Gemuchlichkeit vom Fass in Waldo: KC Bier Company

KC Beer Scouts

If you’ve ever been to Germany, or maybe taken a class on German language or culture, you’ve probably come across the word Gemütlichkeit. One of those foreign words with no English equivalent, it means “coziness, warmth, a cheerful mood”. It’s a beautiful day outdoors with a snack and a beer; a lively conversation with friends while the kids play nearby. (That’s how I picture it, at least.) With a goal to provide a slice of Gemütlichkeit to Kansas City, and “put the i back in bier”, the first brewery to open in the area in 2014 might be the Kansas City Bier Company in Waldo.

Steve Holle comes from German stock. His grandparents spoke German in their Southern Illinois home up until World War II. The language and culture intrigued him so much that he earned a double major in business and German in college. While studying in northern Germany for a semester, he became interested in the local beer. While the beers of northern Germany don’t necessarily have the greatest breadth of variety or depth of flavor, few could argue that they aren’t very well crafted. And they made an impression on Steve. From that point on, beer became a growingly serious hobby for Steve, as he moved from homebrewing to writing about beer professionally. He had articles published in Brew Your Own, Zymurgy, and the New Brewer. He authored two books for the Master Brewers Association of the Americas, and heads their Beer Stewards program. Beer became Steve’s calling.

Fast forward to today: At 55 Steve has retired early from his real estate investment job in Dallas and moved back to his hometown of Kansas City. He has crafted a business plan and gathered 35 investors, mostly local, to fund his goal of producing authentic, German-style beer. He feels there’s a niche to fill in the local market – one that neatly coincides with what he likes to brew. And authenticity is the stated goal. All the ingredients going into KC Bier Company’s beer bier, except the water, are European. The malt and hops are being imported from Germany and the yeast strains are being cultured in Germany and Austria.

Of these ingredients, malt will be the focus. Steve feels that exceptional malt-focused beers are lost among the hop bombs and horse blankets in the craft beer scene. He vows not to use crystal malt, but rely on the depth and character of high-quality German base, roasted and kilned malts to create an impact on drinkers. These will be fresh and unfiltered lagers focusing on experiencing the varied flavors from barley and wheat.

When I toured the former Babyland showroom and current home of the KC Bier Co. in South Waldo on 79th Street, between Wornall Road and the Trolley Trail, the 30-barrel brewhouse had been installed and eight 60-barrel fermenters were in place, with their stainless skin still hidden behind protective plastic. (At 30 barrels, they will be the fourth biggest brewery in Missouri behind only Anheuser, Boulevard, and Schlafly, and equal in size to Mother’s.) To further the authenticity of the beer, the brewhouse is equipped for step mashing using a method called decoction, where part of the mash is pulled from the rest and boiled before being returned, raising the temperature of the whole mash. It’s a traditional German process rarely used by brewers today, as it is time consuming and less efficient than other methods. Proponents claim it adds depth to the malt character that can’t be obtained any other way.

That unique maltiness will be featured in three staple beers: an unfiltered Munich-style helles they will call a kellerbier, a hefeweizen, and a dunkel. Steve and his brewers plan on introducing other beers as they go, including a hopped-up “double alt” using new German aroma hop varietals and some American west-coast hops. Expect a blonde weizenbock (think Schneider Aventinus) and a northern pilsner also. Most of these beers won’t carry cute names on the tap handles, just the style: Keller. Hefeweizen. Dunkel. How very German.

An 80-seat tasting room will buffer the brewhouse from the front door, with a bar crafted from recycled flooring that stretches the entire width of the room. The brewhouse will be headed by Karleton Graham, a graduate of the Doemens Academy in Germany. You might get your growler filled by Jurgen Hager, a German native and co-owner, who will man the tasting room. Through a garage door on the side wall, patrons and their families will be able to flow outside to the triangular biergarten occupying the remainder of the property, from the building to the Trolley Trail. Kids can play on a mini playground while their parents enjoy a limited menu of imported cheese and pretzels, and sausages made by select German delis across America.

The tasting room may not have been possible without Kansas City Councilmen John Sharp and Scott Taylor, who ushered a city ordinance that exempts breweries, wineries and distilleries from the “density clause” that limits the number of per-drink establishments within a geographic area. (Thank you, archaic Kansas City liquor laws!) Due to the limits of the exemption, however, KC Bier Co. will not be pouring any beer not produced on-site. So no guest beers.

Steve expects to be distributing kegs to local restaurants and bars around town around the beginning of February. The tasting room (and biergarten for those unafraid of Missouri winters) are slated to open in January. We will eventually be seeing KC Bier Co. beers packaged in liquor stores in a year or two, once the beers’ reputation has been established.

Until then, Steve Holle hopes we all can enjoy a liter or two of authentic, German-style Gemüchlichkeit at the biergarten near the Trolley Trail in Waldo.

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