Why Kansas City is America’s last best beer scene

A decade ago, I accidentally became a hardcore beer geek. For my birthday, my wife gave me some of the top-rated bottles in the world. She made the mistake of citing her source material by printing off a list of the top 100 beers in the world.

I enjoyed the birthday beers so much that I decided to finish out the list, which was heavy on barrel-aged stouts, abbey ales and triple IPAs. I made a spreadsheet and started tracking down bottles sold only at Belgian monasteries or on one day of the year in Munster, Indiana.

In my quest, I’ve driven insane distances, traded beer by mail, prowled the booths of the Great American Beer Festival and once spent a harrowing evening in the basement of a guy who prattled on about tuba-based jazz as I waited patiently for him to crack his bottle of Kate The Great. Ten years on, I’m not quite done — if you have a lead on Ølfabrikken Porter or the beer now known as Marshmallow Handjee, drop me a line.

If I’m being honest, only a few of those beers were so spectacular and unique as to be worth the trouble. But the real reward was the hunt — all the great people I’ve met, places I’ve been and esoteric knowledge I’ve acquired about the geography of Oostvleteren.

I’d also like to think I’ve learned a little about how to spot something special in the beer world. And that’s how I’d describe the Kansas City beer scene right now. While working on this month’s feature package, I’ve been wowed by the quality across the metro area — and also by the good vibes of KC’s right-sized beer community.

A year ago, I moved to Kansas City from Portland, a city that calls itself Beervana. There’s a lot of great beer there, to be sure. But there’s also a lot of hype, hucksterism and intense competition turning what was once a brotherly trade into a cutthroat industry.

Kansas City is fortunate that the craft beer wave hit a little later. While trailblazing breweries in other cities close under the onslaught of upstarts, Boulevard has an amazing new IPA and is exporting its standard-bearing saison around the world.

KC’s current boom means there are 51 breweries within an hour’s drive of town — roughly double the number at the start of 2018, but still sustainable. For this issue, we dispatched a writer to every single one of them.

It’s not just that Kansas City breweries are making great and very innovative beer — a place like Shawnee’s Servaes would be edgy in Brooklyn or downtown LA — it’s that you can sense the passion and excitement of people who feel free to follow their muse.

In Kansas City, brewers still make the beer they want to drink — the old credo of craft, that’s become a bitter joke elsewhere. Our Beer of the Year is a hazy blonde ale from a tiny neighborhood brewery with a friendly weekends-only taproom and zero full-time employees. When brewers are living their dreams, you can taste it in every glass.

Whether you’re just starting to drink craft beer or have a complete vertical of Saint Lamvinus, I hope this issue gets you excited about this golden age of craft beer in Kansas City, the last best beer scene in America. In this issue you’ll find listings on every brewery within an hour, primers on today’s extreme new styles and features about our top 10 favorite local beers of the past year.

Notable Numbers

80% Decline in monarch butterfly population in the last 20 years.

$65K Amount spent on materials for Harrison Street DIY Skatepark.

10 Years Boulevard once went without releasing a new beer.

$500 The amount Chiefs wideout Otis Taylor was fined for not being clean shaven in 1969.

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