Not so long ago, enjoying beers at a bar was as simple as going to a bar and ordering beers. How quaint! In the thirteen years that I’ve been writing professionally about craft beer, I’ve watched it evolve from a scene with a few stronghold cities into a nationwide subculture. There are people with a calendar month’s worth of brewery T-shirts. Guys who plan their weekends and vacations around hitting more.
If you’re not tuned into these things, you probably figure a brewery is a brewery. People who like craft beer are mostly happy wherever, right?. This is not true. To geeks, there’s a pretty firm hierarchy. There are sixty-some breweries in the metro area, and pretty much all of them have something to recommend them. This is the tippy top of the heap—the best of the best KC craft beer bars and taprooms. This is just a primer for the beer-curious or out-of-towners.
We’re doing this tour on a Saturday because that’s the only day you can reliably visit the taproom patio at BKS (633 E. 63rd St., KCMO). This little House of Haze has the most geek cred in the city, and the hype is justified. When you’re in the neighborhood, you can also hit the best beer bar in the state of Missourah, Bier Station (120 E. Gregory Blvd., KCMO), which was renovated to have a retractable window wall during the pandemic. Bier Station also added a cocktail program—but better pace yourself to start this day.
Just a bit south you’ll find the iconic trailside patio of KC Bier Co. (310 W. 79th St., KCMO). They specialize in crisp, clean German lagers, and although they’re now the city’s largest locally owned brewery. They always seem to have something fun, like their Easter Eisbock in bottles wrapped with pastel foil.
The largest non-locally owned brewery in town? That’s Boulevard (2501 Southwest Blvd., KCMO), which has a bustling taproom that’s heavy on dark wood and tourists. Just around the corner, you have another of the best breweries in the city, Alma Mader (2635 Southwest Blvd., KCMO). They keep limited hours—did I mention this was a Saturday?—at their industrial-chic taproom. If you haven’t eaten yet, you’re in luck. Several of the best taco spots in town are a few blocks up, and you’re welcome to carry in food to drink with Alma’s very well-made lagers and bicoastal IPA variants.
At this point, you’re right by the Crossroads, which has eight breweries within just a few blocks. Nowhere in Denver or San Diego has quite the same street-to-street density. Everyone has their favorites here, and we could fill several pages with a comprehensive guide. I’ll just point out my two essentials. Casual Animal (1725 McGee St., KCMO) has what may be the most stylish taproom in the Midwest—it’s like one of those wedding barns you’d see in Garden & Gun. Nimble (1735 Oak St., KCMO) is new and pushing hard toward the top of my local list. It was opened by a talented Johnson County home brewer who quit his accounting gig to make some wild styles. All his beers have a mature, balanced flavor profile.
Oh, yes, and Kansas City also has suburbs, and those suburbs also have breweries. In Johnson County, my favorite is Sandhills (5612 Johnson Drive, Mission), which specializes in barrel-aged beers but also makes a great hazy IPA called Junco. On the other side of the city, Diametric (949 N.E. Columbus, Lee’s Summit) in Lee’s Summit is doing great things, as are the sour specialists at Crane (6515 Railroad St., Raytown) in Raytown. And if it’s Saturday, you can get elite barbecue at Harp while at Crane.