Don't expect to hear the guys behind Wichita's brewpubs talk smack on each other. It's more like a mutual admiration society. Kyle Banick, brewmaster at Wichita Brewing Co., says he and Dan Norton, his counterpart at River City Brewery, have even worked together on special brews.
"We've done a few collaboration beers," Banick said. "He'll come over and brew with me, and I'll go over there and brew at his place.
He's helped me out a ton. If I'm low on something, I can give him a call and ask if he's got it." Norton, in turn, praises Wichita Brewing Co., the Hank Is Wiser brewpub in Cheney and the area's newest brewer, Walnut River Brewing Co. in El Dorado. "Rick Goehring (head brewer at Walnut River), he brews really great beer," Norton said. Apparently there are enough lovers of locally brewed beers to go around for everybody.
Norton is the most experienced of the brewers, having been making beer full- time for 12 years. "I've brewed over 1,500 batches of beer personally," he said. River City keeps 16 of its own beers on tap at a time. Five are "flagship" brews that never go off the menu: Harvester Wheat, Tornado Alley IPA, Rock Island Red, Old Town Brown and Emerald City Stout.
The rest rotate according to season and Norton's creative urges. As of this writing they included a fall seasonal called Kansas Strong, a Belgian red ale, an apricot saison and a honey rye. For Oktoberfest, Norton will bring back a brew called Blitzkrieg that's aged in brandy barrels.
"The recipes are from my brain," he said. "I've worked here so long that I know what our system is capable of. I've used all kind of different ingredients so I know what they add, what type of hops to use to achieve bitterness and flavor, what alcohol strength I want it to do, if I want to do anything crazy to spice it up."
Occasionally doing something crazy is important, he said, because serious beer drinkers "are always looking for a type of beer they've never had." "We try to push the envelope as far as how creative we can be," he said. And don't think beer drinking is just a guy's thing. Among the groups that meet at River City on a monthly basis is a woman's club called Beauties and the Beers.
Banick took over the beer making at Wichita Brewing Co. shortly after it opened two years ago, although he'd been home brewing for years. The west-side establishment carries 13 of its own beers on tap, across a range of styles, colors and strengths. "We're kind of all over the map," Banick said. "We try to offer something for everybody's taste buds." In the fall, a pumpkin beer has been one of the favorites. One famous fan: Gov. Sam Brownback, who's promoted the idea of Kansas brewpubs using Kansas agricultural products to make beer. Banick said Brownback has "poked his head in here" at least twice. "For sure, people are now opening their eyes to the fact that there's a whole different palette of beers," he said. "You' don't have to settle for Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light."