KC’s newest brewery makes it its business to create authentic German beers.
Despite the iron grip Boulevard has on KC’s brewing market, public speculation varied over the October announcement of Belgium brewer Duval Moortgat’s acquisition of the local beer giant. As Steve Holle sees it, there may just be room for a new brewery in town. The retired commercial real estate investor opened Kansas City Bier Company (KCBC) in Waldo this week.
Holle grew up in Kansas City but spent a good portion of his career in Dallas where he served as regional director for Northwestern Mutual Life. His branch oversaw the south-central region of the United States, which included KC. Some of the local projects financed by his office are the Country Club Plaza, American Century Towers, Corporate Woods and SubTropolis.
After retiring from Northwestern Mutual Life in January 2012, Holle returned to his hometown to pursue his dream of opening a brewery styled after a traditional German brauhaus—and not just aesthetically. All of his ingredients are sourced from Germany, and the beer is brewed using traditional German brewing methods.
“If you’ve tasted German beers in the U.S., they may not be at the peak of freshness,” Holle notes. “Since it takes so long for those beers to be shipped over, the flavor could be damaged. Our beer will obtain the level of freshness that exceeds that of German imports.”
Why German beer? Because Holle’s fondness for brewski began in Germany where he spent his junior semester of college studying abroad. “Germans are known for brewing lager beers, which are fermented colder than English-style or Belgian ales,” he says. “Lagers are clean, crisp and I think more refreshing.
“I love all beer,” Holle admits. “But I feel there is niche in the craft-brewing market for someone making German-style beer and doing it domestically with authentic brewing methods and ingredients.” Even his business partner, Juergen Hager, is authentically German. Hager will relocate to Kansas City from his present home in Texas to head KCBC’s retail operations.
German brauhauses are considered family-oriented venues with an outdoor showpiece known as a biergarten—or beer garden, as we call them—where children can play while the adults converse, leisurely sip their beers and munch on traditional German fare. In order to bring that experience to KC, Holle set his sights on a downtown location. “Urban dwellers want to experience new foods and beverages made locally,” he says.
Holle asked his industrial broker to find a location in the central corridor of KC from south of the Missouri River to just north of 85th Street, west of Stateline Road and east of Waldo. The winning locale was the old Babyland store on 79th and Wornall next to the Trolley Track Trail. “There’s some walkability to the neighborhood, and we think it’s a super location to draw traffic to our beer garden and tasting room,” he says.
He selected Olathe’s Rose Design Build as the architect/contractor for the project, and Rose brought in KHL Design Studio of Lee’s Summit for the interior design work. Construction began in July 2013. Chris Herre, principal at Rose Design Build, says the Babyland store’s industrial appearance was a perfect fit to carry out Holle’s vision of a German brew house because they are “more utilitarian in their look.”
Crews brightened up the building’s dull, ash-colored exterior with a neutral greenish-gray paint to complement KCBC’s red and black logo. The beer garden—not scheduled to open until later this spring—will feature large wooden picnic tables, a playground set and lush landscaping.
As for the interior, the design team continued to build off the facility’s industrial roots. “The vision we came to collectively was rustic-modern,” says KHL Design Studio President Kelly Lankford. “We didn’t want to go overly industrial, but the building is concrete block with exposed tresses, which lends that way.”
Rose and KHL left the ceiling ductwork, rafters and electrical conduit exposed, rebuffed and repainted the concrete floor and warmed up the space with beautiful reclaimed wood sourced locally from Elmwood Reclaimed Timber. “Elmwood takes scrap wood pieces and develops medleys of light and dark wood for flooring,” Lankford says. “The mixture of woods from light to dark has a modern look that works well with our modern-rustic concept.”
But rather than using it for its intended purpose, “We took the flooring and used it as a wall base coat to wrap the whole space in this warm, rich wood,” Lankford says. The wood is also incorporated into KCBC’s casual, picnic-like seating and wainscot bar for an added touch of whimsy to an otherwise harsh, industrial space. Another visual draw are the large-scale chalkboards mounted on the walls for patrons to do some innocent doodling should they feel compelled.
The unanimous showpiece for the room is the floating wood soffet that extends over the bar like a chocolate-brown cloud. Its soft, curvy edges are a “contradiction to the straight angles of the bar,” Lankford describes.
As any good interior designer knows, the devil is in the details. Old-fashioned barn light fixtures add a rustic edge to the space, repurposed beer bottle sconces offer a sense of humor and red gooseneck sconces create an air of sophistication. “Kelly is very talented,” Herre says. “We really like working with her because she has an eye for unique materials. Those beer bottles mounted over the bulb itself were a really cool touch.”
KCBC will have its own brewery with a wall of windows so that folks in the adjacent tasting room can observe the brewing process. Creating this experience for patrons proved challenging, though, when the team came across some minor coding issues.
Since the brewery and tasting room are considered two different types of operations, they had to make sure the wall separating them was fire-rated. Also, they were a little nervous about fitting the large, stainless steel fermenting tanks in the brewery due to the building’s modest height, but fit they did. Other than that, the project went on without a hitch, Herre reports.
At the end of the day, building a brewery has its perks. “The whole project has been unique,” Herre says. “We learned a lot about the beer-making process and how it all comes together.” Giving the beers a thorough taste test was an added bonus considering “Steve’s beers are all really good.”
Holle’s ultimate goal is to make KCBC a wholesale brewery. After all, it’s equipped to be the fourth-largest brewing system in Missouri with the capability to produce 15,000 barrels of beer at maximum, he notes. “Our long-term goal is to sell beer off premise,” he says. “The tasting room is not the primary mission of our project.
“It simply puts a face on the brewery and allows us to hold marketing events and create an experience that reinforces the German style of brewing.”
Although the brew and food menus have yet to be confirmed, there will be roughly four different food offerings—most likely traditional German snacks such as soft pretzels or bratwursts. Patrons can taste one or two new seasonal beers per month in addition to KCBC’s regular stock, all carefully crafted by Holle himself.
Story by Kathryn Jones