Friday, June 24, 2016

I-35 Road Trip!

For a long time, I-70 has been the only road worth beer tripping on from KC in the State of Kansas. With Free State, Blind Tiger, Tallgrass, Liquid Bread, and Defiance all within a couple of miles off the route, you can't go wrong. Also, at the end of it you end up in Denver, which is obviously awesome for a number of reasons. Well, I-70 finally has some competition for a trip out of KC with a lot of great new breweries popping up along I-35 in the last couple of year. So here's the full report on my recent I-35 roadtrip...

First Stop: Emporia

Full disclosure: I grew up in Emporia. My opinion from after high school until about a year ago was that Emporia was a shit town. But, I've had a change of heart after my last trip down there. There are a number of reasons why it seems like Emporia is getting (kind of) cool these days, but the primary reason is Radius Brewing Co. (Untappd). 

Radius Brewing Co makes a trip to Emporia well worth it.
Great beer, and the coolest beer flights ever. 
Radius opened up a little over 2 years ago and let me tell you--I was skeptical. I never thought they would survive. Mostly this stemmed from me thinking that Emporia was a shit town, but also because downtown Emporia hadn't been able to keep a nice restaruant/pub open downtown for more than about a year my entire life. It was the downtown where restaurants went to die.

But now, 2 years on and they're doing great. It definitely isn't your average brewpub. You know what I mean--the bar that makes a wheat, amber, pale ale, IPA, and stout, and serves "angus" burgers. Radius brews a huge array of beers and makes some excellent sours. In fact, their Gose'n'berry gose that they served at Parkville Microbrew Fest this year was my favorite beer of the fest. They also have great food and a cool bar layout/setup. Although I do feel a little sorry for the brewer inside their epic fishbowl brewhouse.

Radius Brewing Co's epic fishbowl brewhouse!
Radius also makes the beer of my dreams--their Jose is a smoked chili amber ale. When I had it, it really embodied everything I love about mescal in a beer. Smoke, chocolate, rustic character with a little sweetness and a little hint of chili heat. It really kind of blew my mind when I had it (and then I ordered 3 more against my better judgement), and I'd probably place it in the top 25 beers I've ever had in my life.

I also have to give a nod to Mulready's Pub in downtown Emporia. We hit this place up after Radius and I was once again shocked that it existed in Emporia. I would put Mulready's up against any of the coolest bars in the Crossroads, Westport, or anywhere else in KC. They have an excellent beer and whiskey selection and great bartenders. I ordered an Orval (in Emporia!), and the bartender out of the blue brought me a sampler of Walnut River Brewing Co's tripel to compare with it. Well played!

Pit Stop: El Dorado

New cans are out now from Walnut River Brewing Co
Speaking of Walnut River Brewing Co. (Untappd), they're making some excellent beers as well in El Dorado (about halfway between Emporia and Wichita). I've only had their beers at beer fests and the above mentioned sample at Mulready's, but everything I've had from them has been top notch. They recently started canning their beers, and some of their core lineup beers are definitely worth trying in addition to their stand-out one-off brews (like their belgian tripel).

I couldn't say whether El Dorado is worth a real stop on your road trip since I've never actually be in the city. I would guess not, but then again I would have said the same thing about Emporia a couple of years ago. At the very least, Walnut River has a nice looking tap room that's probably worth a visit if you like their beers since I'm sure they've got lots of test beers & firkins flowing regularly.

Walnut River just recently started distributing to the KS side of the metro, but they're still a little hard to find. But if you see them, definitely give them a try!

Third Stop: Wichita

Wichita, like Emporia, used to be on my shit-town list of Kansas. But like Emporia, it shocked me last time I was there with how cool it had become. Ok, so Wichita still has a way to go, but it's definitely getting there, and I'm sure the explosion of craft breweries in the city is playing a good part with this. The last time I was down there, River City Brewing Co. was literally the only brewery in the city of 350,000 people. Super pathetic. But just in the last couple of years, four new home grown breweries have opened in the city and there are at least that many more in planning and close to opening.

The old standby in Wichita is River City Brewing Co, (Untappd) located in Old Town. River City has been the standard bearer for craft beer in southern Kansas for almost 25 years now. They opened in 1993, which makes them the 2nd brewery to open in Kansas since Prohibition (the first was Free State).

Wichita Brewing Co.'s V-6 IPA is solid. 
However, like lots of those first-wave craft brewers, they didn't brew much outside their core lineup for most of that time. So on my last visit there, I was very impressed by their tap list and the beers I had--they're really brewing out on the edge now. They had no fewer than 3 sours on their list, including one fantastic oud bruin that was made in collaboration with Defiance for Kansas Craft Beer Week. They also have a solid barrel aging program. River City is also a great place to go to try out all of the other local breweries in the area as they have a solid local tap list.

Wichita Brewing Co. (Untappd) was the next new brewery to open in Wichita, nearly 20 years after River City opened. And they are doing it right! They recently bought out Tallgrass's 15 Barrel brewhouse when they moved into their new facility. They also installed a new canning line that can pump out 40 cans per minute. And what they're putting in the cans is also excellent. When we went to tour their brewhouse, we were able to try out their new Seal Team 6 Black IPA, V-6 IPA, and Half-Wit Wheat. All were excellent, especially the IPAs. In a market overcrowded with IPAs, I think these will hold their own well.

WBC was also working on a berliner weisse when we were there (I was bummed there wasn't any ready to try yet!), and they even have a foeder. I'm sure whatever goes in and comes out of that thing will be excellent as well! WBC has two locations on either end of Wichita where they serve their beer, other local brews, and (I've heard but can't speak to it myself) excellent pizza. They aren't in the KC metro yet, but will hopefully be up here soon. Until then get down to Wichita!

WBC's foder!! 

In addition to these two Wichita breweries, there are a lot of other breweries down there that shouldn't be missed. Although I wasn't able to make it out to these place on my limited schedule last time, I've heard great things about them. Central Standard Brewing in particular has been around at some of our festivals in town and made waves with their belgians and sours. So while you're in Wichita, make sure you also check out:

Central Standard Brewing

Hopping Gnome Brewing Company

WHOLE Brewing Co

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