Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Burgin' and Bakin' - 2 New JoCo bars reviewed


When I recently heard of two new places in northern Johnson County that opened and were supposedly catering to the craft beer crowd, I was excited. Being an Overland Park resident, I've become all too familiar with the beer barren wasteland that is Johnson County (save for the two Barley's locations), and have spent a significant amount of time driving to Waldo, Westport, Martin City and downtown KC to get my fill of beer. Both places I essentially stumbled across via the internet, and hadn't heard any detailed word-of-mouth reviews, so the other night I decided to make a trek to check out both.


First stop, The Burg and Barrel. Now, admittedly, I approached this new Overland Park "pub" with some skepticism. The PR that I had seen on it said that it was going to have a craft beer focus and even on the website, they make the lofty claim that "...our ever changing 12 taps and 22 bottles of craft beers are guaranteed to excite the biggest of beer geeks." After reviewing the beer lineup on the same site, I wasn't overly impressed, but decided to head in anyway to see if the taps had done any of the aforementioned 'ever changing.'

Unfortunately, my skepticism was justified upon arrival. On entering, the space is nice (it's a remodel of the former Peanut spot at 7042 W. 76th Street) and the shuffleboard table caught my eye (yeah, I'll admit it, I'm a bar game whore). But as I sat down and perused the beer menu, it was like reading an essay on thermodynamics written by an 8-year-old; it didn't make a lot of sense and they clearly didn't know what they were doing.

For starters, the draft list was not anything impressive. 12 taps; PBR, Flying Monkey Amber (why is anyone still putting EITHER of these beers on draft?), Odell 90 Shilling, Rogue Dead Guy, Blue Moon, Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and 5 Boulevard taps. Now don't get me wrong, 5 Boulevard taps is great and all, but bars in KC have to understand that having more than 3 Boulevard taps doesn't make you exciting or craft beer focused. I'd venture to say most restaurants, bars and grills out there have at least 3 Boulevard taps anymore.

On to the bottles. Oh. Not doing much better here. For starters, all the craft bottles are listed as 'Imports.' Now, I know this goes back to the unfortunate precedent of bars listing anything that's not a BMC product as an 'Import', but it's a stupid precedent, and again, if you're going to talk about exciting beer geeks, this is not the way to do it. To further the confusion on the bottles list, they list the beers from lightest to darkest. Which may be fine, except they don't list the styles next to the beer and the order was completely out of whack. Somehow Boulevard Grainstorm was smack in the middle, and Coors Batch 19 was listed as the darkest beer. Besides those two beers, the rest of the list wasn't especially impressive. Central States must have hit this place hard, because there is a lot of Boulevard and Lagunitas. The most interesting thing on the list is Rochefort Trappist 6 (one of the three ACTUAL imports on the list, go figure!).

Oh, did I mention there's no pricing on the beer menu? Yeah. None. So, enjoy asking the bartender every time you order how much your beer will be or just plan on embracing the element of surprise when you get your bill.

So I enjoyed my Lagunitas Sucks (which was coincidentally listed on the menu as Brown Shugga, ha, prank's on me!), and ordered food, hoping that the 'Burg' in the place's name would justify the food. Fortunately the meal was the saving grace of this place, otherwise I would have written it off completely. Though my El Diablo burger (jalapenos, pepper jack, hot sauce) didn't have the level of heat I'd look for in a food item bearing the devil's name, itwas still a generously sized burger with some very nicely prepared sweet potato fries on the side. I should also mention that the bartender who served me, Cooper, was an extremely friendly guy and did a great job.

I had high hopes that a true craft beer focused bar was going in just a mile from my home, but unfortunately my dreams did not pan out as hoped at The Burg and Barrel. Would it be a fun place to go on a random night to play shuffleboard and have the luxury of drinking a few non-BMC beers while just a short distance from my home? Sure. But is it a craft beer destination that they seem to be implying in their marketing? Definitely not. And that's what I had my fingers crossed for. Given the odd location (they aren't really visible off Metcalf), they will likely rely on a lot of word-of-mouth advertising, so if a beer crowd is what they want, they might want to tweak a few things.

Slightly saddened by this beer experience and still confused by the random bar stranger who gave me a sticker from Japan and kept saying 'Cool beans', I made my voyage over to Lenexa to visit the next new Johnson County beer bar hopeful; Brewbakers.

I originally heard about Brewbakers on Facebook, when the Kansas Craft Alliance posted about an Odell IPA cask event that they were holding there. The place was completely unfamiliar to me, which in a way made sense, because I don't travel to the 95th and Renner area often and the place just opened in mid January. I've since seen a number of Untappd check-ins from Brewbakers, so I thought I was due for a visit.

Walking in, this place is total sensory overload. Granted, I had just come from a relatively small, quiet bar with all of two tables full, but essentially this place is like Tanner's or Johnny's on beer and sports broadcasting steroids. My overwhelmed ADD couldn't figure out whether to look at the taps on the wall, the giant chalkboard beer list, the raucous families at tables around me, the absurd number of flat screen TV's hanging up for people to watch (I lost count at 36), or the speakers that were inexplicably blasting Blues Traveler like icing onto the pre-existing noise cake. I shook off my confusion and squeezed into one of the only seats available at the bar, parked right in front of the TV showing the Syracuse vs. UConn womens basketball game (*sad trombone*).

In comparison to The Burg and Barrel, Brewbakers is the hands-down winner in terms of beer selection. They have 42 taps overall, 6 for BMC products, 1 Guinness, 7 Boulevard, and the remainder are represented by a variety of craft breweries including Odell (Meddler had just blown), Deschutes, Green Flash (Green Bullet was on), Avery and Mother's, to name a few. I settled on an Odell Lugene (it wasn't served in a chilled shaker pint, hooray!) and sat back, taking a deep breath and trying to soak in the atmosphere.

I'll be blunt; if you're not into a sports bar and grill type of scene, this place is not for you. This was a Monday night around 8, with no major sporting events going on, and I'd venture to say the place was 80% full, if not more. For me, I don't necessarily have a problem with this type of environment. For Christ's sake, I live with a 3-year-old half the time, so my home life is in a constant state of noisy chaos. Plus, like I said, ADD, so a bunch of TV's might be confusing to me, but it's also oddly pleasing. So if you're like me and can tolerate kids here and there, having to overhear strangers do things like 'Two Wild and Crazy Guys' impressions, and awkward sexual tension between bartenders, then the tap list at Brewbakers is worth it, especially if you live close by and don't want to travel to either Barley's location.

In my opinion, Brewbakers is a welcome addition to the Johnson County beer bar world, and I hope they stick around for a while. As I said, I may not make it over that way often, but I'm glad that when I do, there's somewhere to go now. And with a lot of housing developments going up around that area, I don't doubt they'll stay busy. Hopefully they will also continue to have more events like the Odell IPA cask, because that would certainly encourage me to head that way on a more frequent basis.

My quest continues for the perfect craft beer bar to be opened in north Overland Park (around 79th and Antioch would be PERFECT), but until then, I'll just continue my cross-state travels to quench my thirst.

10 comments:

  1. Unfortunately selection seems to depend on the Bar/Restaurant owners inability to not get pinned down by one distributors aggressive nature. Sometimes a distributor will come in and pay for a certain amount of things, like the beer tower and or other costly items, in turn they ask the retailer to keep a high percentage of the handles to be that distributors brands. there are some other creative shenanigans that occur here that put smaller independent breweries at a disadvantage sometimes because of the lack of funds they might have. I am not necessarily throwing any distributors under the bus, because at the end of the day, they are using business sense to get ahead. I just think if an owner of a bar wants full control of his beer destiny, they should buy all the equipment themselves.

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  2. dumb beer noob question what in the hell does BMC mean?

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  3. @Anonymous 1 - Definitely an excellent point, there is a lot of 'behind closed doors' activity when it comes to distributors/bars that influences beer selection for consumers.

    @James - Thank you!

    @Anonymous 2 - Not a dumb question at all. BMC = Bud Miller Coors.

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  4. People put Flying Monkey on because Robert Eilert is the nicest, most accommodating, hardest working guy in the business.

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  5. I would venture to say that there are plenty of brewers out there that are nice, accommodating and hard working that make beers that are significantly better than Flying Monkey. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade, and in this case a bad beer is a bad beer.

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  6. good write up on Brewbakers. I was back there for the second time on Monday and had a good experience both times. The food is really solid for that type of establishment (try the cuban!).

    The first time I was there they were only serving beers in 16 and 23 oz glasses, so I had a giant glass of Widershins and my wife drove home. So as you noted, it is nice that they are using some more appropriate glassware for different styles, which I also noticed on my second visit.

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  7. great writing. informative and entertaining (the blues traveler playing actually goes a long way to describe the type of place!)

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  8. I went to both places over the course of a week. I wasn't too impressed with either of their beer selection but still glad to find another place closer to home that offered more than 4-5 micro choices. I liked the atmosphere of Burg and Barrel more. Brewbakers attracted the younger crowd of that nhgd and was getting cramped while I was there...Burg was cozy with, what I imagined were, regulars.
    Brewbakers had better food. Try the pork t!! Burg had good happy hour specials too. And shuffleboard!

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  9. Went to Burg and Barrel last night. For a small bar, I was pleasantly surprised with my choices. Definitely a cozy place for a snooty beer snob like myself.

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