Stacy Downs // Fall 2015

We’d say sit back, relax and pour yourself an ice-cold one in a frosty mug while you’re reading this article. But that wouldn’t do the subject justice.


Craft beer is actually at its best when it’s 50 degrees or so and poured into the appropriate glass — never frozen because that causes foaming and can mask the taste. As it warms, a craft beer’s flavors are enhanced and more diverse than any other beverage: sweet, malty, salty, bitter, bready, spicy, sour, fruity, woodsy, nutty, roasted, chocolatey.

So sit back, relax and pour yourself a cool, cellar-temperature or warm one. We have a tasty tale to tell about alumni and faculty for whom craft beer is near and dear.

Among the best in the U.S.

John Couture (B.A. ’96) is owner and operator of Bier Station in Kansas City, Mo. The bar features 28 rotating taps and coolers stocked with hundreds of bottled craft beers from around the world. (Photo: Dan Videtich)

Although it’s a mid-afternoon weekday, several groups of friends are gathered for beer and conversation at Bier Station in Kansas City, Mo.

The Waldo neighborhood bar’s main level features 28 rotating taps on a European-inspired green subway tile wall and coolers stocked with hundreds of bottled craft beers from around the world to drink there or take home. Upstairs is an indoor, four-season beer garden with wooden communal tables and benches. The brew-friendly menu offers locally made soft pretzels and bratwurst as well as cheese and charcuterie plates, and beer is served in proper glassware.

Bier Station made Draft magazine’s list of Top 100 American Beer Bars in 2015 and in 2014, after only being open for little more than a year.

“It’s like winning the Golden Globes,“ says John Couture (B.A. ’96), owner and operator of Bier Station. “The recognition has brought us beer tourists from across the country.”

It’s Couture’s approach — not just the atmosphere — that helped earn this back-to-back distinction.

“We’re beer geeks, not beer snobs,” Couture says. “We never criticize people’s tastes. We share rather than tell people what to do.”

In geeky fun, Couture and staff create unusual specials and events. Each Sunday means root beer floats, except they’re made with root-beer-flavored beer such as the Missouri-made Root Sellers Row Hard Root Beer and topped off with vanilla frozen custard from Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard, owned by Betty Bremser (M.A. ’89). For draft beers, Couture and his team research new beer ratings, look for developing trends and try to maintain a nice blend of styles. They don’t worry if an unusual beer will sell; if it’s considered a solid beer overall, there always are adventurous drinkers out there — like foodies.

“One of the things I love most about the beer community is the willingness to collaborate rather than compete,” Couture says.

Bier Station offers beer infusions such as “Liquid Focaccia Bread” made with Boulevard Brewing Company’s Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale infused with rosemary, basil and parsley from Bier Station’s garden.

Established in 1989 in Kansas City, Boulevard Brewing was Couture’s and many other aficionados’ gateway to craft beer. Boulevard was touted as “the second largest brewery in Missouri” after founder John McDonald delivered a keg of Pale Ale to a restaurant from his pickup. Fast forward to now and it’s the largest specialty brewer in the Midwest with more than 600,000 brewing barrels (10 times the number McDonald considered in his business plan), and it’s poised for a larger worldwide audience after Duvel Moortgat Brewery acquired it. The Entrepreneur Hall of Fame at the UMKC Henry W. Bloch School of Management inducted McDonald in its inaugural class in 2014.

Though McDonald helped blaze the trail for other craft-beer entrepreneurs, Couture’s Bier Station concept was not without risks.

The beer tasting bottle shop model didn’t exist in Kansas City, so there were permit hurdles to navigate. And friends warned him about the failure rate of restaurants.

But Couture believed in the power of craft beer, a recession-proof luxury people don’t mind indulging in because it’s affordable, delicious and brings people together, he says.

“That Bier Station has already become a fixture in Kansas City has exceeded my expectations,” Couture says.


Craft beer starts at home

UMKC faculty members Ryan Samuelson and Andrew Fox met while working on the Kansas City No ViolenceAlliance, known as NoVA. The two now meet up to barbecue and brew in Fox’s garage while the meat’s cooking. (Photo courtesy: Ryan Samuelson and Andrew Fox)

Credit for the craft beer craze we’re experiencing now often goes to President Jimmy Carter. But the story stretches decades before the
days of disco.

In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol — Prohibition — including beer made at home. The 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1933, but the repeal’s legislation mistakenly left out the legalization of homebrewing (although home winemaking was legalized at that time.)

In 1978, Carter signed H.R. 1337, which contained an amendment sponsored by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) creating an exemption from taxation of beer brewed at home for personal or family use. The exemption went into effect on Feb. 1, 1979, making homebrewing legal on a federal level in the U.S. But state laws further regulated it. Mississippi was the last state to legalize it in 2013.

The lesson from this history: Most of today’s craft brewers started off as home brewers. And conversely, craft beer has inspired some, including UMKC Assistant Criminology Professor Andrew Fox and Adjunct Professor Ryan Samuelson, to homebrew

“Craft beer makes us more conscious consumers,” Samuelson says. “You know where your money is being spent as opposed to it going to a large corporation. You really get to appreciate the hard work that goes into making that craft beer.”

Samuelson started homebrewing in 2003 when he was a soccer player at Oregon State, brewing beer in milk jugs.

“About half of it was drinkable,” he laughs.

The actual brewing doesn’t take long. But cleaning equipment before and after does, especially when it comes to sterilizing bottles further along in the brewing process. To make the process easier, Fox, who has been brewing for more than three years, switched from bottles to kegs. Fox likes to continually challenge himself on brewing methods. He’s moved on from using pre-mixed extracts to all grains like breweries use. It’s basically like switching from cake mixes to separate from-scratch ingredients.

“I compare brewing to making soup,” Samuelson says. “The longer you leave it alone, the better it tastes.”


Good people drink good beer

Fueled by success and great beer, Jim Caruso (B.A. ’89, M.A. ’90), is partner and CEO of Flying Dog Brewery, in Frederick, Md. (Photo: Tim Martin)

Jim Caruso (B.A. ’89, M.A. ’90) got into brewing beer after being in the brewpub business. After graduation, he had been president of Village Inn and Bakers Square restaurants.

“I’m a brewer at heart and I love the continuing education of brewing — it never stops,” says Caruso, partner and CEO of Flying Dog Brewery, based in Frederick, Md. It’s the largest brewery in the state.

Back in the 1990s, brewpubs (restaurants with brewing facilities) were profitable. Breweries, though, were an iffier prospect. But because he loved the brewing process and the people of Flying Dog Brewery, he decided to pursue a career in the industry.

Flying Dog Brewery was founded in 1994 by astrophysicist and philanthropist George Stranahan and rancher Richard McIntyre in Denver. Caruso enjoys the non-corporate approach of the brewery and its unconventional beer names.

In 2009, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission prohibited its most provocative label, Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA, from being sold. After a six-year-long process of appeals, denials and lawsuits, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the commission could be held accountable for violating Flying Dog Brewery’s First Amendment rights. The 2015 ruling will allow Flying Dog to recover damages from the loss of sales during the ban, which Caruso plans to use to establish a Freedom of Speech Society in Frederick. As part of a potential $50 million economic development project that will allow Flying Dog to expand operations, the brewery has submitted an offer on a 31-acre site in Frederick. The current brewery has a capacity of 100,000 barrels a year — not large enough to continue to meet demand for Flying Dog, which is sold in 26 U.S. states and 14 countries. Expansion would increase eventual capacity to 700,000 barrels annually.

Flying Dog pushes the envelope on ingredients and makes more than 40 varieties each year. Unusual seasonals include Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale that uses the classic seafood seasoning and Sriracha Pale Ale.

“There are people out there who say they don’t like beer,” Caruso says. “I tell them with all of the variety, there’s something out there for you. Try one of ours.”

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