Welcome to the neighborhood, BKS Artisan Ales.
The first residential-area brewery in Kansas City will open for regular hours starting in December. And – lucky me! – their door is 856 ft from my front door. Lucky you, Brian and Mary Rooney are friendly folks and make tasty beer.
Brian is a homebrewer who began years ago on a Mr Beer kit. Which isn’t any way to make beer. Mediocre batches on poorly designed equipment was not a deterrent, it all just added to the challenge. Determination lead to what Brian described as “five years of obsession.” The brewing obsession with styles, methods, ingredients and competition culminated in an all-electric, one-barrel system occupying half of their Brookside basement. Maybe it was time to go pro.
The BKS Artisan Ales brew house, while housed in a much more spacious spot than a basement, is a tiny 3-bbl all-electric set up. The challenge many new brewers face in scaling and equipment when moving from homebrewing has not been the same for Brian. The equipment is very much the same, just larger. But not that much larger.
Northeastern – And Island – Exposure
The Rooneys travelled through New England a few years back, and it lit a spark of inspiration. Visits to the tasting rooms at Tree House Brewing (Charleton, MA), Hill Farmstead Brewing (Greensboro Bend, VT) and Trillium Brewing (Boston, MA) showed the friendliness of neighborhood, or at least intensely local, brewing.
The next evolution of American craft brewing might be small, neighborhood and hyper-local. People like local. That can be seen well beyond the craft beer world. Brian saw a future where established breweries inevitably grow and consolidation. Distribution brings battles from shelf space on retailer shelves. Consumers may turn to locally produced, fresh beer from their own neighborhood as often as they purchase regional or national brands.
Beer venturing to Vermont will inevitably lead to the newfangled cloudy, New England IPAs. If you haven’t run into a Heady Topper or – closer to home – Torn Label’s Fog Machine, you are excused. NEIPAs are opaque, orange-tinged beers with an intense fruity aroma and flavor, and a restrained bitterness. All of the initial run of IPAs from BKS will be of this style. Clouds, an imperial-strength variant, was bottled for a few soft-openings. And Counter Culture IPA will be in the rotation in December.
Additional creative inspiration sprung from a Caribbean vacation. Multiple variations from a single session-strength, mildly-sour wheat beer (gose-like) has become a series of tiki cocktail beers. Add lime juice and get a Margarita. Add lime juice and bitter orange for a Mai Tai. You get the idea. Look for Blue Hawaiians, Mimosas, and Bahama Mamas in the near future.
Other beers will offer variations on a theme. A Belgian-style saison serves as the basis of a string of single-hop releases. Fleur de Azacca will kick off that series. Milk stouts may vary an adjunct like coffee or chocolate. English-style dark milds could be brewed with coffee.
Barrels in the Attic
If you can avoid the seemingly permanent orange cones dotting 63rd Street on the way to BKS tasting room, you will notice the construction happening on the roof of their shared building. Just above the production space and tasting room, will be the sour program: eighty-some inoculated barrels for many sour and barrel-aging experiments.
Brian also plans to house a koelship* upstairs. Introducing outside air (and the airborne yeasts and other microbes) onto the cooling wort, they hope to capture a terroir de Brookside, much like lambic brewers do in and around Brussels. Beers produced from the koelship will be soured, funky, and totally unique.
* Koelships (or coolships) are large, shallow, open-topped vessels used to cool wort (unfermented beer). In Belgium, leaving koelships open to outside air is the method of spontaneous fermentation used by brewers of lambic beers.
Opening Soon in a Neighborhood Near Me
Hours at BKS Artisan Ales will be necessarily limited. Brian and Mary have day jobs. (At least for a while. Brian plans on dropping the day job for full-time brewing soon.) Starting in December, the tasting room will be open every Saturday afternoon from 1:00–5:00. Hours may expand on Saturday to accommodate demand. Come spring, doors will be open on Sundays. Eventually, BKS may add open hours on Friday evenings.
Expect different beers flowing from the taps every week, with some bottle or canned varieties to go. Inspiration and experimentation will bound from the first neighborhood brewery in Kansas City. We will all have to see where the brewery, the neighborhood, and the trend go from here.