Wineries, craft breweries experience growth in Kansas
Topeka The thirst for Kansas-produced alcoholic beverages is growing, with wineries multiplying and the state's largest craft beer brewer moving into a larger facility.
"Both the wineries and the breweries are exploding," said Scott Kohl, director of viticulture and oenology, the sciences of growing grapes and making wine, at Highland Community College.
He said the number of wineries in Kansas has grown from about a dozen in 2010 to about 35 today, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
In Manhattan, Tallgrass Brewery experienced a revenue boost of about 50 percent after moving into a 60,000-square-foot call center. Tallgrass founder Jeff Gill said the brewery is producing more than twice as much as it did in its former facility and eventually will produce even more. Much of Tallgrass' beer is distributed in other states with more developed markets for craft beer, but Gill said in-state interest is growing.
"We would expect quite a lot of growth in the Kansas craft beer market," he said.
Kohl attributed the growth to several factors: immigrants who brought their traditions of making beer or wine (and continued to practice them after the state went dry), changes in liquor laws and the local foods movement. Many of today's wine- and beer-makers had grandparents who made their own during Prohibition, and kept it up as a hobby even after the state allowed alcohol sales again, he said.
"There's an awful lot of folks that have been home brewers and home winemakers for years," he said. "Prior to Prohibition, Kansas and Missouri were the top two wine-producing states."
The local foods movement also drove interest around the region, and both Oklahoma and Missouri saw their wine industries grow, with Missouri reaching close to 150 wineries. Kohl said he thinks that illustrates that Kansas hasn't yet saturated its market for local beverages.
"I think there's still some room for growth," he said.
David Bahre, owner of Wheat State Distilling in Wichita, said he also thinks there is room for craft spirits to grow, though distilleries face more legal hurdles than wineries and breweries do in Kansas. Microdistilleries weren't legalized until 2012, he said, and they have to buy an insurance bond for their tax obligations and go through a licensing process that takes at least a year, before even beginning the process of distilling. Some liquors then have to sit for multiple years to develop the flavor before the distiller can start bringing in revenue.
"Building a whiskey brand is a decades-long commitment," he said.
The public has become more interested in small-scale, craft producers for many of the things they eat and drink, Bahre said. While there aren't nearly as many small distilleries as breweries or wineries, they are proliferating in recent years, he said.
"The same thing that happened in beer, where people turned to craft, is happening in spirits," he said.