WORDS Martin Cizmar
PHOTOGRAPHY Caleb Condit and Rebecca Norden
Kansas City’s beer scene is hoppin’.
Here are EIGHT great new spots.
We visited sixteen new breweries that have opened around greater Kansas City since our last survey of the scene.
We paid our own way and did not ask for free beer. Advertisers were not favored.
We determined the best of those breweries based on the beers we tried—usually at the bartender’s recommendation—and on the overall experience.
We have a loose definition of both “new” and “brewery.”
11200 W. 75th St., Shawnee
Before there was Pathlight Brewing in Shawnee, there was “Tanner’s basement” in KCK.
Pathlight opened in June 2020, just as the coronavirus lockdowns lifted, and it has emerged as one of the city’s best breweries. But as co-owner and operations manager Beth Harris tells it, brewer Tanner Vaughn had already been developing some key ingredients a decade before.
“He cultivated his own yeast strains and microbe cultures when he was just a homebrewer, and he had his own barrel program in his basement,” Beth Harris says. “You would go down there and find a grisette on peaches just hanging out in his basement.”
Vaughn was a Honeywell engineer for more than a decade, designing non-nuclear components of nuclear devices. In his free time, he would collect, propagate and hybridize wild yeasts, which today can be tasted in Pathlight’s peerless local wild ales. He connected with Beth and her husband David Harris through the ZZ Hops Homebrew Club, and they eventually started looking to open their own brewery in north Johnson County. As the trio hatched their plan to convert a little corner of a plaza tucked between a Walmart and Big Lots into one of the area’s most ambitious breweries, the city of Shawnee was “amazing” to work with, Harris says.
Pathlight’s wild ales—they use non-commercial yeast, fermenting slowly and developing strong, unique flavors—are just part of the equation, of course. When you have a large all-ages taproom that’s kid-friendly with a dog-friendly patio in a sleepy corner of Shawnee, you’re not just serving hardcore beer snobs. Pathlight brews a little of everything, from milk stouts to West Coast IPAs (“Clear IPAs are back,” Harris says) to an old-fashioned amber lager. All those beers are well-made, and the West Coast IPAs, especially, are crushable. You can enjoy them with a pizza delivered to the taproom from Marco’s or with snacks like dill dip or jerky made by the people behind the new Lula’s Southern Cookhouse downtown.
Still, it’s the wild and sour ales that make Pathlight stand out. They’ve been a surprise not only to novice beer drinkers but also to people who are accustomed to milder and more direct kettle sours—people who have never heard of Cantillon, let alone cracked a Soleil de Minuit. They’ve proven especially popular with wine drinkers.
“The fruited wild ales have a different complexity to them—a little tart but complex and wine-y,” Harris says. “That complexity is what is bringing in a different genre of people who maybe would normally say ‘I don’t like beer.’”
It fits with the mission and the name of the brewery.
“We wanted to light the path to a new take on craft beer,” Harris says. “There are so many places in Kansas City where you can get great beer, but we wanted to put our spin on it and show the way forward.”
11200 W. 75th St., Shawnee
Brewers like lagers. This has been true for a while. A decade ago, I published a scandalous quote from a famous IPA brewer who confessed: “When me and the old boys from Deschutes get together, we get a keg of Bitburger.”
“You can’t drink all IPA all day long,” he says. “I mean, you can try—but it doesn’t work out well.”
And so Rooney and his wife and business partner Mary Rooney recently started a dedicated lager brewing operation called the Pivo Project, named after the Czech word for beer. Think of it like a record label imprint—Interscope to the BKS Universal. It could certainly be argued that a brewery making a different style but giving it a different section of the menu doesn’t make it a “new brewery,” but for Brian, it was a helpful distinction.
“From a brewing standpoint, we’re switching our mindset,” he says. “When we are making a Pivo Project beer, we try to have a very intentional process around the brewing and lagering, which is very different than what we do with ales.”
BKS had made a few lagers before the Pivo Project imprint, but the first under the banner was an heirloom rice lager made with Carolina Gold, which gives a little more character than the grains used in Budweiser. They make a new Pivo Project beer every two weeks and so far have produced a hoppy cold IPA (Brian prefers the term “double Pils”) and a light lager with Missouri-grown corn.
Most of the beers make use of big and juicy modern hops, but all get at least a dash of more reserved and stately European noble hops. “It’s kind of like a calling card, where those beers came from,” Rooney says. “We always weave in something like Saaz or Hallertau or Saphir.”
It’s no secret that beer and barbecue are best buds. But it’s still surprising just how entwined the two scenes have gotten since Tyler Harp started popping up at Crane Brewing in Raytown back in October 2019. “It didn’t take Einstein to predict this,” Harp says. “I saw a bunch of breweries with no food in a competition BBQ town.”
Jousting Pigs started as a competition team. Co-owner John Atwell planned a standalone restaurant before ending up inside 3Halves Brewing in Liberty, before opening a second spot in the Legends. “Craft barbecue and craft beer folks are cut from the same cloth,” Atwell says…
1340 Burlington St., North KC
You could argue that Callsign Brewing isn’t “new.” Callsign opened in North KC back in 2018, making its name with military-themed microbrews like Bomber Brown and Test Pilot Amber, which are still on tap today. But a lot has changed—including the address.
The new Callsign Brewing, which opened in January, is eight times larger than the old spot. And while owner Steve Sirois, a veteran of the Air Force, used to brew most of the beer himself, he’s now hired a dedicated brewer, Corey Zschoche, who is refining old recipes while adding more contemporary beers like a churro cream ale and an orange milkshake IPA.
The Callsign team calls the old location “1.0,” says Corey From, taproom manager.
“The taproom we have now is the size of the entire building we were in,” From says. “Everything has gotten a lot more focused—we’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sure we’re doing everything with a high attention to detail.”
While Callsign still focuses on its mission of supporting the armed forces by donating money to tiny homes for homeless veterans and raising funds to train service dogs for veterans with disabilities, the new taproom is just a different place thanks to great barbecue (see left) and a dedicated brewer.
“Callsign is known for traditional ales, and we want to keep that, obviously—we want to keep that foundation,” From says. “The freedom lager is not going anywhere, ever. But then we’re trying some cool new things. We’ve got sixteen taps now. Why not?”
Summer barbecues mean coolers full of ice and drinks—and, too often, that one picky friend who isn’t interested in anything there. For them, consider tossing in a fruited sour.
Boulevard’s Smooth Collider brings together bold banana and strawberry for a smoothie ale bursting with so much pureed fruit you could have it for breakfast. Brunch continues at Strange Days Brewing, where the Maple Blueberry Smoothie delivers a warm stack of pancakes in liquid form (don’t worry—there’s a lick of sour on the finish)…
14501 White Ave., Grandview
Michelle Brown was very close to having a doctor in the family—instead, she has a brewer and business partner.
“He was in college, pre-med, and took his MCAT,” she says. “He decided he didn’t want to go to school for eight more years. He had been homebrewing for years, and he had a degree in biology, so he was set up well for it. I always told him I support any decision so long as he’s happy and can support himself.”
Nolan, a Lee’s Summit native, wasn’t drawn to brewing just because he could avoid eight more years of education; he also liked its creative aspect.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make because I had been planning on med school since I started high school,” Nolan says. “Then I had to sit down and talk to my parents. It’s not easy when you tell your parents you don’t want to be a doctor anymore.”
In the end, they worked it out, and the Browns are all in business together. Michelle’s cafe is eighty-four percent locally sourced, mostly from local farmers, she says. She makes everything from bread to ketchup in-house. Meanwhile, Nolan’s brewery focuses on sessionable beers, mostly microbrew mainstays like French saison and brown ale, which he returned to after a decade of chasing bigger and weirder beers.
It wasn’t as simple as not going to med school, of course. Nolan started his brewing career as an intern, working for free one day a week while hanging drywall to pay the bills. Then he took jobs at Schlafly in St. Louis and Oskar Blues in North Carolina to learn the industry.
“It’s very much like a trade,” he says. “You can go to school for it, but that doesn’t really give you an upper hand in the industry when it comes down to the day-to-day.”
I live in a constant, low-grade fear of Beer People.
I’m not talking about brewers, mind you. Brewers have always been kind to me, perhaps because they can sense my ignorance. They know that I will never try to make them taste my home brews. When I say “Beer People,” I mean the most self-serious quartile of craft beer fanatics: the gatekeepers, the language policers. The Walking Untappd.
It has become clear to me recently that Beer People are over hazy IPAs. In 2020, online alcohol retailer Drizly reported a seven hundred and sixty-one percent year-over-year sales growth for hazy beers. That saturation has quickly made them the pop music of the beer world: ubiquitous, commercialized and easy to denigrate.
One common complaint? That hazies aren’t subtle. I suppose this is true. But I have always had a goblin’s appreciation for an unsubtle thing done well. I like that the hazy isn’t coquettish: Its fresh hop and citrus aromas practically lunge at you from the glass. Hazies are hops in surround-sound…
13400 Donahoo Road Building B, KCK
Nate Schotanus didn’t necessarily want to run a brewery. But he did want to build a sense of community in Piper, a tiny town in far northwest Wyandotte County. And so he runs a brewery.
“If you had asked me ten years ago if I wanted to start a brewery, I would have said no,” he says. “There are a lot of breweries out there, and they’re great. But you find these communities where there’s a brewery on every flippin’ corner and they’re doing well. We’re not reinventing the wheel here. There are other communities across the country and in Europe that are doing little things for the people around them.”
Schotanus does that at Range 23, which sits at the end of a dirt road through Due West Ranch, an eighty-acre equestrian center.
Schotanus is a Johnson County native who now works as a firefighter for the Dotte, which means he has to live within its boundaries. He and his wife used to live in Merriam before picking Piper.
“We had two really young kids and so the school district was very important,” he says. “There were only two places in Wyandotte county where I was going to live—that was either Piper or Bonner Springs.”
Schotanus became interested in community-building while bartending at PJ’s Pub, once the main spot for local music in Manhattan, where he went to college. He ended up putting on a three-day sports and music festival showcasing the Little Apple’s mountain bike trails and local bands.
When Schotanus moved to Piper, he started looking around for small independent bars or coffee shops. “There was none of that out here,” he says. “There’s the Legends with Nebraska Furniture Mart and Cabelas.”
Schotanus had started brewing with an all-extract Mr. Beer kit and eventually progressed into more serious homebrew projects. He got to the point where he felt like he could make solid renditions of classics like blondes and porters and that those beers would be of service to the people of Piper. Most of his customers come from around the corner, which is what he wants.
“When you go through things that we’ve all been through recently, if you have a sense of community and connection, it builds resiliency,” he says. “I don’t have to be more unique or better than the guy in the next town over. I just have to be here in my community and make a good product.”
Tall Trellis This taproom sandwiched between two large new housing developments in western Olathe is owned by Kansas hop farmers who wanted to diversify their offerings. Tall Trellis is open with a patio framed by its namesakes, which are crawling with bines this time of year. The taproom tries to highlight beers made with the farm’s hops and intends to consistently pour a few beers brewed on-site, but those offerings were unavailable on our visit…
When it comes to weird tidbits of local history, it’s hard to beat the fact that the infamous Prohibitionist Carrie Nation is buried in Belton. Nation was a Kentucky native who did most of her evangelizing (read: smashing up bars with a hatchet) in Kansas. But her mother was buried in Belton, and so after succumbing to paresis, Nation was brought there for burial.
Brad Steele will tell you that story and a lot more at his Belton brewery named for Nation’s weapon of choice. “I’m just a brewer trying to build a brand,” Steele says. “I want to make the community part of the brand.”
And so he has. Dickie Goober, a piney and resinous double IPA, is named for a retired air force base in Grandview. Mount Pleasant, a smoother-drinking Pilsner with some age on it, is a township inside Belton. Burnt District, a peppy coffee blonde, refers to the ordered depopulation of Cass County during the Civil War, where homes were torched.
Steele was a homebrewer who worked for Cerner and Sprint, then moved into two east Jackson County breweries, Apex and Windshift. He’s a northwest Missouri native who lives in Lee’s Summit with his wife, Cara Steele. In Belton, they found a city eager to have a neighborhood brewpub with solid beer, plenty of seating and an indoor cornhole board.
“You’ll never see loud music and a hundred TVs in here,” he says. “It’s just a place to come hang out and enjoy some good beers. Hang out with some buds.”
Before the current novelty beer craze, when tossing doughnuts or children’s cereal in the mash tun became widespread, there were chili beers. Beers spiked with spicy peppers have been around since at least 1990, when a guy out in Arizona started bottling his micro Mexican lager with a pickled serrano pepper floating in the bottle.
Mostly, chili beers have been mocked, with a precious few, like Ballast Point’s Habanero Sculpin and Dogfish Head’s Theobroma, earning a modicum of respect…
River Bluff at River Market
201 Main St., Suite 101, KCMO
Not so long ago, microbrewers often dreamed of running a small chain of brewpubs. Then came the crunch of the pandemic, where hospitality chains of all sizes struggled mightily, and even “successful” operations like Modern Times went under. These days, the era of the regional craft brewery is pretty much over—except for River Bluff.
River Bluff started in St. Joseph before opening an outpost down river in March. Their location in the River Market District is massive, with room for a full-size canoe suspended from the ceiling that you might not even notice. They’ve got nine TVs, usually showing sports, and beers that pair well with their clean-drinking Citra-based IPA and throwback red ale. The beers are comfortably above average, and what the room lacks in charm, it makes up for in utility.
817 N.E. Rice Road, Lee’s Summit
Fifteen years ago, a dram of Scotch shook up Jeremy Kneeland’s world.
“I didn’t realize there was ‘good’ whiskey until having a sample of a sixteen-year Lowlands Scotch that blew my mind,” says Kneeland, the owner of The Goat Brewing in Lee’s Summit. “After that, I began trying all kinds of new whiskeys and beers.”
At the time, he had two young children and lived in the country, forty minutes east of Lee’s Summit. His wife bought him a homebrew kit, but with two young children, he didn’t have time to dig into a new hobby. Then, he moved into town and made friends who belonged to a homebrew club. Soon, he was in deep, reading books and magazines and listening to podcasts. Before long, he was brewing “almost weekly” and expanding his repertoire of recipes.
“I sat with friends in my garage for several years talking about ‘what if’ I were to start a brewery,” Kneeland says. “Fortunately, with their help and encouragement, I was able to make it a reality.”
The Goat is named for the gang run by boss Tom Pendergast back in the heyday of KC organized crime, which you’ll see reflected in beer names using mob lingo and alluding to history. The brewery signed its lease in late 2020, amid the pandemic, and opened in March 2021. “It was a little unnerving, but the timing was what it was,” he says.
Meads are hot with homebrewers right now, and you’ll see Kneeland’s roots in that world reflected in a fig mead and bochet using caramelized honey. The rest of the well-rounded lineup, which is brewed in regular rotation, ranges from a German lager to a Belgian tripel and bicoastal IPAs.
Get your claws on some of these locally microbrewed hard seltzers.
Fünzzies // 3Halves Brewing Co.
110 E. Kansas St., Liberty
This Liberty brewery is conjoined with Jousting Pigs BBQ and known for flagships like Desert Gold, a light wheat beer named after the old Liberty grain company. 3Halves also does small batches year round, including this imperial hard seltzer with a dangerous eight percent ABV. Fünzzies is flavored with blood orange grapefruit and has a bright golden color.
BEER OF THE YEAR