Friday, April 5, 2013

Molding a Cinder Block

In Greek mythology, a Phoenix is known for rising from the ashes. After a visit up to North Kansas City last night, it seemed appropriate to modify this concept to say 'A Cinder Block will rise from the dust.' I had the pleasure of taking a glimpse at the proverbial guts of Cinder Block Brewery, an up and coming addition to the rapidly growing Kansas City beer world, and am now very excited to see the end result this Fall. I mentioned Cinder Block back in January when I did a rundown of some of the hopeful breweries in town, and while their status at that time was somewhat up in the air, there's no doubt at this point that they will be serving up beer to thirsty Kansas Citians before the end of the year.

The guys behind Cinder Block have been fairly tight-lipped about their progress, and perhaps for good reason. Let's face it; right now in this town, if you mention you are opening a brewery, people will be grilling you with 1,000 questions before you finish your sentence. And I don't mean that as a bad thing. We are all so eager for a new addition to the local brewery scene, that even the mention of a new spot for beer has us instantly salivating.

But as brewer and founder Bryce Schaffter noted, starting a brewery isn't as simple as throwing your homebrew setup into a building and calling it good; it takes dedication to the fact that you are opening up a business, and there are plenty of painstaking details that have to be worked out in addition to the actual brewing. He noted that, though he hasn't even opened up his doors yet, he's already receiving phone calls asking for advice on starting a brewery, and he first presents them with that rhetorical question: Are you ready to open a business?

As I walked through the developing space that will be Cinder Block and listened to Bryce explain their progress so far, that behind-the-scenes business side of the process was certainly evident. An electrician's drill buzzed behind the framework of the taproom bar, flanked by numerous pieces of tape and chalk lines on the wall marking spots for outlets. A handtruck clunked by, carrying an air conditioning unit. Discussions of recycled gas lines and boiler firing tubes echoed through the air, along with forward-thinking talk about expansion into an outdoor beer garden and extra storage space. They're all aspects of this process that maybe we, as the beer-drinking consumer base, take a bit for granted. These guys are spending nights and weekends monitoring the daily status of various minutiae, all to finally reach the ultimate main goal: brewing great beer so WE can drink it.

Business details aside, I was most impressed with Schaffter's knowledge and passion for beer. He emphasized his mindset that beer is an experiential product, and that to him, finding that perfect beer for a particular moment was of utmost importance. As he spoke more about beer and brewing, his science background also shone through with talks about topics like water treatment, hop breeding and yeast strain development. Quality and innovation are clearly both major priorities for Cinder Block.

So what exactly can you expect from Cinder Block Brewery, in terms of space and actual product offerings? The spot (which is located right next to Neon Wild, and a stone's throw away from Denim and Diamonds) will feature a brand new 15 BBL system from Premier Stainless Systems, development of which has been a near 18-month process. Space has been built for a dedicated grain and milling room. They will have a fermentation tank specifically for brewing wild and sour ales, as well as a barrel aging program, with the barrels prominently featured in the front of the taproom for visitors to see. Schaffter noted that he was being rather particular about what barrels he will purchase and use, going so far as to describe a specific white wine oak barrel that he had been hunting for.

Not everything they brew will lean strictly on the barrel-aged and wild side, though. Schaffter also expressed his appreciation for full-flavored, sessionable brews, especially their ability to serve as a transition/gateway for those who are just starting to explore the craft beer world. The draft wall in the taproom is being built to accommodate up to 20 taps; when asked how many beers would be available when the doors opened, he explained that they expect to have 5 year-round beers, 2 seasonals and (with a simultaneous smirk) "a few surprises." While no beers were available for me to sample at the time, he noted that he'll be running test batches soon and rest assured, I'll be figuring out how to weasel my way into tasting some so I can report back. Cinder Block beer will be draft only to begin with, but Schaffter and the rest of the team are already looking at potential options for future packaging.

Though visually, the space that will become Cinder Block still leans more toward a construction site than a brewery, hearing Schaffter speak about the future helps the dust and bare wood beams transform before your eyes. You can envision the newly installed walk-in cooler filled with kegs, the popcorn machine (thank the electrician for that idea) emptying as people look for sustenance between beers, and conversations drifting through the open, industrial ceilings as Kansas Citians kick back and finally enjoy a new brewery and taproom in the area.

Cinder Block Brewery is expecting to open its doors in September 2013. Stay tuned to the blog for more updates, and also follow Cinder Block on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I tried some of their beer at the Great Nebraska Beer Fest last summer, and it was very good. Looking forward to dropping by once they open!

  2. It's been a long time coming for KC to start popping up with new additions to its beer scene. I can't wait.