bag of demerara …

Ink: What’s that?

Reinhardt: Brown sugar.

Eans: Real brown sugar, not fake brown sugar.

Reinhardt: Yeah. I boiled this kettle of sugar and water to make golden syrup. That’s in here.

Eans: This is really good. I like it a lot.

Reinhardt: It’s better than Bully.

Reinhardt is referring to Boulevard Bully! Porter. His statement is followed by an awkward silence.

Reinhardt: I know a lot of people don’t love Bully! Porter.

Watkins: I actually love Bully! Porter.

Reinhardt: Do you really?

Danner: I think it’s a good beer.

Eans: It’s roasty.

Watkins: It’s easy to drink.

Danner: Walker’s Reserve (from Firestone Walker) tastes just like it.

Ink: Do you ever get into arguments over beer?

Watkins: The issues I’ve had at tastings with people are not about whether they like the beer. It’s “I’m more geeky than you are. And I’m going to show you why I’m more geeky.”

Watkins impersonating a snooty beer drinker, sniffs his beer and says “I take subtle notes of pencil shavings with leather.”

Eans: Do you know (name withheld)?

Watkins: Yeah.

Eans: He’s like that. He’s a one-upper.

Reinhardt: Well, I know a two-upper.

Eans: It’s like, Can you just shut up and drink your beer?

Reinhardt: It depends on the person. If someone is being a jerk, I’m more inclined to argue.

Danner pours glasses of the Morke Pumpernickel Porter she brought.

Danner: They use rye, so you get a little of the pepper spiciness. It’s slightly sweet. Chocolate, caramel.

Watkins: I like that a lot. This is the first time I’ve ever had this.

Ink: A lot of the beer you brought is really hard to find. Is that part of the appeal?

Reinhardt: I think if beer geeks were honest with themselves, they would love a store where they could get everything they wanted at any time but nobody else could. It’s like, Look what I found!

Watkins: It’s always fun to bring a big beer that no one’s had. Especially when you get to certain levels of geekdom.

Reinhardt: What are you on, level six?

Watkins: No idea.

Watkins uncorks the final bottle of beer, Black Tuesday, an Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels that sells for $150 per 750–milliliter bottle on eBay.com. When he pops the top, the beer erupts volcano-style from its shiny black bottle.

Watkins: Oh, shit!

Eans: Well, hello there. Nice to meet you.

Watkins: I didn’t know you were a gusher. That’s fantastic.

Eans: That’s what she said.

Everyone laughs as they pass the bottle around, filling their glasses with the rare, expensive brew. They clink their glasses. Cheers.

Eans: The dark fruit is just insane.

Watkins: The coconut? I get so much coconut.

Reinhardt: Yeah, from the bourbon barrel.

Danner: It’s delicious.

Watkins: This is better than the ’09. I didn’t like the ’09 at all. It was a big, hot mess.

Reinhardt: That’s what she said. Come on, Josh, you’re slacking. He said big hot mess!

Eans looks like he’s in a trance.

Eans: Sorry. I’m distracted. We have food coming out, right? This is great.

Comments

  1. 2 years, 9 months ago

    Fantastic article! I am loving the craft beer growth in the US & especially Kansas City. The people in this article know beer & they were well picked for the article!

    I started KC Beer Klub on Facebook last year & have converted many from the nasty swill to the great craft beers. (reminds me of my fave quote in this article..”His palate has changed and developed”) About half the group gets together 4 times a year & have a big tasting at someone’s house & rate the beers. We try to get as many fantastic beers as we can get, even ordering from out of state. Everyone has alot of fun & at least one person always walks away saying “I didn’t think I would like that many craft beers”.

    If you’re undecided on what might be for you, go to Hy Vee & grab a mix & match 6 pack & try all the styles you can each week. In 6 months, you’ll know exactly what styles you like & what’s not for you. And pretty soon you’ll be searching for those rare, hard to find beers around KC with the other beer geeks.

    Again I really enjoyed the article & will be sharing with the Beer Klub. Cheers!

    • Josh Thomas
  2. 2 years, 9 months ago

    I believe the dates you have for the events are incorrect. Please double check them.

  3. 2 years, 9 months ago

    The dates are correct now. Thanks!

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