With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve now reached the sixteenth state on the list, The Sunflower State, Kansas. The state’s name is derived from the native tribe from these lands called the Kansa, a name said to mean “people of the wind.”
Kansas ranks 34th in total population (roughly 2.9 million) and housed 22 craft breweries as of 2014 who are represented by the Kansas Craft Brewers Guild. The state ranks 35th in total breweries and 34th in breweries per capita as of 2014, according to the Brewers Association.
Brewing in the state of Kansas began with the establishment of the Kansas Brewing Company in 1854. Its location in Leavenworth quickly spurred the growth of more breweries as the local caves were ideal for storing and cooling the ever more popular lager style. At its peak, Kansas housed an estimated 119 total breweries up until state prohibition was established in 1881.
Nearly 40 years ahead of the rest of the country, Kansas’ eagerness to explore “The Noble Experiment” proved costly to its economy, as the state had the 4th largest brewing industry by 1860 and had the 12th most breweries in the entire country. The real difference in Kansas when it came to prohibition was not just that it started so early, but that it lasted nearly 70 years, until 1948, without a commercial brewer for over 100.
Opened by Chuck Magerl in 1989, Free State Brewing put brewing back on the map in Lawrence, Kansas. Having won 6 GABF medals, it’s also the most recent to do so, winning gold with Garden Party, a lager infused with cucumber, juniper berries and basil. The state’s largest brewer is Tallgrass Brewing, located in Manhattan and known for their smooth Buffalo Sweat oatmeal cream stout.
Three More Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Blind Tiger Brewery & Restaurant (Topeka) – Established in 1995 and named after the stuffed tigers used to alert potential patrons to a speakeasy, Bling Tiger was the first craft brewery in Topeka and also the most awarded at GABF with 13 medals. Having been awarded Best Large Brewpub at the 2014 World Beer Cup and with 250 recipes at their disposal, there’s not much this brewer can’t do.
Gella’s Diner & Lb. Brewing Co. (Hays) – Another brewer that’s under the radar in the smaller brewing bastion of Kansas is this brewpub known almost as much for its food as it’s award winning brews. Capturing the 2013 Small Brewpub and Brewer of the Year award of 2012 at GABF (the 1st Kansas brewer to do so), they’ve also earned 9 GABF awards, most of them gold. Open since 2005, it’s a must visit in the small central outpost of Hays.
23rd Street Brewery (Lawrence) – Sporting more of a sports pub vibe, 23rd Street is an off-shoot of Kansas City brewer 75th Street Brewery. Known for their Silver medal win at GABF for their Irish Red Crimson Phog and for their Kansas Jayhawk fandom, theirs is a beautifully open space that’s been open since 2004.